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PJN, British Council collaborate for Punjab’s social cohesion

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ISLAMABAD, Sep 19 (APP):The Peace & Justice Network (PJN), in conjunction with the British Council, hosted a dialogue session called “Awaz Il” the other day to discuss ways to strengthen interfaith harmony and social cohesion among local communities in Punjab.

Around 77 provincial-level stakeholders, including representatives from the Department of Human Rights and Minority Affairs, National Commission for Human Rights, Punjab Women Protection Authority, Auqaf and Religious Affairs Department, IT University Punjab, Social Welfare & Bailt-ul-Maal Department Punjab relevant institutions participated on this occasion.

The provincial dialogue aimed to create a platform to highlight the issue of minorities and also to promote tolerance in society.

In her welcome remarks Dr Yasmin Zaidi, Team Lead British Council, Aawaz also said that “Part of Aawaz I| ” project to address discrimination, exclusion, and exploitation faced by vulnerable segments of society.

She explained that the Aawaz ll project is currently active in 37 districts within Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The initiative’s objectives include establishing community forums, implementing community-driven early warning systems and early response mechanisms (EWS-ERM), promoting connections among individuals from different faiths, and strengthening their relationships with relevant government institutions.

On this occasion, Dr. Ahmed Afnan, Additional Secretary, Auqaf and Religious Affairs Department Punjab, has said that “there is a dire need to improve interaction and undertake awareness campaigns to promote tolerance and strengthen social cohesion in the society”.

He went on to mention that the Pakistan Bait UI Mall is working to improve social cohesion and elevate the status of religious minorities throughout Punjab.

Participants representing religious minorities from different districts of Punjab provided case examples of the best practices from Aawaz ll’s experiences in various districts, sharing testimonies of case studies such as conflict over

burial places, incidents of societal intolerance, and disputes over water Sources which were successfully preempted with the help of EWS-ERM that Aawaz Il established across its communities.

During the process, participants, especially members from religious minorities shared several recommendations to promote interfaith harmony and safeguard the rights of religious minorities.

These recommendations included organizing capacity-building sessions for district human rights and interfaith harmony committees, addressing behavior change in schools to prevent false blasphemy allegations against children,

offering alternatives to compulsory Quranic classes for children of religious minorities.

Their suggestions emphasized the importance of inclusivity and the protection of minority rights within the community.

Aawaz ll aims to create awareness, behavior change, and increase citizen-state engagement to promote behavior change on harmful practices of child marriage, gender-based violence, exclusion, exploitation, and intolerance.

The program has reached over 30 million individuals with its interventions including communications campaigns on behavior change.

The five-year program is administered by the British Council with backing from the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO). It has called for a Provincial Dialogue to Promote Interfaith Harmony.

Arshad Mehmood, Deputy Team from the British Council, and Syed Raza Ali, CEO of PJN, urged the government to promptly establish a national commission for minority rights.

The speakers emphasized the importance of interfaith harmony, stating that it aims to create a platform for highlighting the issues faced by religious minorities while promoting tolerance and understanding in society.

They highlighted that interfaith harmony plays a crucial role in creating a platform to address minority concerns and promote tolerance within society.

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