ASR is a non-profit, non-governmental resource centre set up in 1983 as a multidisciplinary, multidimensional group working towards social transformation. ASR’s ideological stance has been to re-examine the development alternatives based on the empowerment of majority of the people, so that the people themselves can identify and be involved not only in `satisfying the urgent needs of the present, but in anticipating and creating their own future’.
Given that the planning and work towards ASR started several years earlier, it is perhaps the oldest organization of its kind in Pakistan. Throughout its long involvement in the field of development initiatives, it has often been a catalyst for other groups and has necessarily undergone various transformations within itself.
Although ASR is not a women’s centre, its ideological underpinnings are feminist. This bias as well as its holistic view of development has led ASR to experiment with a range of activities; in some cases, with a view to redefining development and politics, and in others to explore and to create the space necessary for such experimentation. As such ASR is always difficult to explain and appears to undertake a range of activities. Yet for ASR these activities are interlinked and interconnected and since the rationale for each invariably lies in another, there is an internal logic in its diversity. The emphasis on any particular activity, in any given period, therefore depends on the need at that moment…. to define a new space, to experiment with an idea, to respond to a need, to make a political statement. Hence the name `ASR’ which means IMPACT in Urdu.
While the emphasis may have changed at different times, ASR has been and is involved in a range of activities which include research and writing; in organizing and conducting training and teaching programmes at different levels; in audio-visual production including the encouragement and support of alternative theatre; in the encouragement and expression of all forms of creativity; in publishing; in maintaining a comprehensive resource and documentation centre; in networking, solidarity and activism; in community-based awareness and action programmes; and establishing and running formal academic programmes on Women’s Studies, on Peace Studies and on Minority Studies.
ASR’s activities include training workshops at grass root levels; women and development workshops with development workers and women’s rights activists; theatre workshops and festivals with theatre activists on the role of theatre in political movements as well as skill workshops; women and media video workshops to strengthen a communication resource base for women’s development initiatives in Pakistan; women’s studies/theory courses; peace and conflict studies and training workshops and multidimensional Women’s Studies Conferences; women and peace conferences; women and violence; on religious minorities and organizing Festivals of feminist creativity.
ASR’s research work is on many levels including women in industry, handicrafts, agriculture and other development issues of citizenship, identity, ideology and religion. It has been involved in several projects on Poverty, the Peasantry and Women in Rural Punjab; a project on the Partition of India (1947) issues of identity from women’s perspectives; several studies on the women’s movement; a study on women and media; women’s indigenous literary and creative expressions; a multilevel study on religious minorities in Pakistan; dialogues with women on Islam; dialogues with South Asian women in the women’s peace movement; a study on violence against women; studies on women in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan; and on women in the informal sector. Currently it is engaged in research on Citizenship and Women; on Peace, Conflict and Women; on Divisions, Borders and Partition, on the Peasantry and Women; on the Women’s Movements and on Marginalized communities. From 1983 to 2019 approximately 50 research projects have been undertaken or are in process.
ASR’s publication unit was closely linked with its programmes and other activities. From publishing training materials, research findings and translations, it moved in to fiction, poetry, academic and nonfiction titles including a series on Multidisciplinary Women’s Studies in Pakistan. It has over 85 published titles and is presently working on the manuscripts of a further 5. Of these 60 at least half are full-length books, which are distributed through the mainstream books’ trade and through informal networks.
ASR also ran a film unit and has conducted intensive video production and training workshops. It has also made several films, which include one on the Women’s Movement in Pakistan and its resistance to Islamization, which was made for Channel 4, England. One of ASR’s films made as a training venture, on the girl child (`Mayee Nai Maenoon Shoak Avalray’) won the British Council World-wide Women in Development Video Award (1993). The contestants were from all over the world. Both the films submitted by ASR were shortlisted in a list of 10 film productions. In addition to this it has a film library of over 2000 films, which are used extensively by other groups in their awareness/training programmes.
From 1983 to 2009 ASR/IWSL conducted over 270 trainings / courses / teaching programmes; over 500 grass roots trainings had worked with over 400 CSOs nationally and internationally; it was linked to over 30 University programmes; published over 85 publications and a further 100 posters, cards, calendars etc; produced 4 documentaries; and has held 8 national and international conferences.
ASR is closely associated with several women’s groups, social action groups, theatre, and other communication groups, trade unions and peasant organizations, and networks at national, sub-regional, regional and international levels. Within the country ASR acted as a catalyst, a network and a resource centre for these and other groups in linking them with each other but also in relation to its own training and other programmatic activities.
ASR also frequently initiated or helped set up new groups and disengaged itself as soon as they become viable. One such initiative was the establishment of a sub-office in the rural district of Toba Tek Singh, from which ASR disengaged once the activities became self-sustaining and another office in Hyderabad, Sindh to facilitate its work in Sindh. From 1983 – 2009 ASR participated in and/or facilitated the participation of approximately 2000 in national level trainings and approximately another 2000 in international ones. It has also been responsible for initiating and /or setting up several large independent NGOs, forums and networks.
Advocacy and activism are an important part of ASR’s ideology and all its workers are active members of several other organizations. In some cases, they have initiated their own activist groups or forums as the grass roots, national and international levels and as part of networks/alliances/collaborates with others. ASR’s position is that there should be a constant interplay of theory/conceptual understanding and action as it deliberately connects these in all its activities.