16 Days of Activism: The many faces of gender-based violence and the fight for change

16 Days of Activism is a phenomenon that has been in the global narrative since 1992 and was launched by Rutgers University. This time around the cause has been against Gender Based Violence or GBV and the conference at Global Neighbourhood for Media Innovation took place to commemorate the work that the panelists had done to counter all sorts of violence against women in their own lives and their own professions and the solutions that they saw fit to implement in society as a consequence of their lived experiences.

The session was held on the last day of the 16 days, on the 10th of December, 2019 and was attended by media persons, educators, civil society organizations and activists. The panel was composed of Afia Salam, Manal Faheem Khan, Kulsoom Bano, Shama Dossa, Anaum Janjua, Lubna Jerrar and many more esteemed professional leaders who have shaped Pakistan’s contemporary social narrative.

Shama Dossa, community development practitioner and academic, started off the discussion with the illuminating correlation that the more educated a woman is the less likely it will be for her to experience GBV. She also disclosed the Balochistan and KP had the highest incidents of domestic violence and that over 50% of the women who endured domestic violence were not comfortable confiding about it to even close relatives. Shazia Hassan, a senior reporter with Dawn Newspapers relayed her struggle in pursuing her passion which was always sports reporting, however she was excluded from that beat because ‘sports is not a woman’s domain.’ She explained how in order to be taken seriously she had to ‘make myself more masculine’ as that was the only way she would be allowed to access the more male dominated spaces.

Qurat-ul-ain Iqrar, editor in chief of Live Magazine, with her experience as an anchorperson and being in the media, spoke about the binaries that women are subjected to as objects. As an anchor a woman is expected to be dolled up with a whole host of cosmetic appendages, in the field they are told to be as invisible as possible for their own protection. She also stressed that protecting ones mental health is paramount for any woman and that in order to save themselves they must ensure that their inner self is resolute because the world is cruel and will remain so. In the same vein Sidrah Dar, a journalist with Voice of America, explained that women journalists are told to their faces that they will experience assault and harassment in the fields and that this is simply collateral for the work they want to pursue.

Founder of the proliferating online community by the name of Karachi School Guide, Binish Umair spoke about the despairing condition of schools in Pakistan shows that violence against women will not change unless families and schools change their attitudes regarding what is expected from women. She explained how most curriculum text books still limit the role of women as being house wives and not home makers. This restricts the imagination of boy and girl students who then only expect women to be confined to the roles of servitude, which when they grow up they do not tolerate any change towards. She also brought light to the subject of single mothers facing difficulties when admitting their children to school as school administration is extremely hostile to women who are divorced or widowed and shame them for being single parents.

Lubna Jerrar, Head of Social Media at Geo News, brought to light the attitude that prevails across conversations on gender that gender does not pertain to women only. The violence faced by a woman effects the whole community as it is violence that is being exacted on a member of the human race. It is not simply a womans issue to eliminate GBV, but a man’s issue to analyze why violence is seen to be an accepted component of masculinity. She commented that men should also be made a part of panels such as this as they carry the stakes in society that can enable a change in the community. Buraq Shabir said that the reason there is such a gap in women coming forward is because they are disbelieved by the privileged few who have not experienced the same trauma. It is the duty of those with any social standing to not dismiss the stories of survivors, believing women and their stories of survival is a societal duty and one that needs to be implemented by the gatekeepers of the media as that shapes public opinion the most effectively.

Afia Salam brought forward examples from women’s history in Pakistan and how they have been part of the resistance since before Zia-ul-Haq’s time and lamented that it is a shame that only 11% of the media persons in the country are women. This is the reason for their women’s stories not being told in a sensitive and respectful manner and this is the reason why the support system for women in the media is almost non-existent and whatever trauma a woman endures in this industry is said to be part and parcel of the job. Anaum Janjua, a social activist with experience in the corporate sector, put forward the resolution that corporate sectors must draft sexual harassment policies for the workplace as this will enable accountability throughout the country and place confidence in women to work in environments knowing that they have a legal support system.

GNMI is a non-profit organization that seeks to bridge the gap between the media and civil society and serves as a community space for social representatives. It gives a platform to distinguished voices from the fields of journalism, politics, academia and other fields to discuss contemporary issues of the society.

The organization has previously conducted sessions on freedom of expression, women’s role in countering violent extremism, youth policy interventions, public health and the role of sports, as well as held journalist trainings on contemporary digital tools and dialogue and performance activities focusing on Sufism, poetry, theatre and storytelling in preventing and countering extremist elements in society.

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