women democracy and corruption

Women, democracy and corruption

“Women are half the society. You cannot have a revolution without women. You cannot have democracy without women. You cannot have equality without women. You can’t have anything without women.” — Nawal El Saadawi

Putting an end to gender-based discrimination towards women is central to achieving sustainable and prosperous societies. Women and girls represent half of the society and, therefore, half of its potential. Without gender equality, the potential and representation of a substantive part of our society remains untapped.

UNICEF defines gender equality to be ‘that women and men, and girls and boys, enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities and protections’. Gender equality is at the very heart of fundamental human rights and a new global development agenda. However, in a greater part of world including Pakistan the gender discrimination is still holding back women from an active and equal participation in public life.

Almost 48.8% of Pakistan’s population comprises of females. Yet, only 24.93% participate in the labor force (World Bank, 2017). Globally, Pakistan ranked at 166th in the female Labor Force Participation (LFP) rate out of 181 countries. Even the active female labor force is not fairly rewarded amidst a huge gender wage gap in Pakistan. According to International Labor Organization (ILO) report 2017, Pakistan has a wage inequality score (48.4%) in the lower-middle income countries which is not only the highest in this category but also higher than the global wage inequality score of 35.5%.

Similar scenario is pervasive regarding female political participation in Pakistan with merely 20.6% of parliamentary seats being held by women. The proportion is less than the world average of 23.6%. In terms of women participation in elections, the female voters’ turnout has been consistently low in Pakistan. During the recent General Elections 2018, only 46.89% of registered women voters casted their votes compared to 56.07% of their male counterparts. This happened despite the fact that the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees equal rights and opportunities for women to participate in politics but the deep-seated gender inequality still inhibits women to level their participation in politics with that of their male counterparts.

Not surprisingly, Pakistan is the second worst country in the world in terms of gender equality, ranking 148 out of 149 countries in the latest Global Gender Gap Index. The index further ranks Pakistan at 146th in economic participation and opportunity, 145th in health and survival, 139th in educational attainment, and 97th in political empowerment. These statistics are indicative of a restricted economic and political environment for women in Pakistan, which is also confining the overall development potential of Pakistan.

Gender equality has emerged as the leading public discourse at local, national and global fronts. The Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to build peaceful societies and effective, corruption-free institutions, stresses the need of women-inclusive decision making at all levels. However, Pakistan stands far behind many other countries in controlling corruption and promoting democracy – the country has been globally ranked at 117th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2018 and ranked as low as 112th out of 167 countries on the latest Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. For the democracy to be sustainable and resilient in Pakistan, its political system must take into account the less heard, women voices.

On this women’s day let us reaffirm our commitment to a society where women and men can participate and have equal opportunities.

Breaking the Wheel of Injustice

Pakistan is mired in thousands of land and property disputes where a majority of real estate owners and allottees are either on the verge of losing their properties or have already lost them. Rampant corrupt practices manifest themselves in one or other forms i.e. fabricated or fraudulent land records; multiple registrations of the same land by different parties; inaccurate/arbitrary boundary demarcations leading to overlapping claims; and illegal land possession by the land grabbing mafia. It is estimated that 80 percent of Pakistan’s civil case load is to do with land acquisition and titling disputes. A significant proportion of land disputes emerge from land grabbing and misappropriation of property by the builders. It gets worse when thousands of people have to run after the builders to gain possession of their legally-owned property. Typically, such can take four to ten years to resolve.

Amongst these struggling owners is the story of Mr. Adnan Qureshi, who had faced countless hurdles to recover the possession of a plot which was in his late father’s name under a housing scheme approved by Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA). The plot was booked by Adnan’s father, Mr. Tariq Qureshi, in 2004 with all the installments paid by the deceased except the last one while he was diagnosed with cancer. Four years later, Mr. Tariq died leaving his young sons unaware of the property and its pending ownership. A few years later when Qureshi learnt that his father had left a property behind him with its possession still pending due to non-payment of just one last installment, he approached the builder requesting them to settle down the issue either by repaying him the amount or allocating a plot worth the price that was paid by his father. However, not surprisingly, despite repeated visits and meeting with the management of the builder company for three years, Adnan and his siblings have not been able to claim an inch of land or corresponding repayment.

The real estate market in Pakistan has expanded significantly over the past three decades built on the lifelong savings of millions of ordinary citizens like Late Mr. Qureshi, and so the dispute continues between the builders and property buyers who invested a large chunk of their wealth hoping to secure a shelter on their heads for future or for their off springs to live and start a family. Yet, in the absence of a legal cover to ensure protection of their civic rights, majority of property owners and allottees see their investment worth billions of rupees in doldrums when the builders start wavering to give them full possession of their property within the expected time line or halts the construction halfway into the project. The only option these unfortunate land owners and their families are left with is to wait a lifetime to get full possession of their properties or to pay flat extralegal charges in the disguise of ‘transfer fees’.

Fortunately, Adnan decided to approach Transparency International Pakistan to raise his matter with the concerned authorities for a timely resolution. TI Pakistan willingly intervened in the matter and approached the top management of the housing company which had seized the property and money deposited by Qureshi’s late father. TI-Pakistan requested and pressed the project builders to negotiate with the aggrieved party and resolve the matter as soon as possible. The issue was also highlighted by TI-Pakistan to multiple authorities of Punjab including Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) and Registrar Cooperative Housing Society, Lahore.

Within a week of TI-Pakistan’s interference into the matter, Rawalpindi Development Authority responded back intimating the builders to brief the authority on Mr. Qureshi’s case. Through its involvement, TI-Pakistan effectively acted as an arbiter amongst the aggrieved party, builder and the authority and finally opened up negotiations between the parties – something Adnan and his brothers had been waiting for as long as over three years.

Consequently, these negotiations brought good tidings for Late Mr. Tariq’s family. Adnan was finally able to recover the entire amount paid by his deceased father redeeming his father’s lifelong savings just some weeks after TI-Pakistan’s intervention.

Corruption in the water sector

Corruption in the water sector

Veena Kumari, a 45-year old lady must walk three to four kilometers on a regular basis to fetch water in a small village where the lack of availability of safe drinking water compels many to consume contaminated water. Sadly, thousands of other people in Sindh province like Veena Kumari stand at risk of consuming unsafe water.

In Veena Kumari’s own village Khanwa, Rajoo Khanani, district Badin Sindh, over 200 households comprising of minorities and marginalized communities have severely been affected by inadequate access to clean drinking water. Being populated in a rural and underprivileged region, the resources accessible to the residents to make a living are restricted to agricultural means only, which too are under the threat of losing productivity due to lack of irrigation owing to the prolonged water shortage.

What is more appalling is that nothing is spared from this unsafe water, be it households, hospitals or educational institutions. According to the latest report of Judicial Commission on water submitted to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, “Out of 336 potable water samples collected from various areas of Sindh, 251 were found unsafe and only 85 were safe for human consumption”. In Khanwa too, the killer water has exposed the residents to a risk of different communicable diseases such as Typhoid, Cholera, Jaundice, and Malaria to name a few.

Not only the shortage of water is a challenge, but poor, marginalized community in village Khanwa is often double hit by the demand of bribes from state authorities or water mafia who control the water supply. For instance, Manoj, a 30-year old villager, must pay Rs. 50 on a daily basis to buy water. Many villagers, however, find it extremely unaffordable to pay this amount which would cost PKR 300,000 (€ 1,882) per month and PKR 3,600,000 (€ 22,665) per year.

The locals of Khanwa were desperately in need of voicing their concerns on lack of clean and drinkable water in the village to the concerned government representatives. However, for years they were neither able to approach nor have been reached by any public official. That’s where Transparency International Pakistan played its part.

TI Pakistan had set up a Mobile Advocacy and Legal Advice Center (ALAC) Camp at Khanwa village in February 2018 to hear the concerns of the citizens who visited the camp and register their complaints regarding lack of basic facilities in their town. TI Pakistan received several complaints from the villagers regarding unavailability of water.

TI Pakistan highlighted the issue to Chief Minister Sindh and other concerned public authorities requesting them to intervene in the matter. TI Pakistan representatives followed up with the villagers and facilitated them individually to write letters to the Sindh government. Multiple public departments got involved in the matter including Public Health Engineering department, Water Commission, and Irrigation Department, Government of Sindh.

As a result of these consistent efforts, Sindh government responded in just over a month requesting the Public Health Engineering Department to build water pipeline and tanks in the village. By January 2019, a water pipeline, connected with water purification plant in Rajoo Khanani, and water tanks have been built in Khanwa.

Today, after ten months of struggle and TI Pakistan’s proactive advocacy with the government authorities; neither Veena Kumari walks three to four kilometers for a bucket of water nor Manoj has to pay a bribe to access clean water. As the public authorities have now ensured that the villagers have free access to drinkable water.

A Little Act of Bravery

A Little Act of Bravery Ali Asghar Story

Corruption is rampant in Pakistan and has infiltrated every aspect of public life in the country. This pandemic has become the norm which has come to be accepted by Pakistani citizens as ‘business as usual’. Unfortunately, the people who are struggling to make ends meet are the losers of the system as they are denied their fundamental rights granted to them by the State. In order to defeat corrupt practices, the citizens of the country need to take a stand against this malpractice and voice their displeasure at the expense of the corrupt.

Take the story of Ali Akbar, a poor farmer from Punjab, who decided to fight a corrupt act in 2013 brought about by an introduction of a scheme by the Government of Punjab to give financial aid to deprived farmers. Being uneducated and poor, Ali Akbar was eligible for the scheme. Under this scheme, the eligible farmers were granted a distribution token which they had to collect from a camp set up near a College in the district of Dera Ghazi Khan. The funds were to be given only to the farmers who had received a token. However, Ali soon realized that the process was not going to be smooth. The ‘Patwari’, a local public officer, was in charge of distributing the final token for the funds to the eligible candidates in a transparent manner; instead, he demanded a bribe of Rs.2000 from Ali if he wished to receive the token. Ali soon came to the realization that the ‘Patwari’ was asking for a bribe from every eligible candidate for the scheme who came to receive their funds that day.

Ali recalled that he had heard about an organization which took corruption related complaints so he rang up the Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) helpline at Transparency International Pakistan. The ALAC Team advised him not to pay any illegal gratification to the ‘Patwari’ in order to collect his token. Ali provided the staff member with the contact details of the ‘Patwari’. The ALAC team rang the ‘Patwari’ to inform him of complaints received from eligible farmers alleging his soliciting bribes from eligible candidates. However, the short conversation ended without an admission of guilt by the ‘Patwari’.

A few days later, on the advice of the ALAC team, Ali re-visited the camp to receive his token, with no intention of being bullied into paying a bribe to the ‘Patwari’. ALAC also advised Ali to report any harassment he might witness at the camp; however, there was no further hindrance in obtaining the token. Ali excitedly informed ALAC that he was able to receive his token without the demand of a bribe by the ‘Patwari’.

Just like Ali Asghar, thousands of Pakistanis are victims of widespread corruption on a daily basis. ALAC was established in 2009 to provide the common man with the tools to stand up to corruption at the grass root level by offering ethical and legal advice. ALAC has received thousands of complaints since its inception and has been able to successfully intervene to help those whose lives are being made difficult by venal public officials. The bravado of Ali Asghar goes to show how citizens can end corruption by the simple act of refusing to give in to illicit demands. We hope the story of Ali Asghar will encourage others to contact the ALAC helpline for expert legal advice for the corruption they may encounter.

Citizens Activism for Improved Health Services

Citizens Activism for Improved Health Services

One of the most oft-quoted problems received by the Advocacy and Legal Advice center at Transparency International Pakistan is that of the deplorable state of the health sector. The problems usually fall under a wide spectrum of specific issues: doctors’ absenteeism, lack of availability of beds, substandard treatment facilities, lack of rapport between doctors and patients and lack of cleanliness. Since many years, various reports have consistently highlighted the poor state of government-run hospitals. For instance, according to a recent study titled “Ranking Web of World Hospitals” an initiative of Cybermetrics Lab, research groups of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cienti cas (CSIC), only four government-run hospitals are among the top 20 in Pakistan. The best among these four ranks 5,911 in the world.

While infrastructure is a challenge in many government hospitals, more serious problem that patients visiting government hospitals face is that of doctors’ absenteeism and inadequate staff. Though legally, doctors in public hospitals are bound not to work in private clinics, but lack of transparency and proper enforcement of rules and regulations have allowed many doctors to continue their practices in private clinics during the time when they are supposed to be present at the public hospitals. One such case that we have come across was during the Mobile ALAC organized in Osta Muhammad, a sub division of Jaffarabad, Balochistan.

The aim of the Mobile ALAC is to provide a service that will be so unique to the citizen that it cannot do anything but yield favourable results for the aggrieved. Thus, at the outset, this activity intends to disseminate information and/or legal advice to different groups of people in different localities. This has been advantageous in gathering information or issues that are faced by citizens in regions where basic services are not even available.

During the camp in Osta Muhammad, arranged in January 2017, the ALAC received a number of complaints about the poor condition of civil hospital in Osta Muhammad. People informed TI Pakistan that the hospital not only lacks even the basic equipment such as ultrasound machine, X-Ray machine, availability of beds and medicines, but also the doctors were running their own private clinics. The hospital doesn’t even have a single ambulance available for the population of more than a hundred thousand people living in that area.

Based on these complaints, TI Pakistan took up the matter with the concerned authorities by writing a letter. In response to our letter, the concerned authorities came into action and formed a committee to take prompt actions to redress this issue. After four months since the writing of TI Pakistan’s letter, the citizens of district Osta Muhammad informed TI Pakistan that the condition of this government Hospital was far much better than it was four months ago. The absenteeism of doctors had ended; doctors were now visiting the patients in the hospital regularly. Availability of medicines had also improved.

The Ministry of Health Balochistan through a recent press release has banned the private practices of doctors in the day time and has given instructions to the district administration for its effective implementation. It was also stated that the Assistant Commissioners will check the validity and other pre-requisites of private clinics.

In a nutshell, this story highlights the fact that though citizens have fundamental rights whereby they are entitled to essential services by the government, these are not always delivered to citizens for some reason or another. In these situations, people need to come together in order to voice their grievances to get noticed and get the desired result.

Empowering Citizen’s Against Corruption

For any society to flourish, it is imperative that its people are given the right to hold their rulers accountable. In practical and simple terms, this means there are no restrictions on the kind of questions citizens ask from their government. It has been said time and again that without the free flow of speech and information, a state cannot realistically solve its problems. The argument for the free flow of information is a rational one. Free and transparent information brings out the truth for all to know. Obstruction of information can lead to abuse of power and squashing of citizens’ rights.

While the post 2013 elections period has been promising for the right to access to information movement in Pakistan. Soon after the elections, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Punjab led the way by passing internationally acclaimed Right to Information (RTI) laws and setting up information commissions. However, there is a need to empower people to stand up for themselves and demand these laws for themselves. Keeping this in view, Transparency International Pakistan is doing all it can to impact the discourse and dialogue in Pakistan regarding these laws. We have been working with the relevant stakeholders especially youth, women and the general public to equip them with relevant skills and knowledge on how they could hold government accountable using the RTI laws.

TI Pakistan staff member giving a RTI training
TI Pakistan staff member giving a RTI training

Moreover, for any legislation to be effective enough, it is fundamental that people are aware and empowered enough to take advantage of it. Though, in Pakistan, in recent years, there has been much emphasis on legislation but the need to ensure greater outreach of these laws is highly under shadowed. To fill this void, TI Pakistan under its flagship program namely Citizens Voice Against Corruption (CVAC) had envisioned a training program on Right to Information to raise awareness amongst citizens of the basic rules of writing complaints and enable them to write applications to the concerned authority. To date, there have been multiple training sessions conducted across Pakistan (rural and urban areas). As a result of which, TI Pakistan has successfully empowered thousands of citizens to ask questions from their government, bringing much-needed transparency in the otherwise opaque functioning of the government in the country.

It is also encouraging to see the impact of these trainings. One such success story is a case of Mr. Sher Khan who attended TI Pakistan’s recent Right to Information (RTI) workshop in Burewala, Punjab. After the workshop, he was well informed about the RTI laws and procedures to file RTI requests. He filed three RTI requests: One to the Provincial Highway department asking them for the budget of Kachi Paki Road and two RTI requests to the Town Municipal Administration, Burewala for the Town Budget 2015-16 and budget of Tehsil Headquarter Hospital of the last three years. After the struggle of two months, Sher Khan was able to receive information from the concerned departments.

TI Pakistan staff member giving a RTI training
TI Pakistan staff member giving a RTI training

This highlights the fact that for many, particularly for the poor and disadvantaged in Pakistan, the simple act of filing an RTI is an act of empowering themselves. There are many others like Sher Khan who have benefited from TI Pakistan’s RTI workshops enabling themselves to keep a check on government policies and decisions and expose misuse of public funds. In addition, a study conducted by Yale University reveals that “Access to information appears to empower the poor to the point where they receive almost the same treatment as middle-class individuals at the hands of civil servants. This is something that payment of a bribe cannot do.”

However, all this is conditioned upon the rigorous implementation of RTI laws. Only when these laws are adopted in both spirit and letter will Pakistan be able to overcome its problems of bad governance and the menace of corruption in the country.

 

Sidra, In Pursuit of Justice

In April 2015, Mr. Kamran an influential person of Burewala forcibly entered Mr. Ashraf’s house and shot his daughter dead. At the time of her gruesome murder, Sidra was 21 years old and her crime was to refuse a marriage proposal from her murderer.

Such violence against women is rampant in Pakistan. Especially in rural areas, the judicial system is highly undermined by local traditions whereby people arbitrate such crimes through local Jirgas (elders’ committees) rather than resorting to courts. As a result, the perpetrators are rarely held accountable. Importantly also, people fail to take such cases to the actual dispensers of justice i.e. courts because they lack platform which could guide them better. Keeping in view this, in 2009, Transparency International Pakistan envisioned rendering such a platform through its Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC).

Sidra’s story was brought to TI Pakistan during one of its Mobile ALAC camp organized in Chak 315, Burewala. The victim’s father had gone from pillar to post to lodge the First Information Report (FIR) against the accused. Given that police in rural areas is under the influence of local influentials so to weaken the case, police changed the type of weapon used in murder in the First Information Report. This was done with an intention to sabotage primary evidence of the case. As such cases are examined through Ballistic, forensic investigations, so a difference in the gun and bullets fired would have created a benefit of doubt in favor of the accused. However, to help complainant, TI Pakistan advised the complainant to go to the trial court accompanied by TIP Pakistan’s local NGO partner – where the matter was sub-judice and filed an application for the inquiry. Throughout this period, TI Pakistan’s ALAC team had remained in constant touch with the complainant and provided assistance from legal advice to actual facilitation on the ground. As a result of these efforts, the trial court ordered forensic inquiry of the bullets and gun and found complainant to be correct.

Though the trial court has released the accused but with legal advice provided by Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC), the victim’s father was able to abandon his fear and encouraged to raise voice for the right of his deceased daughter. The ALAC team also advised the victim to file a criminal acquittal appeal before the High Court. Therefore, the matter is currently sub-judice in the Lahore High Court, Multan branch. Through such efforts, TI Pakistan aims to promote transparent and accountable system in Pakistan where each of its citizens is held equal in the eyes of law.

Encroachments galore in Pakistan

Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world. At current level of population growth, Pakistan is expected to add about 3 million people each year throughout the period of 2015-2030. This pressure of population on land is further exacerbated by lack of transparency and accountability when it comes to land management in Pakistan.

Land corruption is widely prevalent in Pakistan. Largely, it afflicts general public in form of corrupt officials who seek bribe for day-to-day administrative tasks such as property transfer, plot registration, kickbacks for facilitating certain development work and massive encroachment on amenity land and open space in various parts of the country. In the city of Karachi alone, it is estimated that each year, over 3000 acres of government land is plagued by encroachment. Similarly, the land sector has consistently been reported as one of the most corrupt sectors by TI Pakistan’s annual reports. To prevent and counter corruption in such matters, Transparency International Pakistan has made persistent efforts for corruption free land governance system. Through its Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre, TI Pakistan has raised voice on behalf of the citizens who are victims or witness of corruption. Our intervention has led to successful resolution of number of encroachment and land grabbing related cases.

The most latest of these is action taken by the provincial government of Punjab. Recently, the ALAC Unit of TI Pakistan had received a complaint from Ms. Marium (name has been changed), a resident of Murree, who had informed TI Pakistan that Mr. Ahsan (name has been changed) is illegally erecting a house on the land that belongs to the government of Punjab. Since May 2008, the provincial government of Punjab had imposed a ban on all kinds of construction activity in the tehsil of Murree. On a further scrutiny of the complaint, TI Pakistan learnt that Mr. Ahsan who himself is a government officer had clearly abused his public office for a private gain.

Therefore, On June 4, 2016, TI Pakistan wrote a letter to Chief Minister of Punjab, Mr. Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharrif to seek government’s attention and action against the illegal settlement on state land in tehsil Murree. After successful intervention from TI Pakistan, the responsible town administrator had halted the work on the site, demolished the construction and retrieved the possession of state land.

Though efficaciously resolved, but this particular case also highlights the wider problem of massive encroachments and different forms of corruption in the land administration system in Pakistan. It is imperative that Pakistan puts improving land governance in its agenda as corruption in this sector carries an enormous cost for the overall developmental agenda of the country and directly affects the livelihood of its people. At the same time, it must also be noted that for such an accountable and transparent system to emerge; vigilant and responsible citizens like Ms. Marium are an indispensable part.

Resources:

United Nations Statistic Division. Population by age, sex and urban/rural residence: Demographic Yearbook. United States of America: UNdata.

Fighting Corruption: Man who was deprived of his land

 

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Ahmed, an old man had spent much of his life working for Pakistan Air Force (PAF) as a Corporate Technician. During his service, he was granted 32 acres of agricultural land under the Defense Force Quota in the year 1966-1967. With a hope to build his own house, Ahmed continued to pay installments for the plot from his hard earned money until 1987. After his demise in 1993, Ahmed’s son, Mr. Khan, who bequeathed his father, had made persistent futile attempts to approach concerned revenue authorities for the issuance of challan so that he could pay the outstanding dues on the land. But to no avail.

To gain a possession of a land that legitimately belonged to him, Khan was asked for a bribe. The bribery mafia is deep rooted in Pakistan’s government departments. While many Pakistanis often succumb in the face of these hassles and contribute to reinforcing corrupt practices by giving a bribe. However, Mr. Khan was adamant not to be deterred by the demand for money and fiercely resisted it. Fortunately, in 2008, after a long hiatus his ordeal was eventually heeded. On 28 April 2008, Provincial Ombudsman (Mohtasib Ala) Sindh passed an order in his favor and directed Executive District Officer (Revenue) Sukkur to grant complainant a possession of land in 30 days. Despite this, Khan was deprived of the possession of his land.

 

Thereafter, he turned to TI Pakistan. After a thorough scrutiny and verification, TI Pakistan drafted a letter to the Chief Secretary Sindh, Secretary Revenue Sindh and Executive District Officer Revenue with a copy to Provincial Ombudsman (Sindh) requesting an action into the matter. However, for seven months the status of the allotment kept lingering. On 13 May, 2011, after seven months, TI Pakistan sent a reminder to Executive District Officer on the status of complainant; thereafter the complainant successfully received the possession of his land.

Each day, there are thousands of Pakistanis like Mr. Khan who are victims of the widespread corruption in the country. Keeping in view this, in 2009, TI Pakistan established Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre – a public forum that provides ethical and honest legal expertise to solve the corruption related issues of the common man at the grass root level. Since 2009, ALAC has received more than 10,000 complaints and through its successful intervention has exposed and helped resolve number of corruption related cases that a common man in Pakistan confronts on daily basis. It also needs to be understood that TI Pakistan is not an enforcing body; it could only pressurize government and push for anti-corruption reforms in Pakistan. For a change to happen, it is imperative that there are enough people like Mr. Khan who are willing to resist paying a bribe. We also hope that the story of Mr. Khan and our successful intervention will encourage others to inform on illicit practices and help counter and prevent corrupt practices in Pakistan.

The International Youth Camp 2015 – Siem Reap, Cambodia

By Preet Ayoub Shaikh

International Youth Camp

Being selected to represent Pakistan in the International Youth Camp (IYC) for Transparency and Integrity was one of the best things to happen to me, as I would realise just days into the camp. This camp, which was held in one the most scenic cities in the world, played a pivotal role in determining much of my future as a powerful and conscientious citizen of my country, and for that I will forever be a better person.

Corruption is one of the biggest problems Pakistan faces today; in fact, it is the problem that gives rise to and spawns many other evils in our society. The lack of education, the low standard of living, the millions living below poverty line, all these adversities are fuelled by the existence of corruption, and we the youth find ourselves frustrated and helpless to do anything. Or so I thought. IYC completely changed my outlook on the problems faced by corrupt countries, but more than that it shaped a whole new perspective… it made me realise the tools and resources we the youth can use to channel something positive, to target this disgusting issue, to fix our country, to take matters into our own hands.

The camp was by no means an easy experience. As the name suggests, we were living in tents equipped with nothing but a blanket, to be shared between 3 people.

International Youth Camp    International Youth Camp    International Youth Camp

Moreover, there were communal showers, and a difficult routine to boot. We were to wake up at 5:30 am for aerobics and start our day with some very loud music and questionable dance moves. Shower and breakfast were then followed by lectures and talks by some excellent and experienced speakers.

The agenda involved talks on corruption, human rights, good governance, law, social
work, youth empowerment and tools and resources that the youth can employ. All the talks and lecInternational Youth Camptures were informative, coupled with good handouts and interactive games and activities to maintain our interest and attention. The long working days were punctuated with coffee and fruit breaks, and all 3 meals of the day were great to look forward to. The Muslim participants were especially looked after, being served food from a specialized Halal restaurant, something we greatly appreciated

 

International Youth Camp    International Youth Camp    International Youth Camp

 

Before the lectures officially started, we woke up on Sunday to find a line of bicycles waiting for us. We were told that we would be riding about 20 kilometres to the Angkor Wat and Bayon Temples. Apprehensive as I was, this was one of the most thrilling experiences I could have possibly had as a tourist. The temples, needless to say, were beautiful and were filled with thousands of tourists. Tall trees and forests engulfed the temples and the whole view was made just perfect by beautiful ebony-coloured elephants that occasionally passed by, carrying tourists on their massive backs.

While the lectures, activities and living conditions were great and an incredible learning experience, I believe camps like these are unique and so successful all over the world because of what they provide in terms of cultural exchange, and multi-ethnic education. International Youth CampNo book or movie in the world can replace the knowledge gained from having a conversation with someone different, someone not like us and that is a belief that was further reinforced during my time in Siem Reap. Every meal, you could see an Indonesian and a Cambodian having a conversation, a Malaysian trying to figure out our thick Pakistani accent, or a Bangladeshi explaining to a Vietnamese boy why she ate with her hands instead of using a knife and fork.

Everyday our Halal table was visited by participants from other countries, many joining us and sharing our “special chicken.” This kind of camaraderie and sharing of living space, International Youth Campbathrooms, food but most importantly ideas is what makes this world a small place, a place where people are finding it easier to disregard borders and passport checks, a place where our governments can no longer instil in us unnecessary political hatred of another person, and it is camps like these that are really making this world more globalized, that are helping spread the ideas of tolerance and acceptance, that are helping misunderstood groups and minorities from being stigmatized.

One of the major events during this camp was the Charlie HebdoInternational Youth Camp tragedy. When we woke up and news of the massacre reached us, we were apprehensive of how one of the French women at the camp would interact with us Muslims. What followed though was not a debate but rather a discussion of the tragedy and it is these kind of instances that humanize the world… that remind us that we are first part of the human race and then part of other manmade/political/ethnic entities.

Evenings at the camp were some of the best times. The first evening of the camp, which was also the opening ceremony, TI Cambodia invited some important ministers to inaugurate the ceremony. The participants then lit a campfire and sang a song to signify the commencement of the camp. The whole event was capped by beautiful traditional dances by professional Cambodian dancers. Other evenings involved traditional performances by each country followed by the house band playing some lovely music and the participants dancing to it. One especially fun day, we were allowed to break tradition and go in Tuk-tuks to the Night Market and Pub Street, two of the most attractive tourist destinations in all of Cambodia. One of the most memorable nights was that of the closing ceremony, where we were again visited by Cambodian royalty, and where each participant in their national dress received a memento and certificate by TI Cambodia.

Siem Reap was an incredible experience, and I will remember my time and friends there for many years to come. Thank you, Transparency International, Pakistan and Cambodia, for the amazing opportunity.