KARACHI: The #MeToo movement has done something phenomenal. For years, women have been silently tolerating gendered violence on the streets and in their homes. Now, women are ready to take action. Whether it’s by posting on social media or reporting gendered crimes to the relevant authority, the woman of today demands accountability.
But the argument taking place nowadays is which route of accountability should one take? Should one take it to social media (therapeutic but not necessarily the solution) or head to the courts (lack of faith in the justice system prevents many women from seeking legal help).
Lawyer Zainab Khan Durrani, 28, has some very definite answers when discussing the problems women face when reporting gendered crimes, such as sexual assault or domestic violence. “Believability of your statement, need for tangible proof (which doesn’t exist in these situations). The practicality of court proceedings and it’s gendered environment, social pressure to let it go because of badnaami” are some of the reasons why women hesitate going to court, according to her.
Madiha Latif, 29, highlights something more specific as to why women don’t report sexual harassment or crimes that are similar in nature. “The first and foremost problem for me is filing the FIR. The first instance officer has to know the law and what the violation is and they usually don’t. They also don’t take these cases seriously and are usually quite sleazy when hearing the complaint itself.”
However, what both women have in common is knowledge of the law and how it works. Zainab, a lawyer by profession, is aware of the justice system as well as Madiha, a senior programme officer for an NGO that works on issues related to bodily rights.
Many women (and men) who are survivors of sexual assault or harassmnet, unfortunately, don’t know the law or how to use it to their advantage. In other instances, women simply do not have the resources to pay for a lawyer. This is where Digital Rights Foundation steps in. With a newly launched portal, DRF has provided women with a pro bono online platform that addresses their legal and psychological concerns.
Ab Aur Nahin is a website that currently has 42 lawyers on board who will provide legal assistance to victims and survivors, free of charge.
Two years ago, Nighat Dad, founder and Executive Director for DRF, launched the Cyber Harassment Helpline. Since 2016, the helpline has received 2,302 calls and it identified financial constraints as one of the reasons why women who are willing to fight in court refrain from doing so.
“The #MeToo movement has opened the floodgates for women’s testimonies and stories; it has also shown us the true scale of the problem as it stands in Pakistan as well as around the world. Institutional support and resources are needed to provide both legal and mental health support to survivors of harassment.” shared Dad.