You have the right to say!

Mehvish Yazdani

Raising voice for the marginalized can help but ensuring their right to expression is the only way to a just and equitable society.

In the recent past, Pakistan has witnessed that Freedom of Expression practiced with an objective to improve the lives of the marginalized communities has been very effective and beneficial.

Amplified by the diverse dissemination platforms the robust campaigns supporting human rights have enabled legislation that has changed the lives of millions from the underprivileged populations.

We have seen that when we have heard them, we have changed their lives and their community lives for the better.

A glaring example of this is when the ‘Khawaja Sarra’ took their right to expression and called for acknowledging their existence as citizens of this country as transgender.

The Government heard them, the political representation listened to them, and amendments were made in the CNIC to not only give them their rightful identification but acknowledge their gender as they wished as well.

This opened up all the facilities for them that are granted to other citizens, facilities and rights they were previously denied.

Similarly, the metoo campaign gave space to harassed women to openly speak up about their experiences and call for an end to this issue morally, socially and demand stricter legal issues.

When social media started buzzing with people, especially women and girls, sharing their opinion and raising voice for stricter laws and protective measures for children against increased incidents of sexual abuse and violence to protect girls like 6-year-old Zainab Ansari, who was raped and murdered, a bill was drafted and filed and passed in the National Assembly as the Zainab Alert Bill or the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act 2019.

The bill defines the system of one window operation to notify the public and recover kidnapped children through the newly formed federal agency called ZARRA.

One such endeavor is the digital campaign – Mashal-e-Haq, which has been raising awareness regarding the Rights that the Pakistani Constitution, as well as international law grants every individual, especially the marginalized and vulnerable, including religious and ethnic minorities, women, poorest of the poor, transgender, disabled, elderly and of course those who belong to more than one of these groups, are even more marginalized and vulnerable.

Such national and private awareness-driven actions and campaigns create room for safe discussions and also provide space for expression to the marginalized.

Without this space and freedom to express their concerns, the voiceless will be completely silenced.

It is up to us, as individuals, communities, institutions, and societies to ensure they are granted their right and space to exercise their right to expression. We as a collective have to ensure that we hear and listen to their voice.

We as a collective have to create a space of tolerance and acceptance, where the marginalized don’t feel threatened to voice their concerns, views and opinions.

Every person is born with the right of dignity, value and respect. One of the ways in which we recognize the fundamental significance of every person is by recognizing and valuing the basic human rights they are born with.

The right to expression is the foundation of and intersects with, many rights that are essential to our day-to-day endeavors.

Freedom of Expression is a human right granted by the Constitution of Pakistan and is defined clearly in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, giving individuals and communities the right to articulate their opinions without fear of retaliation, censorship or punishment.

Added to this is the extremely important element of space for expression. This is especially critical for the marginalized who are already silent and silenced members of our society.

The marginalized include women, children, elderly, disabled, transgender, religious and ethnic minorities and the poorest of the poor.

If their voices are not heard, their opinions are not listened then not only are we usurping their basic human right, but we will also not be able to address their issues, their needs.

Freedom of expression and speech plays an important role in the creation of a tolerant and pluralistic society.

There are many conscientious people and organizations that are working towards raising awareness of the rights of the marginalized.

As individuals, communities and institutions how proud are we, that we have truly heard the marginalized, have given them their space and right to express themselves, especially when their opinions may be different from ours. How proud are we that we have truly reflected the full diversity of the country?

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