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Pakeeza is helping girls into school

Pakeeza travelled all the way from Railomiyan, her village in Pakistan, to Oxfam Novib, in order to share her story. At 18, she had just finished high school, an extraordinary achievement. Now she is using her experiences to help other girls gain the education that is their right.

Against the odds

Pakeeza comes from a very conservative family and caste and as a child she was not allowed to go outside on her own. Many families in rural Pakistan fail to send their children, especially girls, to school; educating girls and fostering their independence are frowned upon and seen as a problem of honour. Pakeeza’s family was no exception, but at 12, after much badgering, she was allowed to go to school. But not alone; she had to be walked there by her 10-year-old brother.

Education is just the start

Obstacles for girls do not stop at education; rural youths in Pakistan face a lack of job opportunities and low incomes. “There should be more opportunities for youth, so they can better contribute to society,” Pakeeza explains. “The biggest problem for us is money.” In spite of this, Pakeeza knows that education is the gateway to more opportunities, and so she was motivated to fight for the right to education of other girls in her community.

Mobilizing for the fight

Pakeeza formed a group with like-minded young girls working together towards this vision. The group still meets with teachers and other community leaders to persuade the stricter, more conservative parents that educating girls is important. Pakeeza uses the lack of female doctors in the community as a powerful justification for girls’ education. But she thinks more should be done: “There should be projects for parents because they are not aware of the issues.”


Empowered to raise awareness

Joining the Empower Youth for Work (EYW) Innovation Hub in her district was a turning point for Pakeeza; she trained in topics such as business, employment, budget management and gender. “That was a very useful and good thing for me,” she says. “My life changed after this project.” Pakeeza went on to form her own youth group and passed on what she had learned. The group carried out social campaigns in their village: influencing elders in favour of educating girls and girls’ economic empowerment

Walking in solidarity with other girls

Pakeeza even walked to the school gate with some girls to get them into school. “After my parents gave me permission to go to university, I talked to the community girls, and then their parents gave them permission. It’s a big success for me.” She’s proud to have helped girls go on to university, organized activities on gender, and arranged the celebration of International Women’s Day in her village.

Brought abroad by activism

Pakeeza was soon to add being the first girl in her village to travel outside of Pakistan to her list of achievements, when she was invited to the Youth Symposium in the Netherlands. She stood out among the youth activists from around the world because of her quiet composure and focus with which she shared her story, talking in front of a global audience and the Dutch Ambassador.

Patient persistence pays off

Pakeeza has learned one particular lesson: “That we should be patient. As activists,” she says, “we face many difficulties. Sometimes people say you are too young, but that is why you stay and struggle on. We have to be patient. Without patience we can’t do anything, we just struggle.” Now, Pakeeza is off to university and dreams of becoming a professor of English. Her vision for young women in Pakistan is for empowerment beyond education. “I think girls should have their own jobs, their own businesses, so they can earn their own living.”


Oxfam Novib's Empower Youth for Work project is aiming 


towards the socio-economic empowerment of youths in the rural areas of Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Indonesia. In Pakistan the project has launched two Innovation Hubs providing the rural youths of the area with life- and technical-skills for starting their own businesses and to find employment opportunities. The goal of the Hubs is to empower young people socially, politically and economically through career counselling, training, mentoring providing access to services.

This story was written by Ana Ghiban, a (former) intern in the Youth Team at Oxfam Novib. Read about Ana’s experience of interviewing Pakeeza here.

Read all the I Was There stories on the website