For many, the Right Livelihood Award founded in 1980 to honour those who it was believed had been ignored by the Nobel Peace Prize committee, is as important as the Nobel Prize itself. The Nobel of course is usually steeped in political controversy and this alternative Nobel Prize, as the award is called, has gained enormous respect around the world. Our very own Asma Jahangir, who received the award on Tuesday, is a person who certainly deserves to collect it for her courageous work in defending human rights in Pakistan. Asma, a Supreme Court lawyer, has worked tirelessly for the rights of women, minority groups, oppressed people, missing persons and against laws perceived to be unjust. Her work has put her life at risk, but despite this she has persevered. Along the way, she has won respect in her country, but also a frightening amount of hatred. Perhaps because she is a woman, there are those who despise her outspoken, direct approach on issues and her refusal to compromise on her beliefs.
The attitudes towards Asma in many ways depict the dichotomies of our country as a whole. She is disliked because she breaks away from the traditional role allocated to women, loved by those she has spoken out for from the platform of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan which she served for many years as chairperson and also in her capacity as the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, an honorary position she held for a long term. Asma shares the award this year with US whistleblower Edward Snowden, British journalist Alan Rusbridger, Sri Lankan rights activist Basil Fernando, and US environmentalist Bill McKibben. As is the case with others in our country, Asma has gained global honour, but in her own country remains a figure who is often subjected to criticism. The latest spate of criticism against her comes from Imran Khan. He is not the only one though. These are people unwilling to work towards the more equal world that persons such as Asma strive to create, where gender, belief, sect or race do not stand in the way of equal rights as citizens or a level playing field leading to opportunity and growth.