Islamabad – American Counsellor for Public Affairs Christina Tomlinson yesterday joined members of the National Assembly and nongovernmental organisation representatives yesterday to celebrate the achievements of Pakistani women with disabilities.
At the Special Talent Exchange Programme Conference, she emphasised the importance of supporting the rights of women with disabilities so they can fully participate in all aspects of society.
“Promoting disability rights is an integral part of our efforts to promote human rights more broadly,” she said.
“We want to remove barriers and create a world in which disabled people everywhere enjoy dignity and full inclusion.
We work with governments and organizations like STEP to protect and promote the rights of disabled persons, and provide practical support to ensure their inclusion and full participation in society,” she added.
This conference marks the conclusion of a one-year, $375,000 program to support Pakistani women with disabilities funded by the American Embassy and implemented by STEP.
Throughout the past year, STEP has organized more than 90 training sessions, TV talk show discussions, and provincial workshops to increase public and Pakistani government awareness about the rights of women with disabilities and to provide livelihood training for women with disabilities.
“Women with disabilities face disadvantages in several key areas when compared with other women, men with disabilities, and society as a whole,” said STEP Programs Director Abia Akram.
“STEP, with the support of the American Embassy in Pakistan, initiated Supporting Women with Disabilities project to refine the approach of stakeholders and to help fully realize these women’s rights,” she said.
As this program comes to a close, the American Embassy and Mobility International are beginning collaboration on a new program to empower Pakistanis with disabilities and their allies.
Separately, the US Embassy and iEARN Pakistan staff yesterday welcomed home 19 female Pakistani students who recently participated in the Summer Sisters Exchange Programme at US universities, including Harvard, American University and Smith College.
The students, ages 15 to 18, spent the summer studying science, leadership and international affairs.
“The US Embassy sponsors this programme because all children – no matter their gender or their economic background – have the potential to develop into community leaders and deserve a quality education,” said US Embassy Deputy Cultural Affairs Officer Maureen Mimnaugh.
“I look forward to seeing the participants in this programme inspire other students in their communities and implement their new leadership skills,” he said.
The Summer Sisters Institute, launched in 2013 by the US-Pakistan Women’s Council, aims to provide a unique educational experience and mentor promising young Pakistani female students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. Since 2013, a total of 42 Pakistani girls have participated in this exchange programme.
“Exchange programmes like Summer Sisters are intensive, structured, and powerful,” said iEARN Pakistan Executive Director Farah Kamal.
“Through this programme, students develop lifelong friendships and gain knowledge, enthusiasm, and passion to make the world a better place.”
“Summer Sisters was the best summer of my life,” said 2015 programme alumna Kainat Kanwal, who attended American University’s Community of Scholars program.
“I especially enjoyed the opportunity to do community service alongside my American friends, and I used my new volunteering skills when I came home to set up a hygiene camp for mothers and children in Sialkot,” she said.
The Summer Sisters Exchange Programme is one of many exchange programmes sponsored by the US Department of State.
Every year, more than 1,300 Pakistanis travel to the United States on academic and professional exchange programmes.