On 14th May, several newspapers reported the gang-rape of a young college girl. Such stories are not uncommon in Pakistan, but what slowly unfolded over the days was more than just a gang-rape. These men were part of a gang that had sexually assaulted other college girls, and then videotaped the incident to blackmail them. Even more horrifying is the fact that the rape survivor was lured into the car where the rape took place by her best friend, who has also been arrested. Reportedly, the friend was part of the gang as well. But what about her motives for abetting in the rape of a friend? Is it possible that she had also been a  victim of the same gang, and was forced to help them because they filmed her sexual assault as well? There is no doubt of her guilt, and she should be punished. But if it is a likely possibility that she too was a victim, then this reflects an alarming global trend of using social media to shame victims of rape and sexual assault.

In December 2012, members of the hacktivist group Anonymous released information about a rape victim in Steubenville, Ohio, who had been raped at a party after she had passed out. By 2013, the case had made  headlines, especially because of how the rape survivor had been shamed through photos and videos shared by her rapists on social media. In 2012, a Canadian teenager named Amanda Todd committed suicide after she was blackmailed into exposing herself online, and was shamed and ridiculed at school when her photos were made public.  In another case in 2012, rape survivor Savannah Dietrich revealed the names of her attackers on social media, after a lenient plea bargain denied her the justice she deserved. As a result of this public naming and shaming, she faces possible jail time.

Social media might have opened up new avenues for people through which they can communicate and share information, but with great power comes the potential of even greater abuses. The concept of blackmailing young girls and women with incriminating photos and videos is not a new one, but it is a problem that has remained unaddressed so far. In Pakistan, where women are burdened with ‘family honor,’ they become an easy target for such forms of harassment. The harassment can come from anywhere; from former police officers, the victim’s classmates,  complete strangers on social media, or university students.

In cases where women are spared the horrific trauma of sexual assault, they are subjected to sexual harassment online. There should be no mistake that this form of cyber bullying is sexual harassment. Women are propositioned online, threatened with rape, and in most cases, their personal photos are put up on social media pages such as Facebook. In many cases, women’s faces are photoshopped on pornographic pictures in an attempt to humiliate and blackmail them. Such photos can wind up on Facebook pages which are filled with pictures of young girls and teenagers. The comments sections of such pages are filled with repulsive objectification as well.

The discussion should not revolve around the imposition of honour on women, or how that is exploited by blackmailers and cyber harassers. The debate instead needs to focus on the right to privacy, and digital safety. Young women online who talk about social change are often “punished” for their transgressions through cyber harassment such as online stalking, constant abuse and rape threats, or even morphing photos of activists. As the founder of Digital Rights Foundation Nighat Dad points out in a blog, communications technology has given an avenue to feminists and activists to have their voices heard. But at the same time, “anyone deviating from social norms are subjected to ridicule, abuse and serious threats and in most cases are unprotected by law – particularly blasphemy and rape laws.”

The awful rape case in Mansehra is just one terrible crime in a sea of nameless, faceless victims. Most remain silent because they are afraid of the consequences of speaking out when there are videos and photographs that they feel can destroy their lives. There is an absence of legislation that can ensure that such acts are made a criminal offense. It is also important to remember that like film, music, and art, social media often mirrors a country’s culture, and the level of harassment women face online is the same rape culture that trivializes rape, shames rape survivors, and normalizes sexual harassment to the point that sexually threatening attitudes are never questioned.

In a social structure where there is zero tolerance for women who speak up about abuse, social media has become a tool for punishment of such transgressions, so that rape culture remains intact. We cannot expect that social media will not be used to harass and intimidate women into silence if we are not willing to admit and identify how we are all part of the rape culture that wants to coerce and silence women.

What happens in the Mansehra case remains to be seen. After all, even Mukhtaran Mai was denied justice; Pakistan is not one of the countries where rape survivors get justice, but rather, where they get punished for the crime committed against them. But because of extensive media coverage, this case can be a stimulus for policymakers to lobby for women’s legislation regarding cyber-harassment. Women are subjected to far too many crimes as it is, for once we have the opportunity to curb cyber harassment before it develops into a major issue.

Imagine this: A six year old girl is tortured, raped and thrown on the street. She spends a week at the hospital without proper healthcare, until human rights activists create a ruckus and the authorities finally take notice, her culprits are yet to be convicted, she is more likely to become yet another statistic in the HRCP’s Human Rights report. This is not the first incident of its kind.

It has been over a month since a six year old was raped,tortured and left on the street. A month of trauma, grief and threats. V, a student of class one, belongs to the Meghwar community — a historically disadvantaged caste of Hindus– which has made her plights even more difficult. Rape is not about lust. It is not about men’s uncontrollable desire and women as his provocateurs. Rape is about power, it is about causing deliberate harm to derive pleasure, it is a weapon to inflict physical and emotional scars. It is used as an orchestrated weapon, a way of social control. So its important for us to recognize that when rape is perpetrated against  a person from a marginalized community the struggle becomes harder, when the marginalized are pushed further into oblivion there is a larger responsibility on the society to ensure that justice is done. Read Full Article →

This article was originally published on the Newsline blog on January 6, 2011

uks gender group 1 Agents of Change: Youth Tackle Gender based ViolenceYouth participants pose with their mentors at the December 2010 launch of Through the Gender Lens, a handbook to help combat violence against women.


Through the Gender Lens, a handbook – and also the culmination of a yearlong collaborative effort between Uks and UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and 39 youth selected from around the country – was launched in Islamabad on Human Rights Day, December 10.

Says Tasneem Ahmar the director of Uks, a research, resource and publication centre on women and media: “UNFPA approached us [Uks] in January this year in search of a partner who could train youth to create gender-sensitive media content on gender-based violence.”

Advertised through flyers in newspapers and at educational institutes, the response was overwhelming, says project coordinator Saadia Haq, who is also a radio producer. “We thought girls would not apply from a lot of the areas, but we were surprised when we received entries from areas of Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) – in fact small agencies of KPK – and Sukkur, etc.”

Aged between 15 and 25, the group of 39, which included an equal number of male and female members, hailed from both the urban centres and rural districts of the country: Chakwal, Jacobabad, Quetta, Peshawar, Waziristan, Mansehra, AJK (Azad Jammu and Kashmir), Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. In March, the group met for the first time for a one-day orientation session in which they were introduced to the project, the aims of which were to create awareness regarding gender-based violence, promote gender equity and equality, and advance the view that women’s rights are human rights.

The participants went through a rigorous training process over the passage of the year. Divided into three groups according to their areas of interest (print, radio or TV), they were educated on what gender-based violence was, trained to deconstruct media messages (projections and stereotyping of women in the media as well as the manner in which gender-based crimes are reported) by monitoring a selected number of TV and radio programmes and print matter, and tasked to eventually produce gender-sensitive media content of their own. Once equipped with the gender lens and the technical skills, the youth returned to their respective hometowns to begin peer training – it was expected of them to pass on what they had learned to at least 35 people in their communities – and complete their media productions that they were required to turn in by the end of the year.

The peer-training sessions ranged from workshops, seminars and press conferences to rallies and processions. “In extremely difficult circumstances, amidst deteriorating law-and-order situations, despite cancellations, the participants continued their trainings,” says Haq. “They even sat people down at roadside hotels to pass on the message. Some of our youth members were even displaced by the floods, they were living in tents – in fact some still are – but still they turned in productions that swept me off my feet. They have exceeded all expectations.”

A panel comprising some of the members of the core group, including Dr Salman Asif (UNFPA), Amir Mateen (Senior Correspondent, The News, Islamabad), Rana Jawad (Bureau Chief of Geo TV, Islamabad), Tasneem Ahmar, as well as guest speakers Sherry Rehman and the director of the HRCP, I. A. Rehman, worked closely with the participants and addressed the audience.

Ms. Ahmar informed the audience how initially the participants couldn’t really communicate with one another. “Some couldn’t understand English, others couldn’t converse in Urdu – or didn’t want to,” she said. “There was hesitation. We saw a huge communication gap. That has been bridged now, and that is another success of the project. They have overcome whatever inhibitions they had as a group. They’ve all worked together and there has been no discrimination on the basis of anything.”


uks gender lens panel Agents of Change: Youth Tackle Gender based ViolenceThe panel lead a discussion in Islamabad on December 10.


Deliberating on gender-based violence, I.A. Rehman stated: “Gender violence is part of the Pakistani mindset; it is a part of the collective. We tried to get rid of this, but Zia-ul-Haq came along, and after that every man made it his duty to beat the woman – and women accepted their lot in life. I feel that there is an increase in gender violence today; it [the concept] is even embedded in the minds of those who call themselves progressive. The youth need to rid themselves of this inheritance.”

These 39 youth who, according to Rana Jawad, have already reached out to people in their areas and beyond to spread awareness, were to him “passionate and inquisitive, like a new lease of life.” Amir Mateen stressed the need to strike a balance in newsrooms as far as a female presence was concerned, without which, he stated, reporting could not become gender sensitive. However, gender-based violence needed to be highlighted more in the mainstream media, he added.

“When nobody viewed media as a construct, as something that shapes reality,” said Sherry Rehman, “Tasneem started this project: how the media covers gender-based violence and how it projects stereotypes. This is a grassroots project.” Addressing the participants, she said that Uks had equipped them with a revolutionary tool and they should ensure that the initiative is taken forward, that it remains an ongoing process and they become the ‘agents of change’ everybody sees them as.

The handbook, which was provided to all the guests at the event, details the different activities the participants were involved in as part of their training. It is available in both Urdu and in English. It also serves as a training manual for those who want to conduct peer training of their own.

This article was originally published on Newsline’s blog on April 21, 2011

 Prejudice and Stupidity on Full Display After Rape Verdict

Everyone knows of the Mukhtaran Mai rape case. Not just in Pakistan but around the world too people have discussed the infamous case and been appalled at the treatment of the victim at home. Remember former President-General Musharraf’s comments on rape? Many believe those comments mirror the misogynistic attitudes of many in the land of the pure.

Today, more cries of surprise and disgust are likely to be heard from international observers as five of the accused in Mukhtaran’s case have been ordered by the highest court in the land to be freed. The announcement from Islamabad that the Supreme Court has upheld an earlier judgement by the LHC has also caused outrage here in Pakistan – but it appears only in some quarters.

While activists and those sensitive to Mukhtaran’s plight are angered, it seems there are many to whom the plight of women in general (often the victims of heinous crimes such as rape) means nothing at all. According to Anis Haroon, chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women, who was there for the hearing, only three sentences were uttered with regards to Mukhtaran’s case and it was dismissed (while the judgement consists of 90 pages).

As the case stands, Abdul Khaliq, who was convicted and is considered by the court to be the main figure behind the crime, will go on to serve his jail term as per the Lahore High Court verdict, while the five other accused have been released. Haroon reports on the senseless questions she was asked by the media after the verdict.

Here are some examples that she has shared with Newsline:

Q: Is the verdict a failure of the government?

A: It is the failure of criminal justice system.

Q: You mean the present?

A: We are referring to the judicial system.

Q: Will you go for repeal in America?

A: A stupid question.

. . .

And some more:

Q: Where are your human rights? Why don’t you feel for innocent people who are released?

And another . . .

Q: They were in jail for six years, why don’t women have sympathy with them?

These are just some. But the issue is not whether we should pick a fight or not, but it is about the attitudes that must be challenged. They go a long way in shaping the society.

Sadly, as per norm, we victimise the victim.

This interview was originally published in Newsline’s March 2011 issue

“We are making sure the law is institutionalised”
- Dr Fouzia Saeed, Chairperson,
National Implementation Watch Committee and
AASHA (Alliance Against Sexual Harassment)

Fouzia Saeed03 11 Interview: Dr Fouzia Saeed, National Implementation Watch Committee

Q: The journey for a policy and legal framework against Sexual Harassment started way back in 2001 – and it took up to 2010 to achieve this…

A: Initially, people weren’t even familiar with the term ‘sexual harassment.’ In the government, they didn’t even want to refer to the word ‘sexual’ and just used ‘harassment.’ In the first two years, our major achievement was to get the issue acknowledged. Then we developed a policy to be instituted in the formal sector. As a strategy, we felt that it was better to take on [the issue of] formal workplace harassment first because it was relatively easy to manage, and then take up the issue of harassment at bus stops and market places. We worked with the government from day one, especially the Ministry of Women’s Development (MoWD) and the Ministry of Labour. That’s how the Code of Conduct for Gender Justice came to be – incidentally, that’s what it had to be called, so they could stomach it.

The policy that we developed was agreed to by the government, but once it was finalised they didn’t accept it, even though every word had been negotiated. We compromised and compromised, but when it was time to implement it, they backed out. The minister for MoWD and Labour were interested, but the commitment of the larger party – the ruling party – was not there. So the policy was not approved by the cabinet division.

Q: Is this because of a general mindset when it comes to women’s issues, or conservative elements within parties?

A: One finds the well-educated, those with a supposedly liberal façade to be the most difficult. On women’s issues, they don’t have their act together at all, even though these are simple issues. All we are saying is ‘respect women.’ If I had to pick one challenge throughout this period, it has been dealing with the bureaucracy – especially the women’s development secretaries.

We found a lot of resistance from the secretaries of the women’s ministry, throughout these 11 years. Most of our time was spent on pushing the draft through, getting comments from other ministries, getting it vetted. It was less so in the assemblies, although that is the longer process. And the sluggishness of the process is another thing. I was amazed that there were men in the ministry – not secretaries – who would sit and joke about the issue, but were happy to be drawing salaries from the same ministry. The only secretary who was helpful, who used to hear us out, was Salim Mehmood Salim. At least he didn’t say women should not have dignity.

Q: What kind of feedback did you receive from them? How dismissive were the secretaries about the issue – were they brazen about it or would they sugarcoat the dismissal?

A: Secretaries said [harassment] is the fault of women, because of the clothes they wear etc. We were confronted with very traditional, stereotypical myths and misinformation – if she gets beaten up, harassed or raped, blame the woman.

Q: Did you find the private sector more forthcoming?

A: Much more! Now I am experiencing some conservativeness in the private sector, but back then we were dealing with whoever we could get along with. The Chamber of Commerce, Karachi, was particularly open-minded at the time; they were very clear on women’s issues. The initial step of getting the first few organisations to adopt the code of conduct voluntarily was difficult. But we managed to get 300 to adopt it eventually, before we started drafting the legislation.We had the labour unions, chambers, civil society, academia and some law-enforcing agencies on our side, and that really helped build the momentum.

We had them adopt and implement the code, which we then studied for five years. The unique aspect of this legislation (Protection Against [Sexual] Harassment Act 2010) is that it was based on research, it reflected the ground realities, it was tested and huge mobilisation of all sorts of stakeholders took place before it was proposed. Then when we began political engagement, we were again faced with the same stereotypical myths, where men said what if they [the complainants] lie. We said that happens with murder, theft, etc. Eyewitnesses lie. That doesn’t mean there should be no law. We were adamant that it should be a government law, that there should be a unanimous vote on it or, at least we have most of the parties on board – and that is what we did and how we did it.

In the National Assembly we got through with a unanimous vote, but in the Senate, there were problems. Sometimes there are conservative people within a progressive party or ruling party.

Q: Which parties were receptive and supportive?

A: The PPP, ANP and the MQM were totally on board. They all had a very clear stance, but it took us a while to get them on board. MQM was absolutely clear on this and they made sure their party members voted. Half of the PML-Q – members in their individual capacity – supported us. Wasim Sajjad, the leader of the opposition in the Senate, also did not oppose us. PML-N came on board at the very last stage. We didn’t want to let go of anybody.

Q: What kind of convincing was required?

A: Three years of my life were totally donated to this process – every minute of 24 hours. One needs to do a lot of lobbying and people do turn around, and they do so with their hearts.

We started with attitudes such as ‘women bring it upon themselves,’ ‘it will not work,’ ‘it will not be implemented,’ but the end point for most of them was, ‘we are totally with you, nobody can vote it down and our women need this kind of help.’ The word ‘sexual’ was omitted from the title because they are still unable to swallow the term, but we have incorporated it in all our definitions. We have made compromises, but not at all on the overall integrity of the law. There were times when we said no, like the time we were asked to put in a clause outlining the punishment for a woman if she lies. That is something we did not compromise on.

Civil society needs to engage. If you convince people, they do listen to you. And I have found politicians to be much more receptive than bureaucrats.

Q: Do you feel the increase in the number of women in parties and the legislature has helped?

A: Yes, that has been big help, especially with people like Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Sherry Rehman and Bushra Gohar there. Women were very supportive – I do not know of a single woman who was not. But there were also men who were very supportive. Raza Rabbani has a very clear stance on women’s issues and it was effortless lobbying with him. Farooq Naek was very helpful and lent his support wholeheartedly. Farooq Sattar, Afrasiab Khattak and Shah Mehmood Qureishi must also be mentioned. Both the President and the PM were very encouraging in their words; the PM and his wife also lobbied for us.

Q: You are also heading the National Implementation Watch Committee (NIWC), and the committee has done a lot of work already…

A: Yes, we are in full swing. Our job is to get the law implemented into the structure of the system. While I wear the hat of the committee, which is a green hat, our strategy remains very activist. But we are not going and raising awareness and telling people to comply one by one; we are making sure the law is institutionalised. We are working on convincing regulatory bodies to facilitate their members to comply.

The federal ministries were the first to form committees. And this is not easy. Notifications, committees, getting the code posted in the offices – all this has to be done. Now, if you go to the planning commission or the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, you will see the code posted on every floor. The State Bank has included the law in its audit, and the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has also issued policies, which means the code will be instituted in all universities and will apply to students as well.

We have been trying to get the organisations that have complied – the number for which is in the thousands – to give us feedback so we can create an online database. But the Pakistani mindset is not quite professional. We do do the things, but then we don’t report back. PEMRA issued a direction 4-5 months ago, but haven’t we received any performas or news. While the media was extremely supportive of the whole process (of lobbying), it is one of the slowest sectors to comply with the law. Only Geo and Dawn have done it, so far.

Q: Does the NIWC’s mandate extend to the committees as well – looking into their performance and checking up on the complaints?

A: The law doesn’t require anybody to report the complaints and we want to keep them confidential. We want the management to be empowered to deal with its own garbage. But organisations are required to tell us if they have formed a committee, if they have put up the code in a common lounge (or public area) and issued the orders that the law is part of their HR policy.

From Mehergarh – AASHA’s secretariat – we conduct a lot of awareness sessions and workshops for trainers from different sectors. So, for example, to banks we say get a few of your HR people trained and then they can take care of the bank. Similarly, HEC is sending a few people to us next week for training. Then we do one-day trainings for inquiry committee members. On the third of this month, the planning commission is hosting a big seminar of 150 people. They are inviting all inquiry committee members from all the government departments for a half-day session which is a great initiative.

In terms of provincial progress, Sindh and Punjab are ahead of the other two provinces. But what they do need to do immediately is appoint the provincial ombudspersons; the federal ombudsperson has already been appointed. As of March, our committee has decided to focus on the provinces and we also decided to shuffle the membership of the committee. It has not been approved yet, but it has been proposed that the heads of the women’s directorate from each province be asked to join the committee.

Q: What is the implementation mechanism for enforcing the law in public places?

A: Through the law-enforcing agencies. The top leadership is supportive, but it doesn’t serve us if the SHO or the person registering the FIR is not. So what we did was make a poster for stations, which outlines Section 509, what it covers, what they need to do, which sections it can be combined with. This has been done in 14 stations in Islamabad.

Awareness-raising is important and civil society and the media need to help with that. Putting pressure helps.

This article was originally published on Newsline’s blog on December 9, 2010
tbtt t2f dec2010 The New Face of Activism in the Information Age
Participants at the TBTT! session at T2F on December 2, 2010. Photo: Zaheer Kidvai

T2F played host to an interactive session with Take Back The Tech! activists and campaigners on December 2. The session began with an introduction to TBTT by Jehan Ara, president of P@SHA, one of the core members spearheading the campaign in Pakistan.

Going over the general aims of the campaign (see “Ending Gender-based Violence Against Women) which involve harnessing technology to empower women and countering harassment, Jehan Ara informed the audience of the activities taking place during the “16 days of Activism” – November 25 – December 10 – and future plans, which include projects undertaken by individuals who have recently been awarded grants through the MDG3 Fund. The heads of two of these projects that are based in Karachi spoke in detail about their initiatives.

The first of them was Nuzhat Kidvai who has been a member of WAF (Women’s Action Forum) for 25 years now and is also the founding member of WAR (War Against Rape). She aims to create an informational website that documents VAW (violence against women). But more than creating a website that documents facts, she wants it to be an evolving database and a portal that holds answers and legal recourses for victims of VAW. Often, due to the simple reason of not knowing the right procedures, women are handed unfair sentences (perhaps they watch as their abusers are let off scot-free) or their cases are not registered at all. The website hopes to detail what is to be done in a specific situation, in addition to providing the expert opinions of lawyers and doctors, and other professionals.

The second of the Karachi-based awardees were Naveen Naqvi – broadcast journalist and blogger – and Sana Saleem – medical student and popular blogger. Theirs is a joint venture called Gawahi.com, a website that will archive stories – both in written and digital (audio/video) format – of women and children who have been subjected to abuse. The stories will not have to be told by the victim herself. Thus, there will be narrations of other people’s experiences. The project arises from a lack of support networks available to victims of abuse, due to which abuse goes unreported. Sana says that telling one’s own story is cathartic, and one is able to look at it from a third person perspective. The collection of stories also aims to provide a very important message to the victims (and eventual survivors): that they are not alone in what they face. Gawahi.com will also act as a portal for NGOs that do not have an online base, reach out beyond the urban centres, and document stories of survival and overcoming – the anonymity of the sources being the top priority.


tbtt attiya farieha 2010 The New Face of Activism in the Information AgeFarieha Aziz (left) and Attiya Dawood. Photo: Hira Malik


Before breaking into the final session, there was a viewing of a nine-minute clip of Beena Sarwar’s documentary Mukhtaran Mai: The Struggle for Justice. The thought provoking nine minutes quelled the audience into an absolute silence, which was eventually broken by questions and comments for the director / journalist. The concluding session, which I too was a part of, was a moderated discussion between fellow panelists Attiya Dawood and Beena Sarwar, both well-known activists, with T2F’s Sabeen Mahmud as moderator. The discussion centred largely on how social activism in the age of Facebook, Twitter and blogs has withdrawn from the street presence that was once the defining feature of activism and movements of the 70s and 80s. Now, with the click of a button, people would rather sign and send a petition than go out and be a part of a protest or procession.

However, it was agreed that these platforms allow an exchange of views and encourage dialogue between people who harbour completely different views and would otherwise never interact. With a list of pros and cons on both sides of this debate, it remains an ongoing one.

poster tbtt creative 2010 The New Face of Activism in the Information Age

Here’s how you can become a part of the TBTT campaign (it’s not too late):

Create a poster, photograph, song, animation, movie or illustration and join The Creative Coalition Against Gender Violence. Send your entries by December 10 to creative@takebackthetech.pk and your work could be among the few selected entries exhibited at the TBTT meet-up at T2F on December 18.

You can also join the TBTT Pakistan SMS groups.

TBTT is a broadcast group on which the TBTT Pakistan camp will send you messages (notifications) about the campaign to you.

TBTT-Discuss allows you to contribute by sending in messages to the entire network (those part of the initiative and others like you who choose to join). However, the messages must keep to the subject itself (TBTT, gender, ICT, VAW) and no user should be found spamming.

To join the above groups, just send the following:

  • join tbtt


  • join tbtt-discuss

to the following numbers:

  • 5566
  • 03124117660-8 (For Mobilink users only)

To send a message on the groups, users have to include the group name with a “dot” -> “.” at the start of the message. For example, to send a message on the group TBTT, use the following syntax:
.tbtt <message>


This interview was originally published in Newsline’s March 2010 issue as a box in the story Fight to the Finish

“The biggest challenge is to maintain your self-respect”
- Shahnaz’s father

Father: “Because of the story Hussain had given the neighbours, a lady belonging to the MQM, who also lives in the same apartment complex as us, pulled some strings and despite my going to the police for two days, they refused to register an FIR against him. In front of me she had told Hussain, ‘There is no need to apologise, don’t be scared. You come with me to Farooq Sattar.’ The other neighbours did not take sides but were watching.

Those two days, Hussain and his friends continued to put a lot of pressure on us, boys would continuously sit outside our apartment. We had only recently moved house, and he accused us, in front of the neighbours we were second-rate people, that we were alcoholics and that we were unjustly blaming him for what had happened.

I filed a written complaint at Nine Zero against the lady providing protection to him, explained the whole matter to them, what had happened with us and the difficulties we had been facing in lodging an FIR due to her intervention. Then, I received a call from Farooq Sattar himself. I told him how she was protecting the culprit and asked him what I should do as I didn’t belong to any political party. He spoke to the SHO himself and told me go to him at a specific time. When I reached, the SHO was waiting with the book in his hand. They also dealt with that lady in their own way, after which nobody really harassed us.

I am a regular, middle-class man. I had a government job, but not anymore. I maintain my house through a private job. You can understand how difficult it is after such an incident; the child’s mind becomes so rebellious. To control that is very difficult, and this is what we’re dealing with even today. My wife stopped going anywhere. She kept herself at home to give undivided attention to the children. Unfortunately, Shahnaz* couldn’t complete her education because the case was under trial and we were afraid that if we let her out she would be picked up.

I just pray to God some good proposal comes for her. When Shahnaz will be married, only then will our burden feel less heavy.”

Mother: “Tomorrow if a proposal arrives for Shahnaz, they will obviously ask around in the neighbourhood as well. The neighbours know what happened, which is why we want to move out and find a house elsewhere. We are just not getting a good price on this house, and until then we cannot move. To live with this stigma is difficult, I think to die is better. When she gets married, her in-laws or husband will still taunt her, no matter what.”

Father: “Nobody knows about us, not a colleague, not a family member. Even they [WAR] kept the media away from us. So we were able to save face. This is a very necessary part of coping. But wherever we marry her off, we will inform them of what has happened to her. Nothing remains hidden. Then why ruin your life.

Only once, at the very beginning, an eveninger published our names. We were very angry. After enquiring at the police station, we were told that reporters strike a deal with secretaries at police stations so whenever such an incident is reported, the secretaries pass the information on to them. After we objected, no news item appeared ever again. We need the support of the media. They should not publicise such incidents; victims/survivors who want to publicise these are then doing so for other reasons. To publicise this is akin to doing ‘laashon pe siyasat.’

The biggest challenge is to maintain your self-respect – to keep your reputation intact.”

* Names have been changed to protect the victim and her family.


This article was originally published in Newsline’s March 2010 issue

The Women’s Protection Act 2006 was, undoubtedly, a step in the right direction in that rape was finally separated from zina and became an offence punishable under the Pakistan Penal Code instead of the Hudood Ordinance. Further, it stopped unproven cases of rape from being converted into those of fornication or adultery. But while the Act solved one of the many legal hurdles that lie in the way of a survivor seeking justice, many remain to be faced.

Newsline spoke to four rape/attempted rape survivors and their families and learnt that had it not been for War Against Rape (WAR), a Karachi-based NGO devoted to fighting against rape, which provided them legal, monetary and moral assistance, they would have given up. What was common to each of these families was that they had never been to a police station before to lodge an FIR, or seen the inside of a courtroom.

It was WAR that saw them through the rounds of court, helped them face the insults hurled at them and even took care of their food and shelter needs. And once the families got this support, they became determined to settle for nothing less than justice.

In three of these cases undertaken by WAR, the accused have been punished and given sentences, while one case is under trial.

Tania*, whose case is currently under trial, awaiting the statement of the investigation officer, was six years old at the time of the assault. A tenant who lived two floors above Tania’s took advantage of a power outage and attempted to rape her and brutally beat her in the process. Found unconscious in the apartment complex by her mother, the parents were devastated. The remaining part of the day was spent dealing with what had happened, and attending to the child. The next day, the father went to the police to lodge an FIR after Tania narrated the incident to her parents. However, despite a police officer looking into the matter, an FIR was not registered. Instead, some policemen actually assisted the culprit while he cleaned out his apartment and left with his belongings.

Rifat*, Tania’s mother, then got in touch with WAR herself after being directed to do so by her employers. Then project coordinator Nasreen Siddiqui joined the family at the hospital after which the organisation’s lawyers took on the case. Tania and her family have been fortunate enough not to be ostracised by society. Neighbours, extended family and teachers at the school Tania attends agree that the child and her family have been wronged.

That was not the case with Mariam* and her family who was seven years of age when a shopkeeper close to where she lived attempted to rape her. Her mother says, “People taunt us; nobody thinks that it is a child. Our own relatives left us. They said you’ve had this done. My mother-in-law still doesn’t meet us. She says I am responsible.” Although Nadeem, the accused, has been sentenced to seven-and-a-half years of rigorous imprisonment and subjected to a fine of Rs 50,000, life is still not easy for the family, who keep silent about the incident.

“When people hear of what happened with us, they tell us to clear out their residence; we don’t get a place on rent. People from the old neighbourhood know of the incident, but not the one we live in now. Our landlady also doesn’t know; I keep quiet, otherwise she too will ask us to vacate the place.”

To avoid being taunted, Shahnaz’s parents didn’t let on to family or friends what happened with their daughter. Shahnaz* was raped five years ago, when she was 14, by Hussain, a university student who lived in the same apartment complex as her. Hussain has been sentenced to 10 years of rigorous punishment and subjected to a fine of Rs 50,000. But the road to recovery is a long one. (See box “The biggest challenge is to maintain your self-respect”).

There is always the possibility and fear of being called back to court if an appeal is filed by the accused. In Mariam’s case, Nadeem did file an appeal but it was dismissed and the previous judgment was upheld. AsNewsline was going into print, we learnt that Hussain, too, has filed an appeal, the hearing for which has yet to be scheduled, requiring Shahnaz’s family to go back to court – this time, the High Court.

The final venue of appeal for any case is the Supreme Court. Iqbal*, Shahnaz’s father, is ready to take it to the upper court if required. Hamza, Naseema Lubano’s father, whose case reached WAR after a series of transfers, expresses similar sentiments as Iqbal. Theirs was a partial victory: under trial since February 2007, on January 23, 2010, the court sentenced one of the seven accused of gang rape to life imprisonment and a fine of Rs 50,000 and acquitted six others for lack of evidence.

“We have filed an appeal in the High Court against those who have been let off. If we do not get justice here, we will go to the Supreme Court. If the criminals are not punished, we will go to the chief justice and appeal to him to take action, and if justice is denied again then we will set fire to ourselves – we can and will do that,” says Hamza.

Lawyers at WAR laud the confidence of Tania and her presence of mind when testifying in court and Naseema’s bravery for standing in front of all the accused and identifying and testifying against them. The parents credit this to the counselling of their daughters’ at WAR. Even though the girls were kept away from the courts unless their presence was absolutely necessary, the psychological impact on them has been tremendous.

Apart from the criminal act itself, they have had to deal with constant threats from the culprits while the case was under trial, speak on several occasions about what happened to them to family, media, medical practitioners, police officers, lawyers, judges and faced the immense pressure of testifying against the accused, face-to-face, reliving the ordeal each time.

Mariam would cry after returning from court, her mother says. “The day she testified before the judge, Tania started running a fever,” says Rifat. Both the younger girls are recovering and are back at school. But the psychological impact manifests itself in a variety of ways.

“Initially, Mariam was even scared of her father. She wouldn’t go to him or to any other male relative. Even today, she won’t stay at home if I am not there. I tell her ‘Your father is home with the children. Stay back.’ But she refuses since she is still scared,” says Mariam’s mother. According to Rifat, “Tania has become very rebellious; she does only what she wants to, and not what she is told to. She was very good at studies – her writing used to be better than her siblings’ – but now we keep receiving complaints from the teacher saying she doesn’t work, doesn’t respond, doesn’t answer her roll call.” When asked, Tania herself replied she didn’t enjoy school and didn’t talk much.

Shahnaz had to discontinue her education as at the time the case was still under trial and Hussain was on the loose, so her parents were fearful of her being picked up. But a rebellious mind is what her parents also report. Naseema perhaps has been the worst affected, physically and mentally. She has been undergoing constant psychiatric treatment and is physically very weak. When she was visited in her home for this article, she was bed-ridden with fever, which she had had for the past eight days, and was constantly refusing to eat or drink anything. According to her father, it is when she has Ensure, a dietary supplement, that she is able to sit up. But when there is nobody funding it – as it costs Rs 800 – then she is back in bed.

And while Tania and Mariam don’t have much time on their hands to do much else and are busy with school, madrassa, tuition and their home routine, Shahnaz’s and Naseema’s movement outside their homes is restricted – Shahnaz doesn’t go anywhere unless her father accompanies her and being the sole breadwinner he is unable to do so always, while Naseema and her family still face death threats.

Running the house becomes a difficult task, especially when one is unemployed due to the time and physical presence required for a court case. But the cost of taking cases such as these to court is more than just financial.

Taking young children along to the court and exposing them to such environments, enduring shame and living secret lives or under the constant pressure of being apprehended by the criminals, also takes it tolls on the entire family. Mariam’s parents, for example, have both developed medical conditions as a result of the stress. And while the short-term concern for these families is justice and punishment for the criminals, marriage prospects for their daughters are a primary concern for all of them.

They have all come a long way, faced many difficulties, and they require support in different ways to go on living and fighting. The survivors know what it is like to be promised aid by government officials and to never hear from them again, to be the media darlings and then be dumped when they aren’t ‘newsworthy’ anymore. Theirs is a daily struggle and they have the strength, but are looking for some respite to keep them going.

* Some names have been changed to protect the victims and their families.

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“We are living like immigrants here”
- Hamza Lubano, father of rape survivor

“We can never go back.

Only two of the offenders have been punished while the others, those who beat her, who abducted her, dragged her, who broke her spinal cord, have been allowed to return home. Those who have been acquitted now want to kill us. Any family member they find, they want to harm. They want us to withdraw the case and they pressurise our relatives, threatening us with dire consequences for not complying. Our extended family is back in the village. We have requested police security many times, to give the family protection so that they are not harmed. But this has not been done.

My children don’t even go down to play. They are always at home. There are doors and gates and locks. If we go out, we have to keep a low profile. We are always scared of being found by those people. Mentally, there is so much tension. One child, we are sending to school, but the rest of the children are being taught at home, thanks to our advocate who is providing for them.

We will live our entire lives in fear. Even if the ones who have been let off are caught, their progeny will remain. We have been struggling for so long; my 12-year-old expired in the process. We didn’t even have money to bury him, WAR helped us with that. We too will be buried here.

All my children are sick, both of us, husband and wife are sick. I am paid Rs 7,000 out of which Rs 3,000 is spent on fare and other expenses. Four thousand rupees is too little to keep the house running. Naseema is currently on medication. She needs nutrition and if she doesn’t get it, she is not even able to sit up. We don’t have anything. If we had, we would give it to her. We are living like immigrants here.

The governor of Sindh brought us to Karachi at the time when there were countrywide processions and protests. We were told that you are eight people, even if there were 2,000, the government would bear the cost of housing them, educating all the children including Naseema, give Naseema a house, get her justice. Then we were told, 10 days and justice will be delivered, the culprits will be apprehended. No such thing has happened. The criminals are roaming freely. After bringing us here, he kept no contact with us. What was the use of us contacting him when he kicked us out of the house?

He had put us up in a house in the police lines in Garden area, and after seven or eight months, we were thrown out of there. The whole world was a witness to that. The police, including officers at high posts, arrived with constables who picked up our belongings and threw them out. It was the day when several people died in the monsoon rains. In that storm, they threw us out onto the streets. They said Naseema had been given the house on a temporary basis and because she did not belong to the police, we could no longer live there.

We called out to everyone. You can see our pictures in the press, the way we were all out in the rain, how Naseema and the rest of the children were drenched. The roads were inundated with water, and in that storm, we sat on the curb outside the Karachi Press Club.

Then, Shazia Marri provided us with this place where we are currently living. It has been given to us on instalments, which we have also not been able to pay beyond the five or six initial ones.”

This article was originally published in Newsline’s March 2010 as a box in article Fight to the Finish

Rape survivors03 10 The Legal Trauma of Rape

Each year, WAR targets to take 20 cases of rape to court. This number never exceeds 15, and even fewer get justice. Since the merit of the case is determined by the charge that is framed, the testimony of witnesses and the medical report, discrepancies in the system contribute in a large way to unending trials and unfavourable verdicts.

“Every law has three different components,” says Sarah Zaman, WAR project coordinator. “One is the substance, which is the actual written law, then is your structure, the people who are actually enforcing the law like the police, lawyers and judges, and then there is your culture. When you talk about equity and justice, it is based on all three of these. They need to work simultaneously to have an impact.”

Thus, even if corrective measures are introduced to the substance (law), if the structure is left unaltered, then the procedural discrepancies render the law ineffective. “There are a lot of grey areas in cases of rape and unless your judges and lawyers have a very good grasp and understanding of the issue and the subtleties of trying a rape case, they will not be able to give very informed decisions,” says Sarah. “You also need lawyers or prosecutors who know enough about the issue to be able to present the case in a convincing manner and actually get a favourable verdict.”

Whether it is the lack of awareness or a lack of will, or both, the very people who should facilitate justice end up obstructing it. The framing of the charge is essential to the trial of a case, says WAR lawyer Farida Moten, “If the FIR and charge is registered under the Hudood Ordinance, then the case goes to the Shariah Court. If it is registered under the Pakistan Penal Code [PPC] then it is tried in the trial court.” For survivors to benefit from the distinction between rape and zina, the charge has to be registered under the PPC.

The Women’s Protection Bill 2006 had come into effect when Naseema Lubano registered her case in January 2007. Despite that, the police registered her case under the Hudood Ordinance instead of the PPC.

There are also situations in which the police refuse to register an FIR altogether. In such a case, WAR personnel accompany the survivor to the police station and speak to the relevant officer or to a higher-up. However, if they still do not cooperate, then the organisation holds press conferences or issues press releases and statements mentioning the particular police station that is not cooperating.

“The police don’t understand that their job is to register a case, to investigate it and to present their findings to the court. Everybody at their own level plays judge,” says Sarah.

Unless the survivor is physically present, an FIR cannot be registered. It is not easy or always possible for survivors to come forward due to a number of factors, and the fear of the police and court culture, which passes judgments on a survivor’s personality, her character, her history and her sexual history, also keeps them away. The law does not take into account the intimidating environment a psychologically disturbed survivor is placed in. Allowing someone to register an FIR on behalf of the survivor should be permitted, as is the case in other countries, says Sarah.

The medico-legal report, which sets the very basis of a case, states only whether a woman is ‘sexually habituated’ or not. Scars, burns, or other marks of torture or physical abuse are not reported. Finger testing is the only method applied, which checks the elasticity of the vagina and the presence of the hymen. “This method reveals nothing about the act or the crime that was committed. And if the survivor is a married woman, she obviously is sexually habituated; what then constitutes medical evidence?” Sarah asks.

That evidence can be collected from places such as under the nails, behind the ears, or that a woman’s belly can be checked for traces of semen, is not known to medico-legal practitioners, neither are they equipped to collect such samples.

Often, women remove vital evidence out of shame and guilt: they wash their clothes or take multiple baths, removing possible traces of semen.

Also, a lot of survivors and their families seek out-of-court settlements because getting one lakh of rupees is a far better deal than doing the rounds of court for three years and becoming social outcasts. Time caps for rape cases, be it for the registration of a challan by an investigation officer to the report of a medico-legal examiner to the actual case itself, need to be put in place.