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‘Working to make Pakistani women smile’

Published on


Interview panel:
Shabbir Sarwar, Ali Arshad,
Transcribed by: Maham Rasool
Photography: Ahmed Zubair

Simi Kamal Chief of USAID Gender Equity Programme
25 public sector universities given grants under GEP

Simi Sadaf Kamal is the Chief of the Party of the Gender Equity Program funded by the USAID for women empowerment in Pakistan. She has also successfully engaged universities and other academic institution in the process. The Educationist conducted an exclusive interview with her, following are some excerpts:

The Educationist: Tell us about your early life and education?
Simi Kamal: I went to school in Karachi and when I was 19 years old, I went to Cambridge University. I had bachelors and master’s degrees from there. I am a geographer and I studied both of my degrees in geography.

The Educationist: After education what was your first job?
Simi Kamal: I worked in research for many years and I was doing research on society, politics, environment and human rights in Pakistan. When I was about 25, I came back and since then lived and worked in Pakistan.

The Educationist: When did you shift back to Pakistan?
Simi Kamal: Well, I got married in 1984 and since the year before, I am living in Pakistan.

The Educationist: When did you join AuratFoundation?
Simi Kamal: When I came back, I started doing a lot of voluntary work on women right and development and soon after that I began to get assignments from UN system then I set up my own company called Rasta Development Consultants are still in operation but my younger colleagues run it. Through that, as I were a team leader of over 200 people in Pakistan and abroad. I have been a part of women movement in Pakistan since I was a teenager so I was a part of it in my late teens and when the women movement happened in 1984 in a major way in Lahore when women were tear gassed and locked up while protesting against the Law of Evidence and I have been part of the movement against general Ziaul Haq’s black laws. And so I have a whole history of activism so as part of that I got to know a lot of women organizations including AuratFoundation. I did a number of assignments with them and a lot of voluntary work. When the US supportive programme came along on Gender Equity, they asked me to become a team leader so I am now the chief of part of this programme.

The Educationist: What are key objective of the Gender Equity Programme?
Simi Kamal: It’s a 40 million dollar programme with 4 major objectives. First one is to combat gender based violence and to help the survivors of violence through helplines, shelters, counseling, economic training and helping them to get back on their feet. Secondly, to help women to get access to justice.The third one is to empower women at home, work place and in public places and the fourth one is to do capacity building of those organizations that work in these areas.

The Educationist: Is your target women population in Punjab or all over?
Simi Kamal: All over Pakistan and we also work with key government organizations like National Commission for Status of Women, Provincial Commission for Status of Women, we have worked with central women empowerment ministry, we have worked on providing support to women development departments in all provinces and we have helped DaarulAmaans and other organizations. information. So this is the way we operate apart from government organization we have given many grants to small NGOs.That is part of capacity building and we have gone to grass root organizations and we do that through a competitive proves so we give the grants when people apply and our purpose is to help raise the quality and standards of these small organizations so out of the 300 grants we are supposed to give, we have already given 209 grants.

The Educationist: Are these 209 grants equal?
Simi Kamal: No they are all different, and we have given 9 grant cycles out of 12. It is called a jigsaw puzzle pattern so a smiling Pakistan can be seen when once all grants are given lined together and two years are left.

The Educationist: Currently, what is the status of this program?
Simi Kamal: 12 grant cycles out of which seven given out, six re completed. Seventh is about to be complete, eight and nine is already started, while 10 and 11 are about to start and then most of the grants will be given out this year and a little less than two years of the program are remaining. The last grants will be given in a few months so we have 1.5 years to complete the tasks.

The Educationist: Under GEP what have you achieved so far?
Simi Kamal: We have brought out material that are being used in media and universities. They are also being used by our grantees. There are 25 universities that are being given grant by us and all public sector universities. These includes Karachi University, Punjab University, Peshawar University,Gomal University, University of Sargodha, Khairpur, Faisalabad University. The products that we have made will live beyond the project. We have got 3d cartoon serial made in Pakistan on gender discrimination. It has ran all over in Pakistan at peak time. Ptv is still running it and it is being used as a teaching aid in universities and schools. Then we have a series of 14 talk shows and each one is on a subject and that runs twice on TV and it is now being used in universities.

The Educationist: The image of Pakistani women abroad is that of a depressed woman, but we see women enjoying good status here also in reality? What do you say?
Simi Kamal: Pakistani woman is facing many problems. The laws are against her. Traditions are against her. On one hand we have very powerful women in businesses, education, universities. on the other hand women gfacing a lot of problems.

The Educationist: Are you also engaging women parliamentarians as we have one of the largest women representation?
Simi Kamal: Off course, we have engaged them actively and worked a lot with them.

The Educationist: Is religion being used to deprive women of their rights?
Simi Kamal: Quran doesn’t say that women have to cover their face and they have to be locked up at home. This is in fact, if you talk about all the Muslim women, they were all very outspoken and outgoing women. They were not locked up at home under PARDA in fact at that time, the mosque was open to women, why have people closed the mosque to women. If you see history, Hazrat Ayesha (RA) was a law giver and Bibi Khadija (RA) was a business women so we have all those icons in our own history.

The Educationist: Once you completes the GEP, what will you do next?
Simi Kamal: Through giving grants, shelters, helplines, legal aid, we have set up 7 centers or hubs to combat gender based violence in Lahore, Karachi, Azad Kashmir, southern Punjab, Baluchistan, KPK and Islamabad. So these will stay even when the programme ends. All 209 grantees have become a part of our network so that is and NGOs network, a network of 25 universities, network of trained women lawyers. This effect will continue.

Quran doesn’t say that women have to cover their face and they have to be locked up at home….. Hazrat Ayesha (RA) was a law giver and Bibi Khadija (RA) was a business women so we have all those icons in our own history.

The Educationist: What is the follow up?
Simi Kamal: We have a proper monitoring system of all grantees, NGOs, universities, lawyers, shelters and a network of people who have worked on our project who will continue to support others.

The Educationist: Where there any part in sensitizing the media persons?
Simi Kamal: Yes, one of the very first grants we had given was to sensitize media people, and to train them how to report. We also worked with television anchors, writers and if we have a chance, we will work more with them. If we save money, we might do another round of it.

The Educationist: It Media grant programme was in collaboration with?
Simi Kamal: That grant for the media programme was given to an organization namely Individualand. It was through Gulmina’s organization. (On pointation) Yes, she also writes in Daily Times.

The Educationist: There is also a gender studies department in PU, what about it?
Simi Kamal: Yes, we have already funded them. They were one of our very first grantees and they have actually institutionalized a lot of training materials in that training so they are pretty good.

The Educationist: What about the curriculum development and including study courses in already running programmes?
Simi Kamal: The thing is that once we have given a standardized curricular, universities can do whatever they want with it. In fact this time, the 16 days of activism will be starting soon (this month). This time the global theme is on education. So we have a massive program that all our members of Pakistan gender coalition, all 209 sub grantees will be showing their documentaries, cartoon serials in all schools of their areas. It will take place in Islamabad.

The Educationist: NGOs are always criticized that they do less and show big and one thing they spend less on development and more on infrastructure and salaries. How you are doing?
Simi Kamal: That may be right in some cases. What we do is that we follow USAID compliance rules and these rules say that only a certain percentage is spend on overheads. We don’t give money for buildings or cars so. So its very strict, we also have quarterly monitoring, we have monthly reporting, we release tranches only when they are able to work, we don’t give money at once and the last tranche is reached only after they close out.

The Educationist: Do you have fixed salaries and infrastructure?
Simi Kamal: They are not fixed. The proportions are rather set certainly. But the nature of every sub-grant is different so you know the budget and the activities are done according to them. So we have a whole cascade of people who look at it. Sometimes, we get like proposals for 70 grants. Then we have outsource, there is an organization called Asia Foundation, they do the assessments, then it comes to us. We have a grant committee that I chair. Then it goes to another committee called project steering committee that other people run, after that every grant goes to USAID for approval. Final approval is not done by us, but by USAID.

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