Gulalai Ismail, a Pashtun women’s rights activist from Swabi, was awarded the Reach all Women in War (RAW) Anna Politkovskaya Award on Thursday alongside senior Indian journalist, Gauri Lankesh, according to a report by RAW.
Gulalai co-founded a non-governmental organisation, Aware Girls, with her sister Saba Ismail in 2002. The organisation aims to strengthen the leadership skills of young people, especially women and girls, enabling them to act as agents of change for women empowerment and peace building and to fight for their rights.
“Speaking out for our rights and speaking out against religious extremism is our fundamental right,” Gulalai said as she accepted the award.
“While I receive this award, wars, gun violence, and genocides continue in many parts of the world. Refugee camps are becoming homes to millions of people. People are getting denied their right to self-determination. New brands of religious extremist organisations keep on emerging, with every new brand beholding much more severity of violence,” Gulalai added.
“No matter how dark the world is, there is hope as well,” she said.
“Gauri Lankesh… was killed for speaking truth to power,” Gulalai said about an Indian journalist who was posthumously given the Anna Politkovskaya Award along with Gulalai.
Lankesh ─ a known critic of right-wing groups in India ─ was fatally shot by unidentified attackers in the Indian city of Bengaluru in September.
Before her death, the senior journalist had been found responsible in a defamation case by a lawmaker of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for her writing about Hindu nationalists.
“While I receive this award, India and Pakistan complete 70 years of their separation, and you are reminding the world again that even today we have similar hopes, aspirations and struggles,” Gulalai said as she completed her acceptance speech.
Pakistan’s teenage Nobel laureate, Malala Yuousafzai, who won the award in 2013, said about Gulalai’s work: “Through Aware Girls, Gulalai is training young women to advocate for their rights. Her work is fostering the next generation of female leaders in our country.”