Development Professional and Social Activist





WORK AT Institute for Development Studies and Practices [IDSP] 


MEMBER Civil Society Advisory Group [UN WOMEN]


 “I strongly believe in people’s power and learning from them as their wisdom, knowledge and experiences offer relevant insights for creating spaces for ordinary and excluded people"




I was born and raised in District Khuzdar of Province Balochistan. When I stepped into the conscious phase of my life, I realized that I was part of two paradoxical worlds. On the one hand, my family provided an encouraging and progressive environment of education, self-growth and participation in cultural and political life. My brother was a human rights activist and development professional who had founded his own organization namely Organization for Human Development (OHD). He encouraged us, (the sisters and the mother) to participate in cultural and political activities in the community. Hence from the very early age I became a volunteer with OHD and started to organize community meetings and seminars aimed at addressing community problems faced by girls and women.

On the other hand, there was a discouraging environment outside my family where girls and women were discouraged in different ways. My own first day at the school left a lasting but shocking impression on my educational career when the teacher locked me in the room and did not allow me to meet my elder sister. Consequently, like any other student, I remained a submissive and frightened student for almost rest of my school life except for a brief time during my engagement with Girl Guides in class 8 where we were encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities including speech and sport competitions. However, I found the overall envrironment of the school unbearable and quite damaging to my growth and learning and therefore, I decided to walk out of this pathetic system of education.

After that, my home became my school and my family members became my teachers. My grandfather worked as a stenographer and lots of women used to visit him at our home for writing legal applications. Those women used to share with us their tragic stories of discrimination and social injustice. They neither had any community support nor did the government provide them any legal protection. I personally remember that a very well-known lady in our community sued a case for her property rights but she got killed by her family. Last but not the least, men at large did not allow women to participate in cultural and political activities. As a result, I quit my dream of becoming a professional lawyer and instead pursued an on-and-off educational career with a focus on a human rights and social activism aimed at empowering girls and women.

The year of 2003 was turning point in my career when I did a practice-based course of Mainstreaming Gender in Development in Balochistan at the Institute for Development Studies and Practices Pakistan. The course was planned over a period of one year around four component including (1) self, 2) family, 3) community and 4) local government for sensitizing young women of Balochistan. This course truly helped me not only understanding the phenomenon of gender development intellectually and theoretically but also applying practice tools and frameworks for women’s empowerment.  After the course, IDSP selected me as a mentor to help replicate the same course in seven districts of Balochistan where we further trained 300 young girls as community leaders who have assumed different leadership roles in different spheres of life including government departments, civil society organizations, political parties, literary groups and so on. Given positive community response and impact on women’s empowerment, the course was sustained to be implemented on annual basis and eventually it was evolved into a Women Leadership Program which still continues as one of the core programs of IDSP’s University of Community Development.

During my engagement with women and men from different contexts and after a continuous praxis and reflection on my practices I reached a conclusion that women’s empowerment was possible only if men and women both were engaged in change processes and practices so that both of them undergo a social and cultural transformation otherwise sole focus on women results in misunderstanding and insecurity of men which often results in resistance against community change initiatives. Consequently, we decided to include young men as well in the courses which helped us incorporate the perceptions, wisdom and ideas of both men and women into our themes in order to make them balanced and relevant to the contexts we were working in. 

In 2006, I worked as a resource person in National Democracy Institute’s Project of Capacity Building of Elected Representatives in Khuzdar. The project helped train 100 elected representatives especially women at Union Council level to know about their roles and Terms of Reference. Furthermore, the dialogues around development issues were conducted in order to enable the representatives to prioritize urgent and major social issues in their development initiatives for their constituencies.  

In addition, with the support of British Council I established Youth Forum in 2006 which was comprised of more than 400 young girls and boys in District Khuzdar, Balochistan. The Forum was tasked to create consciousness among youths and engage them exerting pressure on public representative by raising their voices for their rights and issues facing them. The forum resulted in an increase and exchange of information and knowledge around gender equality, youth empowerment and leadership. The forum also helped in lobbying for an increase of budget for gender development at district level. 

In 2009, Institute for Development Studies and Practices Pakistan entrusted me with the responsibility of leading the curriculum development process in a very innovative project titled Innovative Project of Learning and Livelihood sponsored by Japan Social Development Fund. The project was aimed at creating learning and livelihood opportunities through alternative education for the out-of-school young men and women in Balochistan. It was a great opportunity for me to incorporate my hands-on and contextual experience and insights into the literacy book which was to be taught at Community Learning Centers in target districts. After an extensive and exhaustive consultation process with local people from different backgrounds, teachers, education officers, civil society representatives, I helped design an innovative literacy book based on learning codes from local contexts addressing social, political and economic issues and pedagogy was founded on the insights from Paulo Freire’s teaching, a globally known Brazilian educationist. The most creative part of the this learning program was that it was not a class-based literacy project, rather it was practical community-based learning initiative in which 4000 out-of-school children and adolescents were enrolled who not only gained literacy skills (Reading, Comprehension and writing) but also undertook a number of community-driven initiatives such as community awareness seminars, dialogues and walks and formation of community support groups. Later on, IDSP’s institutional studies confirmed that Zaanth Literacy Centers had played a key role in mobilizing communities in creating awareness against drugs, saving water, accepting girls’ education and so on.     

Since Zaanth was widely appreciated and considered by educationists and development professionals as one of the most innovative educational initiatives in the province and community also demanded for continuation of the Community Learning Centers, therefore IDSP decided to sustain it is one of the core programs of IDSP’s University of Community Develoment. Zaanth also won Engro Corporation’s award namely “I AM The Change Award 2016”.  

In addition to providing basis for Educational Theme and Program, I also designed a comprehensive theme titled Framework/Lens in the context of Gender and Class” which is taught in Women’s Leadership Program at IDSP's University of Community Development. All the themes of the University were developed during the transition phase in which seventeen years of IDSP's learning, practices, insights and experiences were incorporated into making IDSP’s University of Community Development—which is an open learning space where marginalized young men and women are engaged in Community Development and Leadership courses to train them as community leaders. 

In 2013, as a Lead Researcher I led a research study namely Next Generation Voices in Conflict and Violence in 11 districts of Balochistan which was funded by British Council. During the study, 300 stories of young men and women were collected who had suffered from different types of violence including state, ethnic, religious, cultural and political and so forth. The analysis of these stories helped discern major reasons for violence and key challenges and provided insights for effective conflict resoulation approaches.

From 2014 to 2016, I led another project called Young Community Leadership Program, aimed at developing district-based 30 faculty/ community leaders in 15 districts of Balochistan. The selected faculty learners were engaged in a theory and practice-based Faculty Development Course. All the graduates of the course went back to their relative districts to replicate the same course in order to create community leaders.

In 2017, I designed and conducted sessions on gender concepts and analysis of education using gender lens for 30 male teachers in interior Sindh. It generated a powerful discourse to identifying gendered-based issues such gender-biased curriculum, school environment, teachers’ attitude and man-dominated decision and policy making processes that aggravate gender discrimination. The discourse led to gender sensitization, women’s participation in community initiatives, and increased enrolment of girls in primary schools. Consequently, it helped the teachers to understand gendered-based injustices, cultural myths, stereotypes and gender inequality in the schools and society.

Given the successful and impactful experiment of Zaanth, Mercy Corps approached IDSP and asked my services for developing its Literacy Program for Refugees in 2017. Under this project, I was given the task to lead the process of developing the Literacy Books in three languages including Urdu, Pashto and Dari. In the initial phase of the project, the books will be taught to 427 adolescent girls and boys at 8 Afghan refugees’ schools in Quetta, Balochistan. The project is being conducted in collaboration with Afghan Government and the Afghan Consulate in Pakistan has duly approved the literacy books. The literacy books have been keenly viewed from gender lens—that is to counter misperceptions about women’s roles, duties and rights; to deconstruct the misleading image of women and highlight and appreciate their due contributions in every sphere of life and also chosen codes that address social, economic, political and environmental issue faced by Afghan refugees. Mercy Corps Balochistan has published these books and training of teachers has taken place. In this literacy program the most powerful feature is its teaching methodology known as Critical Teaching Pedagogy in which learner/student remains the centerpoint of the entire education process while instructor/teacher just plays the role of a facilitator. 

Last but not the least, I am also a member of various civil society groups including (i) Civil Society Advisory Group (CSAG) under UN Women Pakistan (ii) Non-formal Curriculum Development, Committee for Non-formal Curriculum and Policy Development under JICA and Non-formal Directorate Balochistan (iii) Gender Task Force Balochistan and (iv) Early Child Development Network Pakistan. One of the key achievements of my collaboration with these groups has been my contribution to the development of Pro-Women Bill in Balochistan through my participation in the consultation process where I considerably enriched the debate through my insights based on the practical experiences of working with thousands of women across the province.


My 15 years learning journey of working with young men and women on activism, different research, project and program initiatives across Sindh and Balochistan, I have learned some key lessons which I deem essential for sustainable and inclusive community and social change initiatives. 

1.  I have enjoyed my work as an activist because I was a walkout by my own choice from mainstream education and started my life with new dreams, exploring opportunities for learning and living with freedom in order to keep myself free from the dominant structures and systems.  

2.   I strongly believe in people’s power and learning from them as their wisdom, knowledge and experiences offer relevant insights for creating spaces for ordinary and excluded peoples. 

3.  Women’s empowerment requires men and women to work side by side in order to create a change which is mutually acceptable to them.  

4. I have learnt that most of the social change and development works have been compartmentalized and project oriented depending on donors’ will to fund them which is why most of them fail to produce lasting impacts. On the contrary, I believe that development needs holistic and institutionalized approaches and community ownership and leadership. 

5.   Education must be child-centered and context-based, aimed at building the critical faculties of learners through practice-based initiatives around social, political, economic and environmental issues in their communities. 

With best regards

Farkhanda Aslam