Maryam and Nivaal Rehman | Toronto, Canada
The news which has been at the forefront of all Pakistani media over this past week has left us shocked, hurt, and more determined than ever to do something about the terrible incidents of gender based violence and sexual assault which women and children are victims of globally. As reported by the New York Times, this past week week, "a 5-year-old girl in southern Pakistan was raped, hit on the head and set on fire. Five days later, a woman in the country’s east was dragged from her car and sexually assaulted on a highway in front of her children." Like many global issues, there is no simple solution to this. Not in Pakistan, and certainly not in other parts of the world either. One of the biggest things that we can do as a society, is educate men and boys, about the importance of respecting women, valuing their freedom, and standing up against injustices when we do see them.
Only through meaningful conversations about the importance of respecting women's rights to leave their homes, drive their cars, and choose how they want to lead their lives (regardless of the time they go outside, or regardless of what they are wearing), will we be able to create the shift in mindset which is needed to prevent this issue from becoming more prevalent.
Of course, this is not all that we can do. So many innocent people become victims of this violence on a daily basis, and it is incredibly difficult to describe one main solution. Our justice systems, which are meant to protect innocent people, and punish criminals for their acts, are flawed and unable or unwilling to take the needed steps to bring justice. Even when laws do exist to protect residents of our country, they are not enforced.
By raising our voices about the justice we want to be served, we will be able to push public institutions and systems to bringing the change we wish to see. We must not only raise our voices, but also ensure that they are heard, by sharing them in spaces strategically.
We cannot stress the importance of this enough. Advocacy, which has the ability to bring about systemic change for any issue, requires an understanding about the governance systems and institutions in place which have the power to create changes in our society. The Prime Minister might be the face of a government, or a country, but is not necessarily the one in charge of making all the decisions about all the issues that are ongoing in their country. The same is the case in Pakistan. If you want to hold the government accountable, and see change for gender based violence, or any other issue that is seen at a grassroots level in your own communities, reach out to the parliamentarians who represent your town or your city. Your federal and provincial representatives were elected to represent you in parliament, and solve the issues your community may have. Use this system. Reach out to your local representatives through your government's website, or their social media accounts. Call on them, urge them to take action, and they will be able to convey your message in parliament. This is a much more effective channel for creating change and ensuring that your concerns and voices are heard.
At the World With MNR, we recognize the ongoing challenges that women and children have to face in terms of gender based violence and sexual assault. This is what led us to creating our Shine Toolkit in 2018, which was launched through a pilot in our village in Pakistan, to educate girls about Gender Based Violence, and the importance of speaking out. We hope that through teaching girls how incredibly valuable and precious they are, and through teaching them about how their bodies cannot be touched by anyone unless they give their consent, we can empower them to stand up for themselves in the face of Gender Based Violence. This is a small intervention, which is necessary to implement at the grassroots level, and the entire curriculum has been reviewed by partner organizations working in this field specifically, to ensure that it is effective. It is equally important that young men and boys are taught about gender-based violence prevention, and we are currently developing a toolkit directed specifically towards them too.
Beyond this, we are making Gender Based Violence a focus of our research for our Feminae Carta Initiative (which aims to make gender equality a policy priority in countries all over the world). Through this initiative, we will be able to learn more about the status of gender based violence in countries (among other challenges women face), and determine how they can create the necessary policy changes to ensure that gender-based violence is reduced.
We wanted to share our thoughts about this issue because this past week's news has left us deeply worried, and while we are not the experts on this issue, we do know that it is important to raise awareness and share some ways that we have been able to take action in the past, which can definitely be used to take action in this case too.
We are still learning, still seeking ways to create change, and as always, making the pursuit of gender equality one of our top priorities.