Photo above: Director Sheena Hadi of human rights organisation Aahung

Standing up for human rights in a country where such rights do not exist or are frequently violated certainly takes courage. Sheena Hadi, director of human rights organisation Aahung, does exactly that. She works to advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of adolescents and adults in Pakistan. Aahung received the Human Rights Tulip, an annual award given by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in 2013. The award increased awareness of Aahung and made it possible for the NGO to expand the scope of its work. The award is one of the ways in which the Netherlands is fostering a greater respect for human rights throughout the world.

Human Rights Tulip

The Human Rights Tulip is an annual award given by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to individuals or organisations that advance human rights in the world in a courageous and innovative way. The winner can use the money that comes with the award to further develop and increase the scope of the work being done in the field of human rights. In 2013, the Human Rights Tulip was awarded to Aahung, a Pakistani NGO.

'It means a lot to us that the Dutch embassy appreciates our work and actually nominated us for the award,’ said Sheena Hadi. ‘The Netherlands’ record on advancing human rights in our country is quite special. For our team, the Human Rights Tulip was above all a confirmation that the work that we do really can change the lives of people in Pakistan. A wave of energy swept through Aahung after we had won the award. We knew then that we could do and achieve even more.'

In need of contraceptives

'Working to protect and advance sexual and reproductive rights in Pakistan is a dangerous occupation. Sexual and reproductive rights mean that everyone has a right to safe and enjoyable sex. These rights also mean that people must be able to decide for themselves whether they wish to have children and, if so, when.'

'Pakistan is a culturally and religiously diverse country in which conservative Islamic groups have become increasingly influential in the past decades. We are mainly active in Karachi. The city has a population of 18 million people and is Pakistan’s commercial centre. It is also a place where political and terrorist violence are far from unknown. The political climate in Pakistan is becoming increasingly conservative, which makes open discussions about issues like sex, contraceptives, unwanted pregnancies and HIV very difficult. There is a great need for the work that we do. For example, 25 percent of all Pakistani women need contraceptives but do not have access to them.'

Interactive teaching materials

'We develop interactive teaching materials that help adolescents and adults to make their own choices about their sexuality and their bodies. We also make them aware of their rights in this regard. We work with and train parents, teachers, medical doctors and religious experts.'

'Because our work is so sensitive, we tend to remain under the radar. While it was great to win the Human Rights Tulip, the award was also something that we had to be careful about. Together with the Dutch embassy here in Pakistan, we planned how the award would be made public. We were careful to get the wording and timing right, and the reactions were positive, even in the Pakistani media.'

'We’ve really been able to move forward because of the international recognition received through the Human Rights Tulip, the coaching that is part of the award and the embassy’s network. With the embassy’s, we established contact with UN organisations and parts of the Pakistani government.'

Our dream

'We used the money that comes with the Human Rights Tulip mainly to improve our communications and contacts with the media. We developed mobile cinema campaigns that enable us to show informative films in different parts of Pakistan, including regions in which not everyone has cable television.'

'I hope to continue our work for many years to come. There are certainly enough plans. We intend to extend our activities to Punjab and work in the province with schools, health institutions and the medical sector. Our dream is that our information packages will be used in all schools and become part of all medical training programmes in Pakistan. There’s still a long way to go.'

For human rights in the Netherlands and beyond

Human rights are rights that apply to all people at all times and places. They ensure that everyone can live in freedom and dignity. The Netherlands makes efforts to protect and advance human rights throughout the world. It works to promote equal rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people and intersexual people, equal rights for women, freedom of expression and internet freedom, freedom of religion and beliefs, and human rights and business. It condemns gross violations of human rights and supports human rights defenders.

The Netherlands also supports efforts to reduce the rate of maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS infections and unwanted (teenage) pregnancies. The efforts made in these areas are beneficial to individuals and the social and economic progress of their societies.