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To host and broadcast these debates and exchanges of insight, GNMI created the activities focused on three parallel streams of efforts in order to glean the knowledge and expertise from social, political and cultural stakeholders.
. Round-table
. Journalists’ Training
. Dialogue and Performance

 

This article will accumulate and compile the aim and lessons learned from these conferences in a concise manner in order to encompass their collective takeaways.

 

The aim of the round-tables with their specialized focal points is to promote civic advocacy and democratic principles. This includes concepts of human rights that draw links between violent extremism in relation to youth policy, press freedom, education, women’s rights, health and sports. Impact areas of the round-tables are all geared towards creating a better understanding of the elements that can cause violent extremist reactions in society and there is a special focus on including women’s voices in the narrative. There have been 8 round-tables in total attended by a total of 121 direct beneficiaries of which 44 (36%) were women that resulted in 5 working papers.

 

The first conference was based on contemporary education and the ways in which policy regarding it was fueling divisiveness instead of enabling a more cohesive, accepting and tolerant society. The problem areas in light of the educational crises in the country were pointed out to be the societal acceptance of not sending girls to school thereby keeping half the population of Pakistan at a disadvantage. Secondly there are currently three mainstream parallel education systems namely Urdu medium or metric, English medium or O/A levels and religious learning in madrassahs. Each systemadheres to a particular social class and allows a variant of accessibility.

 

Medias’ role in countering violent extremism was explored in the second round-table and in order to deliver an insightful discussion to our direct and indirect beneficiaries, Media Baithak invited media stakeholders such as president Karachi Press Club, controller news, anchors, editors, journalists and veteran actors. One of the major discussions for this round-table was the content on news channels and drama serials and how it does not highlight positive values, but instead promotes ideas of divisiveness and sensationalism for the sake of ratings. It was also a point of focus to note that media persons and journalists did not have a support network and needed to have a union that brings together all media stakeholders and workers in order to ensure job and social security for them all.

 

Given the gender disparity prevalent in Pakistan and the rise of extremist elements in society, it was imperative for Media Baithak to hold a session centering women’s role in countering violent extremism. Eminent politician Farooq Sattar was also present along with social activists like Rafia Dawood and Aliya Sarim in addition to women journalists, psychologists and lawyers. It was felt by the participants that in theory women’s place in society is quite elevated but in practice they have very little agency. To correct this the security forces and all campaigns to counter extremism in society must include women in decision making roles as well as implementing roles. This will allow insight and action that previously was would otherwise not be available in a solely male dominated response to fundamentalism. In addition to this it was emphasized upon that the violence women face in society every day behind closed doors and in public, professional, social and political areas must end if Pakistan can ever hope to challenge other extremist agendas perforating her very fabric.

 

Sixty-four percent of Pakistan’s population is under 30 years’ old which translates into 64 percent of the economy, society and politics ideally being geared to cater to them. However, there are no provisions and legislations decreed for their welfare and instead this majority demographics potential is dismissed. In ignoring the youth of the country, the economy, politics and society is at risk as if these individuals are not catered to and provided for they have a high likelihood of becoming part of groups that encourage extremist elements. In order to gather a fuller perspective on this concern Media Baithak invited former Youth Affair minister for Sindh, university deans and vice chancellors, politicians and social activists. One of the biggest demands of all participants was to lift the ban on student unions at university, a policy that was realized across Sindh in late October, 2019. In addition to this there was a unanimous agreement regarding providing vocational training to the youth as well as the abolishment of three separate but parallel education systems that entrench society in an even deeper class divide.

 

The global clampdown on media freedoms has been felt by every person who understands the value of being able to express their opinion. The fifth round-table held at Media Baithak focused on how freedom of expression could be utilized in order to counter extremist factions in society. To make this discussion robust actors, activists, journalists, department head for university media studies and editors were invited. Their first-hand experience and expertise allowed them to provide insight on the merits of freedom of expression and the ways this allows communities and societies at large to feel represented and heard. The clamp down on what can be said applied not only to media persons and outspoken activists but is also found in school textbooks, religious interpretations and even legislation. This suppresses marginalized communities even more and enables the undue privilege of dominant demographics. The panel felt that the resolution for this would be state and establishment support of freedom of expression and a willingness for the powers that be to accept constructive criticism in order to be able to progress together as a society.

 

A parallel reality is intermingling with real life and it is composed of online spaces and social media. As much as it is criticized for not being realistic or pragmatic, online spaces and social media have changed the course of history; not just socially but politically. Media Baithak invited online and offline activists, a psychologist, a digital startup founder, a lawyer, and a freelance journalist among others, in order to ensure as holistic a perspective on online voices countering violent extremism, as possible. The panel mostly agreed that digital media literacy training must be provided to parents and guardians so that the new generation has safeguards when navigating these spaces. As much freedom as digital media has provided, there is that proportionate a need for security and accountability. For the state however this has translated to authoritarian cybercrime law that allows for vague wording of the law to ensnare anyone criticizing the statusquo under hate speech and therefore ban their accounts or even arrest them. It was felt that there was a dire need for cyber stakeholders to create legislation that is better able to identify and target fundamentalist factors in society instead of persecuting those constructively criticizing state practices.

 

Media Baithak highlighted an issue that was often ignored in social narratives and that is the participation in active sport. Providing the community with the opportunities to be physically active in a safe environment that nurtures physical growth and success, will inevitably lead to an emotional nourishment as well. The second last round-table held at Media Baithak brought together sports startup entrepreneurs who provided safe grounds for women to ride their bicycles without being harassed by religious extremists. Aside from this female coach and aspiring athlete decided to collaborate with one another as they were both discouraged from following their passion in sports simply for being women. This touched upon a vital concern for all involved and this was the participation of women in sports. Across Pakistan women are discouraged from taking part in sporting activities as it is seen as shameless for them to do so. While there is a dearth of sporting facilities for men as well, women need extra precautions for safety while they train or play given the hostilities they face for something as simple as riding a bicycle or playing football. Also vital to the discussion was the fact that no other sport was given the same value as cricket, which meant that all athletes focusing on another sport were not given the same support, importance or subsidies. This shrinking space was a leading cause for the youth to seek harmful behaviors and extremist company as their energies were not being utilized for positive activities instead.

 

Final roundtable held at Media Baithak was centered on public health and the ways it can be developed to prevent violent extremism. This perspective on public health was explored by speakers whose expertise were in medical health, rehabilitation, non-profit health advocacy and awareness, health reporter and educators amongst others. It was discussed how the lack of basic amenities and facilities was a concern for public and social health in terms of extremist factions taking hold in society. A medical consultant upon hearing the dreadful conditions a rehabilitation center was facing decided to hold a free of cost dental camp for the children of the rehabilitation center. Some members of the panel were of the view that the devastating levels of abuse the most vulnerable demographics face is the extremist mindset that must be countered. Public policy around health was also debated and it was decided that health standards need to be maintained by a federal base and elevated according to provincial capacity. In order to curtail extremist factions in society it is important that basic human rights are met without dividing it into better care and service for the elite.