The voices that perpetuate conflict are too often those that should be working to end it—elders, parents, older siblings.
Two girls in Pakistan’s Peshawar province decided young people working with their peers could break that pattern. Though they were only 15 and 16, Saba and Gulalai Ismail co-founded Aware Girls to help youth resist and replace old narratives — especially narratives that called for women to assume subservient roles.
Aware Girls’ peace initiatives help young people understand that adopting guns as toys makes using guns to settle disagreements all that much easier. They train their peers at school in conflict resolution skills, so arguments actually lead to stronger relationships, rather than broken bodies.
In universities and madrassas, Aware Girls teaches people their own age how to resist recruitment by militant extremists. Now, after training hundreds of young people in Pakistan, they’ve expanded their work to Afghanistan.
In addition, Aware Girls has done landmark work in sexual and reproductive rights for young women, and established a hotline to aid victims of domestic violence. Fostering a culture of equality and respect is key to ending the most basic violence.
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Today, Saba Ismail is no longer a teen herself, but she continues to work with and inspire young people. She’s a member of the United Nations’ advisory group for studying youth, peace and security. In that role, she embodies UN Resolution 1325, which calls for equal involvement of women in maintaining and promoting peace and security.
Ploughshares Fund agrees, and we back that belief by funding initiatives targeted toward the next generation.
Building trust across every division will take generations. It’s necessary work. It’s the only way to ensure that when today’s kids have their own children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, they face no threats of annihilation, conventional or nuclear.