Why Human Rights Defender Gulalai Ismail Fled Pakistan

Gulalai Ismail won’t tell me how she came to New York. Doing so, she says, will put too many lives at risk.

Gulalai Ismail is a longtime human rights activist in Pakistan. Her organization, Aware Girls, helped to train the likes of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai and hundreds of other Pakistani girls, mostly in the very conservative parts of the country rife with Islamist militants.

She has faced numerous death threats over the years for her outspoken promotion of the rights of women and girls, but it was not until she began speaking out against the Pakistani government that she felt compelled to flee the country.

As Gulalai Ismail explains, she was put on a most-wanted list for her leadership and participation in a protest movement this year seeking accountability for human rights abuses committed by the Pakistani security forces during counter-terrorism operations. This was when harassment and threats directly from the government forced her into hiding.

She publicly resurfaced in New York in September, where she is now seeking political asylum.

The story she shares in this podcast episode is one of perseverance and dedication to the advancement of the rights of women and girls, despite great personal risk.


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