Three months ago, a Thari Hindu woman, from the “untouchable” caste, defeated a Taliban-linked cleric in a Pakistani senatorial race. Krishna Kumari’s victory, as a woman from an ethnic and religious minority, created waves in international news long after she assumed her new position. With close to 100 million Pakistanis registered to vote in this summer’s general elections, Kumari’s victory comes at a critical time for Pakistan. With a political system often influenced by large, dynastic parties, operating through patronage systems, how did a woman from a marginalised community come to occupy a prominent seat in political office? It’s no secret that, from a birds-eye view, Pakistan faces a range of socially, politically, and economically-charged violent conflicts, compounded by population expansion, youth unemployment, natural disasters, IDPs and refugees. Many international observers immediately associate violence in Pakistan with the terrorism that leaves the country ranked fifth on the Global Terrorism Index; equally damaging, in many ways, are acts of violence often rooted in divides of ethnicity, religion, and gender, resulting in cruel yet commonplace ethnic violence, the consistent attacks on religious minorities, and the country’s ranking of fourth in terms of danger for women. In this context, Krishna Kumari’s was an abrupt and exciting shift for women, as well as for religious and ethnic groups, who have long been subject to Pakistan’s mistreatment of its minorities. For many embattled communities, it represented a renewed sense of hope for their existence and future in Pakistan. Under pressure from Pakistani activists, lawmakers have previously taken steps to ensure women’s political participation: 60 of 342 National Assembly seats are reserved for women, and as of 2017, polling in a district will be invalid if less than 10% of votes are cast by women. Institutional mechanisms such as these create important incentives for political participation, but they often tend to bring to power those from well-connected families, who represent majority communities. But Krishna Kumari managed to set a precedent for a different kind of representation. I believe Kumari’s recent political success stems substantially from her involvement in her local community. She, herself, faced the challenges imposed upon women and minorities, lending immense credibility to her campaign and no doubt shaping important outlooks in her senatorial role. A childhood spent in bonded labour, followed by a freedom that allowed her to begin her studies, leading up to her being married off to her husband at only 16. These experiences, undeniably traumatic, formed her ability to instigate and create meaningful change. With the support of her family, Kumari continued her education, allowing her to stand up for the rights of women in their homes, workplaces, and the streets; fight for those in bonded labour; and promote the rights of the poor in her village. Now, she has the opportunity to become a central part of a conversation on these issues in the country as a whole. All of this started from her local involvement and her unflinching commitment to civic engagement at the grassroots. Under pressure from Pakistani activists, lawmakers have previously taken steps to ensure women’s political participation: 60 of 342 NA seats are reserved for women, and as of 2017, polling in a district will be invalid if less than 10 percent of votes are cast by women I have lived in Pakistan for nearly my entire life, and have spent the past five years working with Generations for Peace, an NGO that engages with communities around the world, building peace from the grassroots and transforming conflict stemming from discrimination around gender, ethnicity, religion, and an array of other issues. Through the work of our dedicated volunteers in 50 countries, we have experienced first-hand how locally-based movements are vastly more sustainable and far-reaching. By building on the resources already available in communities, sustainable opportunities arise for those who might not otherwise interact to build a deeper understanding and acceptance of one another. Kumari, throughout her life, appears to have used a similar method to serve and unify her community, develop a committed local following, and earn her place in Pakistan’s senate. Thanks to her commitment to the grassroots, Kumari wields a wider influence over legislation affecting Pakistani women and minorities. In fact, her influence has already taken hold: her legacy may be the impact she leaves, not just on the government’s rule, but on the possibilities for those who serve within it. Her victory in the senate has left not only Pakistanis, but also the world, looking to Islamabad this month to see how women and minorities will continue to make themselves heard – and through whom they will be voiced. The writer is a Research, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist in Pakistan for Generations for Peace Published in Daily Times, July 21st 2018.