Youth for Humanity: Engaging Youth to Promote Religious Freedom in Pakistan

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March 7, 2024

Search for Common Ground, in collaboration with the Shaoor Foundation for Education and Awareness (SFEA) and Pakistan Research Institute for Sustainable Media (PRISM), implemented the project “Youth for Humanity: Engaging Youth to Promote Religious Freedom in Pakistan” from September 2020 to June 2023 in Karachi and Lahore. The project aimed to increase inter-communal and intra-communal respect and peaceful coexistence among religious communities in Karachi and Lahore.

Context

To support peaceful coexistence and Pakistan’s religious diversity, there is a growing need to transform the societal climate to support religious freedom and protect the rights of all people. Current inter and intra-communal dynamics have contributed to sectarian division and instances of violence against religious minority groups. However, effective changes must be precipitated by a societal environment conducive to creating institutional and legal changes toward religious freedom. Empowering youth is critical to this transformation in their communities, as religion is an important aspect of their identity. Their engagement is key to creating opportunities for intra and inter-communal dialogue.

Building on Search’s previous experience with promoting peacebuilding among religious and community leaders in Karachi and successful youth-focused digital media campaigns in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Kyrgyzstan, Search supported societal transformation through the use of media to promote tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

Theory of Change

IF youth leaders are empowered and connected across dividing lines to champion peaceful coexistence and the rights of all people, AND IF public messaging supports youth leadership and peaceful coexistence, THEN there will be a conducive environment for inter- and intra-communal respect and peaceful coexistence among religious communities.

Core Objectives and Activities

Search applied learning from the guidebook on Accommodating Religious Identity in Youth Peacebuilding Programs to create safe and inclusive spaces for Pakistani youth representing a variety of religious and identity groups for active engagement and representation with program activities. Search worked directly with local youth groups and leaders to build leadership capacity for initiatives toward intra- and inter-communal engagement and respect.

Results Achieved

1- 80 percent of the youth leaders engaged reported feeling confident to lead intra-faith dialogues by the end of the project:
○ 135 youth leaders with diverse backgrounds were trained on the Common Ground Approach.
○ 15 youth organizations have been trained in conflict mediation/resolution skills and consensus-building techniques.

“I give credit to the training I attended during this project because this project taught me in detail what minority rights are given and protected by the Constitution and how we can eliminate or reduce communal friction by working on the common ground approach.” – Male youth leader

2- The 135 youth leaders engaged in the project have become agents of peace in their communities. In the final evaluation interviews, participants expressed that the project instilled in them the courage to take tangible steps, including speaking out against misconduct, resulting in the effective promotion of peace within their community.

“I was in class, and there was a discussion around extremism, and somebody raised a point that extremism comes from Hindus. I decided to speak up to clear the misconception. I told them that extremism has nothing to do with any religion. I cleared this concept in front of 50 people.” – Female youth leader

3- 317 participants from various religious, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds engaged in intra and intergenerational dialogues. For most participants, it was the first time to have a formal conversation on inclusivity, diversity, and multiculturalism and simply meet and talk with youths from a different religion. These dialogues also engaged a diversity of religious leaders.

“I am now more committed than ever to promoting interfaith dialogue and understanding in my community. I believe that by embracing diversity and promoting empathy and understanding, we can build a more peaceful and harmonious world.”
– Sunni Scholar, Participant in the intergenerational dialogue

Intergenerational dialogue, Karachi, January 21, 2023

4- In the final evaluation, 99 percent of the youth participants reported increased interaction and new relationships with youth from other religious and secular backgrounds as a result of this project.

“For me, violating my religious circle was prohibited. People believe that it should not be permissible to interact with the opposite gender and people from other religious beliefs. We only interacted with the people of our religion. It was my first experience when I met with people of different faiths and religions during the “Intra-faith Dialogue”. I found that many things are the same, and there are only a few things that make a difference in religion among human beings. When I met people from different castes, races, and religious backgrounds, I saw the stereotypes made by society being proved wrong. The biggest benefit of this meeting to me was that the communication gap was bridged, and it reduced the feeling of inferiority within me. The confusion in my mind about people belonging to different religions and castes has been resolved. I now have a vast friends’ circle of various religions.” – Male Youth Leader, participant in the peer-to-peer dialogue

5- Youths from diverse faiths and walks of life formed teams to design and implement a total of 36 inter-communal initiatives designed to promote and spread awareness of inter-communal and interfaith cohesion.
○ Twenty-two of these initiatives were led by young female leaders.
○ These initiatives spread respect for diversity through the active engagement of 5,226 young people from both Karachi and Lahore.
○ Empowered by these initiatives, youth leaders reported increased confidence and motivation to implement initiatives in the future.

Check this story booklet to learn more about some of the initiatives implemented and the impact they had on the youth leaders and their communities.

“What I enjoyed the most about the day was the fact that there was such healthy competition between all of us that we were just focused on having fun, and it did not even occur to us to ask people anything about their backgrounds other than their names till the end of the event. I made a friend and found out only at the end that she had a different faith from mine and that she was a Christian. I thought that was a really beautiful way for us to see that friendship conquers all.” – Female participant, “Peace Play Fest” Initiative

6- 36 participants have been trained and engaged in the development of messaging content. 95 percent of youth engaged in the media campaign reported being more active in promoting peaceful coexistence messaging on social media.

“I learnt a lot about blogs today, both how to write blogs effectively as well as the various formats and spaces where I could publish my blogs. I particularly found the session on how to target the correct audience very useful in addition to the blogs. I can now use this knowledge to work on improving the rights of minorities in the country, through digital organizing and social media spaces.” – Female Youth Leader, participant in the Digital training workshop

7- Through the production of 12 talk shows, six documentaries, and 281 social media posts, the Youth for Humanity media campaign spread various messages of social cohesion and respect for diversity, leveraging online and offline channels, reaching 795,136 and engaging 106,661 individuals.
The Youth for Humanity media campaign showcased youth as a positive force of change with posts being produced by the youth leaders trained on digital messaging analysis and development, being invited as guests on talk shows, and featured in the documentaries, with three documentaries focusing on the inter-communal initiatives designed and implemented by youth leaders.

“I am deeply committed to using the power of journalism to promote peace and harmony in our society. My goal is to showcase the beauty of coexistence and pluralism and to amplify the voices of those who work towards a more peaceful world. I am indebted to the Youth for Humanity project for showing me the direction and providing me with the skills and platform to make a difference.” – Female Youth Leader, active contributor to the media campaign

8- Beyond strengthening youths’ skills and appreciation for diversity, the project also provided them with networking opportunities to sustain their efforts for the promotion of tolerance and peace in their communities. In the final activity of the project, organized in Islamabad, youths from both Karachi and Lahore were able to interact with each other and engage in discussions with influential figures and experts from various fields, including religious, governmental, educational, media, and advocacy organizations. Prominent community members and decision-makers acknowledged the achievements of these young individuals and expressed openness to collaborating with them in the future. Youths also benefited from learning about experiences in other countries of the region, with panelists from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

Youth leaders in their cultural outfits, celebrating diversity during the projects’ closing event: the Global Experience Sharing and Learning Workshop, bringing together youths from Lahore and Karachi, June 14-15, 2023

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