Some Minor Coverage and Recent News on the Co-Founder of Aware Girls

by | September 10, 2019

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Gulalai Ismail lives in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan (Wikipedia, 2019). She is the Co-Founder of Aware Girls with Saba Ismail (a sister), and a human rights activist (Aware Girls, 2019). Her social activism and human rights work exists in a difficult area of the world compared to most humanists. She earned the International Humanist of the Year Award (2014), Commonwealth Youth Award for Asia (2015), Chirac Prize for Conflict Prevention (2016), and Anna Politkovskaya Award (2017). Her story amounts to one of the more prominent feminist campaigners and humanist stories, and human rights defenders in the current period (Gettleman, 2019). For those who know about Ismail within the freethought community, they consider Ismail a tremendously impressive organizer for women’s and girls’ rights in a difficult area for human rights and freethought in the world – ranked 192nd out of 196 on the Freedom of Thought Report 2018 (Humanists International, 2018a; Humanists International, 2018b).

Do not take my word for it, in different areas of emphasis, Amnesty International – in previous reportage on the same person from late 2018 and early 2019, Human Rights Watch, the World Economic Forum, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have noted the specific case of Ismail, the conditions of human rights in Pakistan, the equality of women and girls in Pakistan, and the human development level of Pakistan (Amnesty International, 2019; Amnesty International 2018; UNDP, 2019; Human Rights Watch, 2019; World Economic Forum, 2018). Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, the leadership of Pakistan, was called out by Human Rights Watch on its poor record for freedom of expression and attacks on civil society, freedom of religion and belief, women’s and children’s rights, terrorism, counterterrorism, law enforcement abuses, sexual orientation and gender identity rights, and the death penalty, even rejecting or not implementing several of the 2017 UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review key recommendations in its third UPR (Human Rights Watch, 2019).

Based on reportage from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Reports, Pakistan ranks 150th out of 189 on the overall metric entitled Human Development Index (UNDP, 2019). Overall, Pakistan ranked 148th out of 149 nations on gender equality within The Global Gender Gap Report 2018 (World Economic Forum, 2018), as the recent report stated:

Similarly, women hold just 34% of managerial positions across the countries where data is available, and less than 7% in the four worst-performing countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Pakistan)…

… While women and men are already equally likely to attain managerial positions in five countries (Bahamas, Colombia, Jamaica, Lao PDR and Philippines), there are six countries (Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Pakistan) where the gap is 90% or more…

… Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are the top-ranked countries in the region, having closed just over 72% and nearly 68% of their overall gender gap, respectively, while the lowest-ranked countries are Bhutan and Pakistan, having closed just under 64% and 55% of their overall gender gap, respectively… (Ibid.)

As noted by Imran Kazmi (2018), only Yemen fared better on this particular metric, in this World Economic Forum report. In other words, and back to the point, Ismail operates and fights for human rights, for well over a decade, in this difficult context for equality of women and girls for the purposes of education and peace through Aware Girls and similar initiatives. Recently, as reported and called out by CIVICUS (2019) on June 6, “Pakistani authorities must end their judicial persecution of human rights defender Gulalai Ismail… She is being investigated for defamation and sedition, and other charges under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act, for a speech she made condemning authorities’ inaction in a case of rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl, and has been forced into hiding.” Billy Briggs (2019) in The Ferret, reported almost identical actions on the Pakistani authorities or, stated, “Pakistani security services have also accused Gulalai of a litany of serious offences including sedition, financing terrorism and defaming state institutions, though the authorities have not filed formal charges against her.”

Similarly, Humanist Canada’s leadership have spoken on the case. Vice-President of Humanist Canada, Dr. Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson, said, “The Pakistani authorities need to realize that the world is watching and will hold them accountable for what happens to this defender of one of humanity’s most fundamental freedoms, the freedom to speak out against injustice” (Humanist Canada, 2019a). Echoing some of the sentiments of the Vice-President, Humanist Canada President, Martin Frith, stated, “The intransigence of the Pakistani authorities means that Gulalai’s only hope is public pressure from the international community. The Canadian government voiced support for human rights in the past. We urge the Government of Canada to act on the principles of support for human rights defenders and protection of human rights by publicly intervening in the case of Gulalai with the appropriate Pakistani officials.” (Humanist Canada, 2019b). Dr. Mehdi Hasan, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), stated:

HRCP is seriously concerned over reports that activist Gulalai Ismail’s family has been threatened, allegedly by state agencies, in connection with her work as a human rights defender. HRCP urges the state to investigate the recent raid on Ms Ismail’s house in Islamabad, reportedly by a large contingent of men in civilian clothes. A family member has claimed that their driver was forcibly taken away, interrogated and physically harmed. There are also worrying reports that the persons involved in this incident threatened to harm Ms Ismail’s younger sister if the former did not cease her work as an activist.

Ms Ismail’s family has already been subjected to similar intimidation to the extent that she has had to severely curtail her activism. As a well-known human rights defender who has consistently highlighted human rights violations, especially in KP, attempts to harass and threaten her through her family and other household members are unacceptable. The state must protect civil society’s right to dissent by ensuring that the incident is investigated transparently and those involved, held accountable. (2019)

As Hashim (2019) reported on August 14 in Al Jazeera, in May, there were raids on the Ismail home. Several others have provided support or identified the same or similar issue with the charges against Ismail. Peace Direct expressed “full solidarity” with Ms. Ismail (2019). They direct attention to a petition here (Avaaz, 2019). Humanists UK issued support (2019). Even Pakistan’s Supreme Court “rebuked the powerful military and intelligence agencies” earlier this year (Agence France-Presse, 2019), also, National Endowment for Democracy reported on the attacks on Ismail through the charges by the Pakistani military (2019).

One problem for journalists, around the world in fact, not in Pakistan alone, comes from a climate of fear, induced and partially successful, to make speaking the truth and conducting honest journalism difficult (Ibid.). Zaffar Abbas, Editor-in-Chief of Dawn, stated, “[Journalists] know no new instructions are coming in from the editor, they know the news editor is not stopping them … from writing certain things, but the overall atmosphere that has been created through intimidation and other methods, it is having a psychological impact and it is affecting our journalism” (Ibid.). Interestingly enough, Prime Minister Imran Khan visited President Trump in July (Briggs, 2019; BBC News, 2019). Before the trip, members of the United States Congress were asked to sign a letter organized through Alliance for Peacebuilding with emphasis on the Ismail case (Briggs, 2019; Alliance for Peacebuilding, 2019).

Alliance for Peacebuilding’s call was picked up by Humanists International (2019) within a week. “Specifically, we urge you to raise concerns over the treatment of internationally recognized peacebuilder and women’s rights activist Gulalai Ismail, who is under immediate threat of indefinite detention for speaking out against cases of harassment and sexual assault by Pakistani security forces,” Humanists International and Alliance for Peacebuilding stated, “Gulalai has been charged along with other activists who have been part of a nonviolent movement seeking a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate human rights abuses by Pakistani forces during counterterrorism operations” (Humanists International, 2019; Alliance for Peacebuilding, 2019). Circa July 15, 2019, the following organizations signed onto the call – full statement here:

  1. 2-2 Consulting Group LLC
  2. Alliance for Community Based Organisations
  3. Alliance for Peacebuilding
  4. American Friends Service Committee
  5. Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Human Rights
  6. Association for Women’s Promotion and Endogenous Development
  7. Aware Girls
  8. Benenson Society
  9. Catalyst for Peace
  10. Center for Advocacy in Gender and Social Inclusion (CAGSI)
  11. Cepaz – Centro de Justicia y Paz
  12. Charity & Security Network
  13. Community Initiatives and Research
  14. Cultura Democrática
  15. Equity Now for Women and Girls
  16. Global G.L.O.W.
  17. Humanists International
  18. Idea Ghar
  19. Institute for Young Women Development
  20. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  21. Journalistes pour la Promotion de la Démocratie et des Droits Humains (JPDDH)
  22. JuventudLAC
  23. Karuna Center for Peacebuildng
  24. Nest
  25. Nonviolent Peaceforce
  26. Organization for Community Civic Engagement
  27. Organizing for Zimbabwe Trust
  28. Pakistan NGOs Forum
  29. PCDN
  30. Peace Direct
  31. PRBB Foundation
  32. Radial Show Cara & Sello
  33. RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in War)
  34. Roshan Democratic Institute, Islamabad, Pakistan
  35. Rural Women’s Network Nepal (RUWON Nepal)
  36. SUSTAIN Cameroon
  37. The Business Plan for Peace
  38. The Kota Alliance
  39. United Network of Young Peacebuilding
  40. Virtueconomy
  41. World Youth Movement for Democracy
  42. Youth 21 for community development

*This is far from complete reportage, limited to the last couple of months (mostly), and Ismail remains in hiding.*


Agence France-Presse. (2019, February 7). Pakistan’s Supreme Court tells military and intelligence agencies to stay out of politics. Retrieved from

Alliance for Peacebuilding. (2019, July 17). 42 Organizations Stand with Peacebuilders at Risk in Pakistan. Retrieved from

Amnesty International. (2019, February 6). Pakistan: End crackdown on PTM and release protestors. Retrieved from

Amnesty International. (2018, October 12). Pakistan: Release Pashtun human rights defender immediately and unconditionally. Retrieved from

Avaaz. (2019). Drop terrorism charges against Gulalai Ismail. Retrieved from

Aware Girls. (2019). Aware Girls. Retrieved from

BBC News. (2019, July 23). Imran Khan: Pakistan PM meets Trump in bid to mend ties. Retrieved from

Briggs, B. (2019, July 24). Pakistani human rights defender in hiding after parents charged with terrorism. Retrieved from

CIVICUS. (2019, June 7). Pakistan: Human Rights Defender Gulalai Ismail at risk. Retrieved from

Gettleman, J. (2019, July 23). In Pakistan, A Feminist Hero Is Under Fire and on the Run. Retrieved from

Hasan, M. (2019, July 8). From Our Member Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Pakistan – Threats to Gulalai Ismail’s family must stop. Retrieved from

Hashim, A. (2019, August 14). ‘Silenced’: Pakistan’s journalists decry new era of censorship. Retrieved from

Humanist Canada. (2019b, July 18). Humanist activist and family threatened by Pakistan: Canadian government asked to intervene. Retrieved from

Humanist Canada. (2019a, July 1). Humanist Canada calls for the release of Pakistani Activist. Retrieved from

Humanists International. (2018a). Freedom of Thought Report. Retrievd from

Humanists International. (2018b). Pakistan. Retrieved from

Humanists International. (2019, July 23). US Senate joins international calls to end persecution of Gulalai Ismail. Retrieved from

Humanists UK. 92019, June 25).Humanists UK issues urgent call to drop charges against Pakistani human rights activist Gulalai Ismail. Retrieved from

Human Rights Watch. (2019). Pakistan: Events of 2018. Retrieved from

Kazmi, I. (2018, December 19). Kazmi, I. Gender equality situation worst in Pakistan: WEF report. Retrieved from

National Endowment for Democracy. (2019, July 25). Pakistan’s military targets feminist icon. Retrieved from

Peace Direct. (2019, May 28). We Stand with Gulalai Ismail. Retrieved from

Siddique, A. (2019, August 29). AI Calls On Pakistan To Halt Crackdown On Pashtun Rights Group. Retrieved from

UNDP. (2019). Pakistan: Human Development Indicators. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2019, August 26). Gulalai Ismail. Retrieved from

World Economic Forum. (2018). The Global Gender Gap Report 2018. Retrieved from

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican Atheists,American Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e Agnósticos/Brazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

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