Pakistan’s complicated relationship with body positivity

Cover photo credit: Freepik

By: Sarah Munir

Suggested reading time: 7 mins

Consider yourself lucky if you missed the latest botched attempt by Pakistani media at body positivity or inclusivity in the form of Express Entertainment’s drama Oye Motti.” As the promo reveals, the story revolves around protagonist Aalia – whose body size appears to be everyone’s business including her beloved partner-to-be Nauman. In a strange plot twist, Nauman lays down a condition for Aalia to reduce her weight by half if she wants to tie the coveted marital knot. 

Head meet wall

As tone-deaf as this plot twist sounds, according to a Dawn News report, the show “has been created to highlight the deeply-rooted culture of body shaming in our society.” The show’s lead Kanwal Aftab also said in an Instagram post that she worked very hard on this project to bring attention to the desi culture of body shaming.

Sounds like the opposite of what it seems, right?

Why are we so bad at representing different-sized bodies?

Despite women’s bodies and sizes being the center of unsolicited policing and politics in Pakistan, we have somehow not been able to find the right vocabulary or understanding of what it means to embrace bodies that do not meet societal ideals. Not only have we failed to center bodies that fall outside of the tall, thin, fair construct in our fashion and mainstream media, we also don’t have the right language to talk about people’s weight without reducing them to it. 

Pictured above: Multimedia journalist & Comedian Sabah Bano Malik rocking a sari

According to multimedia journalist and comedian Sabah Bano Malik, these attitudes are rooted in conformity – being happy with anything that falls outside of what is considered appropriate or attractive is almost seen as “threatening” in our society, she says. Malik also feels the over-sexualization of bodies from a young age deems it almost vulgar for women to be heavier and be ok with it – especially if they carry that weight around their breasts and hips. 

Digs at being overweight in day-to-day conversations is commonplace and portraying overweight people as sloppy, simple-minded sidekicks by the media has turned being a different size into an ailment that must be avoided at all costs. Not to mention entire corporations that swoop in and sell the dream of being thin with weight-loss supplements, fad diets and fat-free everything. 

Have fun in whatever body you are in

Pictured above: Marketeer and body positivity advocate Sarah Raseen Khan in the latest Generation campaign

Despite dressing up and fashion being such a central part of economic and social activity in the desi society, good clothing options for larger-sized bodies are limited. Frustrated with this lack of representation, 24-year-old marketing professional Sarah Raseen Khan decided to advocate for being happy in whatever size you are in through experimenting with her fashion choices and sharing it publicly on her Instagram feed. “I felt that by speaking about it, I could be the person I needed when I was younger. I could help change the narrative about “the ideal body type” and push for representation of bigger bodies in all forms of media,” shared Khan who can be seen rocking everything from a halter to a sari on her social feed.

Source: Khaadi

After years of designers and commercial brands sidelining bigger bodies in their campaigns and collections, brands like Khaddi and Generation are also leading the way in body acceptance. Not only have they centered “normal” bodies in their imagery and shoots, these brands are also trying to redefine what it means to create fashion that is inclusive and accessible to everyone. In a Scroll report, Generation creative director Khadija Rehman says it’s “tragic” that plus-sized women are not enabled to have fun with their clothes. Plus-sized beauties of Pakistan, she said, “just need to develop more swagger in their walk and not worry so much what others would think.”

Unhealthy body expectations 

Beyond fashion and clothing, comments about size and weight are commonplace in desi culture. Unsolicited advice on gaining/losing weight, invasive questions about body size and tying women’s worth to a number on the scale is far more common than we like to admit.

Malik shares that she often gets bombarded with a lot of advice on how she needs to lose weight or how certain clothing styles are not meant for her body type. “It’s kind of crazy just how angry people get when fat women are existing peacefully and without hiding themselves, they get really amped up about it,” she said. Khan adds that people also get uncomfortable when she portrays comfort with her body while being active. She thinks “it’s either because a considerable amount of people still believe that I can’t be the size I am and lead a healthy lifestyle, or they feel uncomfortable seeing a bigger body in activewear.” 

Unattainable body standards in a culture where everything from celebration to mourning is centered around food can also lead to unhealthy relationships with eating from a young age. Coupled with a lack of awareness about eating disorders and mental health at large, this leaves people, especially teenagers extremely vulnerable to physical and mental health complications.

The thinner, the better?

Source: Dawn News

Only last year, newlywed celebrity couple Aagha Ali and Hina Altaf appeared on the popular morning show Good Morning Pakistan and shared what conditions they had laid upon each other before getting married. “Before marriage, Aagha showed me a picture of someone, who wasn’t me and said if you become this fat…” shared Hina. “No ji,” protested Aagha. “I said I don’t want anything in this world, only one promise, only one. Please don’t get fat, for god’s sake.”

While the clip went viral, the mentality behind these comments is the result of years of conditioning and synonymising being thin with being happy and desirable. Weight is a central concern when it comes to marriage, especially that of women. Young women are often told to watch their weights from an early age in order to brighten their prospects in the matrimonial marketplace. The media has not been of much help here either. Years of rewarding thinness on screen with success, beautiful partners and flamboyant lifestyles has left little space for other ideals to exist. 

Embracing body positivity and opting for healthier narratives around our bodies 

Source: Shutterstock

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the term body positivity and what it entails. At its simplest, body positivity is the idea that people should feel happy with and proud of their body, whatever shape or size it is. Globally, body positivity is a social movement that advocates for the celebration and self-love of visibly fat bodies. The movement has its roots in the fat acceptance movement of the late 1960s, which focused on ending the culture of fat-shaming and discrimination against people based upon their size or body weight. 

The term “body positive” was coined in 1996 following founder Connie Sobczak’s experience with eating disorders in her teen years. The body positivity movement in its current form took off around 2012, manifesting itself with hashtags and selfies online, but a lot of people still remain confused about what it entails. According to Khan, one way of being body positive or an ally is to recognize your inner bias against bigger bodies. Asking yourself if you think differently or less of someone just because of the way they look is a good way of keeping yourself in check, she advises. Malik says it can be something as simple as hearing people out. Allowing people to be different, listening to them and validating their feelings can go a long way, she says.

A guide to body positivity

If you are still confused, we have broken down a few ways in which you can practise and support body positivity in your day-to-day-lives:

  • Recognize that we all come in different shapes and sizes
  • Practise positive self-talk, to yourself and others
  • Switch from fear to gratitude
  • Set health-related goals instead of size-related ones
  • Understand that whatever someone else’s body looks like, is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS

Healthy ways of talking about body and appearances

Language matters. Here are a few suggestions for talking about health and appearances in a more positive way. Consider reframing your comments the next time you feel tempted to comment on someone’s body or weight. 

“You look so curvy”“You look so happy. Hope you continue to have days like these”
“Have you lost weight? You look great!’“You take such great care of yourself. I hope to prioritize myself like that too”
How do you stay so thin while eating like that”“I am so inspired by how much you value staying healthy and active”
“I wish I could eat as much as I want and stay thin”I am so grateful to have a healthy body and to be able to eat anything that I wannt”

Sarah Munir is a digital journalist with a focus on the intersection of technology and media. She has worked with several publications including Dawn, Facebook, Forbes, and most recently Twitter. You can reach her @SarahMunir1.

Pakistan’s obsession with Turkish media marks a deeper geopolitical shift

Cover photo credit: Peakpx

By: Sarah Munir

As the Pakistan Day Parade celebrating the passage of the historic Pakistan Resolution kicked off in full fervor on March 25 in Islamabad (delayed two days by uncooperative weather), some viewers were taken aback by a familiar tune. Amidst a sea of green and white flags and Pakistani nationalism on full display, a Turkish band paid tribute to Muslim hero Ertuğrul, Ghazi and the Turkish drama based on the life and times of Ertuğrul, the father of Osman who founded the Ottoman Empire.

An odd mix right? We thought so too. However, a deeper look at the dominion of Turkish dramas and celebrities among Pakistani viewers suggests that the tribute might be strange but not surprising. Turkish dramas are second only to American ones in terms of global distribution and Turkish is now the most-watched foreign language in the world, beating out French, Spanish and Mandarin.

Tell me more …

Pakistan is one of the largest markets for Turkish dramas – also referred to as Turkish dizis, which have covered everything from gang rape to calculating Ottoman royals. Series like Diriliş: Ertuğrul, Mera Sultan and Ishq-e-Mamnoon have enjoyed massive viewerships – Ishq-e-Mamnoon finale was watched by over 55 million people in Pakistan and Pakistan makes up 25 percent of Ertuğrul’s global audience on YouTube. In 2013, Pakistani TV channels screened 11 Turkish-made TV series and two movies, with 34,000 tourists flocking to Turkey the same year. The number was estimated to exceed a whooping 120,000 by the end of 2020, according to a report by Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency.

In her book “New Kings of the World,” writer Fatima Bhutto explains that Turkish shows initially found a footing in the Pakistani market due to their cheaper procurement costs compared to original Pakistani programming – an episode could be procured for between $2500-$4000, a stark contrast compared to a local show which costs more than $10,000 to produce. But soon enough the voracious storylines and light-eyed cast members had Pakistani audiences hooked.

The hype was only fueled further when Pakistani premier Imran Khan directed that Turkish dramas be dubbed in Urdu and aired on state-run Pakistani television. In an interview with local broadcaster Hum News, Khan said the airing of quality content like Turkish dramas was an attempt to educate and provide good role models to the country’s people, especially the youth.

But why exactly are Pakistanis so enamored by Turkish plots, production and characters? The answers may lurk deeper than fancy production designs, elaborate costumes and dramatic plotlines.  

Background: A celebrated brotherhood

Pakistan and Turkey have long held each other in high regard and referred to each other as “brother countries.” Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize Pakistan after its founding in 1947 and supported its membership in the United Nations. Prior to Pakistan’s independence, Muslims of the British Raj also clubbed together under the Khilafat Movement of 1919-1922 in support of the dwindling Ottoman Empire. The Caliphate signified global Muslim unity. Even though the movement collapsed after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk dismissed Mehmed VI, the last sultan, Indian Muslims continued to send financial support to the empire as it was on its way out.

Fast forward a few decades and Pakistan finds itself forging news allies while Asia goes through a massive geo-political shift with Saudi Arabia at odds with Iran, a hyper-nationalistic Narendra Modi in power in India and China’s rising global power. In this new reality, Pakistan appears to have found comfort in Turkey’s cultural values and a more modern brand of Islam. 

Source: Anadolu Agency

Khan’s fantasies to position Pakistan as a leader in the Islamic world

Since coming to power after a disputed election in 2018, Khan has said he wants “to create a Pakistan which is in line with the first Muslim society created by the Prophet Muhammad in Medina,” the holy city in Saudi Arabia where Islam emerged in the seventh century.

Khan has found a partner in Turkey’s Erdogan, who has attempted to impose Islamic values in the secular country. Since Khan came to power, there has been a clear uptick in high-level visits, military exchanges and exercises, purchase of defence equipment and political support for each other’s disputes with neighbouring countries between the two nations. Turkey has also expressed clear support for Pakistan when it comes to the Kashmir dispute with Erdogan comparing the struggle of Kashmiris to the Ottoman Empire’s fight against Allied powers during World War I.

However, Pakistan’s economic dependence on Saudi Arabia often places it at odds with the visions of Islamic grandiose that Turkey promises. Relations between Riyadh and Ankara have historically been tense over issues like the support of the Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt and differences over approach in Libya and Qatar. The relationship reached its lowest point after the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October, 2018. Pakistan’s Khan was the first world leader to welcome Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, after Khashoggi’s heinous killing—a crime that Erdogan helped bring to light despite repeated denials and cover-ups from Saudi officials.  

Source: BBC

An identity vacuum

Since its inception, Pakistanis have struggled with what it means to be Pakistani. Heroes and idols have mostly been cultural imports ranging from the Khans of Bollywood, the blue-eyed denim-clad heroes of Hollywood and now historical Turkish figures. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor at Forman Christian College-University in Lahore, says Pakistan has a “cultural vacuum coupled with incomplete identity formation.” “We first tried to become Arabs by taking inspiration from Arab heroes,” Hoodbhoy told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “But now that the Arabs have slightly moved towards liberalism, we are pinning our hopes on Turkey.” For the middle class, the conservative values, sword-bashing men defending Islam against its enemies and modestly covered women also offers a cultural narrative thats closer to home and hence easier to buy into.

Bhutto explains this further in her book highlighting that the Turks had managed to strike a nerve where Indian, American and Pakistani content failed. “They had achieved the perfect balance between secular modernity and middle-class conservatism,” she says. 

Stronger together?

In September 2019, leaders from Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia decided to jointly launch an English language television channel dedicated to confronting Islamophobia and removing “misperceptions” about Islam. The TV channel, which will be broadcasting in English, will create videos for social media platforms, produce documentaries and video news, according to reports. Additionally, Khan is also mulling over a proposed joint TV series with leading Turkish director Kemal Tekden dubbed Turk Lala. The series will highlight the role played by Muslims of the sub-continent during the Balkan War.

In addition, Pakistan had also announced plans to celebrate the centenary of the Caliphate movement of the 1920s in 2020. Earlier this year, Turkish foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also inaugurated the Turkish consulate under construction in Karachi, which is reported to be one of Turkey’s largest consulates in the world. 

Defence ties

The two countries also enjoy a strong military-to-military relationship, which is symbolized by the armed forces training exchange programme of 2000. Since the inception of the programme, approximately 1,500 Pakistani military officers have been trained in Turkey. Turkey also helps maintain Pakistan’s fleet of F-16 aircraft.

Source: Twitter/@iihtishamm

A Pakistani Ertuğrul

A group of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 26 also attempted to recreate the popular Turkish series in the Odigram village of Swat Valley. The young boys financed the film with the income from their business selling axes, swords, jackets, and borks, which they produced after watching the serial ‘Resurrection Ertugrul’, according to a Global Village Space report. The film will be released after Eid-ul-Fitr with the title, Pakistani Ertugrul, on YouTube. 

What happens next?

While the bond between Islamabad and Riyadh is cemented by historical ties, common adversaries and a shared foreign policy vision, it would be interesting to note how the relationship is furthered beyond Khan’s government. Moreover, the strengthening ties between the two countries should also provide a new template for Western and US policy makers who have  historically viewed Pakistan solely through an Afghan/Iran security lens and defined Turkey by the ongoing refugee crisis and Syria and Russia’s military influence. Until then, will our TV screens continue to be flooded by Turkish cultural imagery? The answer seems to be a likely yes.

Want more?

You can also read previous newsletter coverage of Turkish media in Pakistan here:

Sarah Munir is a digital journalist with a focus on the intersection of technology and media. She has worked with several publications including Dawn, Facebook, Forbes, and most recently Twitter. You can reach her @SarahMunir1.

A day in the life of an Afro-Pakistani student

Cover photo credit: Canva

Op-ed writer: Janib Sheedi

Being black in a South Asian society means one has to go through several challenges on a daily basis. I myself, being a student from the marginalized Afro-Pakistani Sheedi community, face unpredictable and constant hardships. I personally believe skin colour shouldn’t have anything to do with a person’s reputation. People are defined by their own deeds in society.  Unfortunately, there are some unnatural stereotypes about the caste, color and creed of particular communities. 

My community in Pakistan is not free from such stereotypes. I hail from Pakistan’s second largest province, Sindh, where our Sheedi community lives in the thousands. Judging from the Sheedi community’s social, financial and political status, they appear to be second-class citizens. We have inherited a colonial legacy, from a time when members of the African diaspora were enslaved and treated as anything but human.

Ongoing systematic discrimination against the Afro-Pakistani community has created a vacuum for us due to limited access and opportunities. One of the most common challenges is abject poverty. It is said that poverty is the  mother of all evils. This evil has consistently prevented my community from attaining an education. Owing to this, a majority of young Afro-Pakistanis work as labourers, drivers, house keepers, cooks and entertainers to earn a living. Levels of poverty and illiteracy among the Sheedi community are higher compared to other ethnic groups in Pakistan.

I remember when I asked my family to let me pursue a higher education from the University of Sindh, and they refused. At  the time, they could hardly afford two meals a day. My father was unemployed, even though he was literate. My life was really tough between 2011 and 2017. I had no choice but to start earning for my family. I used to work at a brick factory, as a daily wager building houses. I sold vegetables on a rented cart, and even grew crops in our small field.

Despite all this, I kept reading historical and general knowledge books at home. I was also a teenager, a phase that is known to be an emotionally vulnerable time for young people. The opportunities I had to give up, and the uncertainty about my future, made my teenage years even more difficult. Even though I had to deal with personal and financial setbacks, I told myself these struggles would make me stronger.

In 2016, with the help of my family’s financial contribution, I got admitted to a Masters programme at the University of Sindh. I was pursuing a degree in the university’s Department of Psychology. However, after two months of regular classes, I realized that semester fees, combined with the personal expenses that come with university life, would add up to more than what my father could afford. I eventually had to withdraw from the program for financial reasons. Then, I started preparing for the country’s competitive Central Superior Services (CSS) exam. 

I have not been able to clear the CSS exam so far. This isn’t a reflection of my competitiveness, but more to do with long-standing material obstacles that keep getting in the way. I am preparing for my third and final attempt to pass the exam. I am also working as a self-employed tutor to ease my personal financial situation, which has been an ongoing issue. 

To keep my morale high, I continue to learn about history. I also read autobiographies and biographies of great personalities. These activities allow my heart and mind work in coalesce and conformity. 

I still believe in the beauty of the future. Even if things are not going as planned right now, sooner or later, I will come out of this critical juncture. Mine is not the only story. There are thousands of young and passionate Afro-Pakistani students who are looking for help to pursue an education so they can have a better life.

I believe the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan need to give young people in the Sheedi community more access to education through material and moral support. If the government can spend billions of dollars on defence, it  can allocate more money to educational initiatives as well. The 21st century is the age of access, and our young citizens can play a vital role in building the nation. Young Afro-Pakistanis should also be given a chance to do this.

Janib Ali Sheedi is from Larkana, Sindh in Pakistan. He is currently working as a self-employed academic tutor. He is simultaneously preparing for the Central Superior Service exam, also known as the CSS exam. Candidates who pass this exam are eligible to apply for civil service jobs with the federal govt. He is also a writer, with a keen interest in culture and international relations. He hopes to complete a graduate program from a university abroad some day. 

Thinking big: Nitasha Syed

By: Anam Khan

Pakistani-Canadian entrepreneur, Nitasha Syed, has a software engineering background. She is currently a Senior Product Manager at Rally Health. She started her career on the FIFA14 team, and moved to California’s Bay Area five years ago. Syed is also an advisor to early-stage startups (pre-seed/seed) out of the US, Pakistan, and India. She helps startups figure out product-market fit, user acquisition, retention, and growth.

On top of her long list of accomplishments, Syed recently launched a digital talk show on YouTube called Shaam Ki Chai, where she highlights the Pakistani diaspora all over the world. According to Syed, the stories told in Pakistani media haven’t changed for decades:

“Between dramas that depict cruelty to women (that she has to bear), morning shows that fight for eyeballs over controversial topics (that don’t move the country forward), and news channels that just sound like your grandmother’s living room where everyone is shouting over each other, the stories of Pakistanis and their accomplishments are getting lost,” said Syed.

She launched Sham Ki Chai to break through the traditional scope of Pakistani media, and shed more light on the stories of Pakistani expats “making waves all over the world.”

Even though Shaam Ki Chai is a very young venture that launched a couple of months ago, Syed has already interviewed some trailblazing and talented expats. From Kalsoom Lakhani (Founder and CEO of I2I Ventures, the first women-run venture fund in Pakistan), to Ali Ahsan (Co-Founder of MangoBaaz), to Safwat Saleem (a TED speaker, graphic designer and filmmaker). When asked what kind of stories she wants to tell, Syed said:

“I know this sounds broad, but I want to interview Pakistanis all over the world who are doing interesting things. I want to tell stories of how they (or their families) migrated out of Pakistan, and the impact they are making in their communities and the world. I want to use Shaam Ki Chai as a means to connect the diaspora to those back home, while simultaneously shedding a positive light on Pakistanis in the world.” 

It turns out Syed already has experience making shows. The first one was called Humans of STEM. The second one was called Unboxd, which originally focused on storytelling through photos. Unboxd transitioned from photoshoots to videos, and became an online series called “Hanging with Unboxd.” Syed created Unboxd to challenge stereotypes about women – she shared stories of women in STEM fields and showcased their multi-dimensionality. However, Humans of STEM ran out of money in the editing phase, and Unboxd “didn’t survive COVID.” Then, Syed hunkered down and came up with Shaam Ki Chai:

“This time I had three years of failures in my pocket. I knew how to create engaging original content in a scalable, cost-effective way. I could grow content viewership. I had a grasp on which engagement metrics to focus on. I knew how to create an outreach channel. I knew which distribution platforms to utilize based on the audience I am trying to target. I had experience setting up studios, working with cameras, lighting and sound. Most importantly, I knew what to spend money on, what I could get done for free (or close to free), what to outsource, and what to learn,” said Syed. 

Syed thought of the Shaam Ki Chai concept in September 2020, and started filming in October:

“Thanks to a team of extremely talented folks I had been working with for the past few years, I was able to launch it in January 2021,” said Syed.

Shaam Ki Chai set, outdoor patio

As we mentioned earlier, Syed has a full time job as a product manager at a health tech startup. Now, she is working on Shaam Ki Chai as well. It must take a superhuman level of multitasking to juggle a full time job and a digital show. We asked Syed how she manages her time and stays organized:

“I work a lot. That’s not a joke. I stick to a really rigid schedule of getting up early before my meetings at work start. I try to get in about an hour of Shaam Ki Chai work and then put my product manager hat on until about 5pm. After a few hours of a break, I am back at work until late. I have a distributed team, with most folks in Pakistan and one person in London. Missing a deadline, or a late response, tends to mean almost a day’s worth of delay in work. Productivity tools, emails, and of course WhatsApp is our friend.”

Since Syed actively follows content and entertainment coming out of Pakistan, we asked her what kind of content she wants to see more of in Pakistani media.

“Diverse stories of Pakistanis. The narratives of both men and women have not changed in Pakistani media for a long time.  A lot of these narratives are regressive towards women and paint men in a cruel light. I think it’s so unfortunate because that’s far from reality. Pakistanis are making waves all over the world,” said Syed.

As a follow up question, we asked how Shaam Ki Chai can fill that gap.

“I hope the stories told on Shaam Ki Chai can help bring new stories to Pakistani media. I’d love to see a drama about a Pakistani girl that goes abroad to study, starts a game development camp for young girls, and then ends up getting awarded by Variety (e.g. Laila Shabir, Founder of Girls Make Games); or a Pakistani born in Zambia whose PhD thesis is now being used to launch rockets into space (e.g. Ibaad Rahman),” said Syed 

What can we expect from Shaam Ki Chai in the next 3-5 years? Syed said she sees Shaam Ki Chai becoming a late-night talk show that brings together Pakistanis from all over the world for a conversation over a cup of chai.

On the set of Shaam Ki Chai

Speaking of chai…here is Syed’s favorite chai recipe (we had to ask)

Syed uses a Masala chai tea bag (which she thinks is cheating). She also dropped another disclaimer, saying she shares recipes like an aunty – very few measurements and a lot of ‘andazey sey karo’ (i.e. eyeballing it). 

  • Fill up a saucer with some water and wait for it to boil 
  • Add 2 teabags of Masala chai tea bags
  • Wait for the water to get darkish 
  • Add some milk 
  • Add some sugar
  • Wait for chai to boil to the top and turn down the heat
  • Let the chai simmer for about 5 minutes and voila!

Anam Khan is a content strategist and founder of The NewsRun.

Motorway rape case, public outrage, and how you can help

Cover photo credit: Canva

By: Anam Khan

The purpose of this special report is to understand rape culture and identify some of the root causes of rape culture in Pakistan. The report also points out ways you can tackle the mindset, societal norms, and systemic failures that contribute to rape culture.

A breakdown of what happened

The incident: Two robbers allegedly raped a woman at gunpoint on the motorway last week. She was travelling from Lahore to Gujranwala with her children. Her car ran out of fuel while she was crossing the toll plaza on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway. A relative in Gujranwala told her to call the police helpline, and was on his way to help. However, before the relative reached her, two armed men took her and her children to a nearby field at gunpoint and gang-raped her. The robbers also snatched her cash, jewellery and other valuables.

Where were the police? As for the helpline, police claim she hadn’t called by the time the armed men showed up. However, according to Al Jazeera, she phoned the police for help, but the two armed men took her and her children out of the vehicle before the police arrived.

Victim-blaming: Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) in Lahore, Muhammad Umar Sheikh, suggested that her own actions got her into trouble. He questioned why she left the house late at night, drove alone with her kids, didn’t check the petrol in her car, and didn’t take a route called GT road that is more populated. He also said the woman, who is a resident of France, thought she was in France and not Pakistan where society is different. Protesters are demanding CCPO Sheikh’s removal. Today, CCPO Sheikh reportedly apologized: “I did not mean anything wrong…if any misunderstanding was caused because of me, then I apologize.”

Our earlier newsletter that went out today sums up recent arrests, next steps, and protests against the gang rape.

Summing up public outrage

What is rape culture?

An environment in which sexual violence is considered the norm and justified. Victims are blamed for their own assaults. Cultural norms and institutions protect rapists, promote impunity, shame victims, and demand that women bring it upon themselves to avoid sexual assault. Rape culture is rooted in patriarchal beliefs (i.e. the dominance of men, and the devaluation of women). Gender inequalities, discriminatory laws, and attitudes about gender and sexuality, fuel rape culture. 

Take a stand against rape culture in Pakistan

Change the mindset of society. Why is there a culture and system that produces men who rape women with impunity? What is taught in homes and schools? What is the value of a woman’s voice and consent? It is reportedly common for men to sit in a gathering where casual sexist jokes and objectifying comments about women are considered normal. This allows a toxic culture to develop, even if certain men don’t take part in these conversations, they shouldn’t let them happen. 

Redefine masculinity. Don’t let the boys or men in your life perceive violence as “strong” and dominance as “male.” 

Stop victim-blaming: When discussing a case of sexual violence against a woman, don’t bring up her sobriety, choice of clothing, or sexuality as the problem. Talk about how the perpetrator is responsible for her assault. Hold the perpetrator accountable. The cause of rape, is the rapist.

Don’t “make women smaller.” Keeping girls indoors and protected isn’t the solution. The root of the problem goes deeper, and risk aversion isn’t the only answer. It’s important to address systemic issues and institutional failures that allow rape culture to spread, rather than expect women to sacrifice their freedoms in order to stay safe. 

Take an intersectional approach. Rape culture affects all of us, regardless of gender identity, sexuality, economic status, race, religion or age. One step towards tackling rape culture is removing restrictive definitions of gender and sexuality that discourage people from expressing themselves. For example, there are cases where LGBTQI individuals are subject to “corrective rape,” in which the perpetrator intends to force the victim to conform with sexual and gender stereotypes.

Improve law enforcement. Elected officials and law enforcement agencies need to implement laws that promote gender equality and protect women. There is currently a lack of law enforcement that protects women and girls from violent crimes like rape. However, public hangings of rapists won’t stop rape from happening either. Imran Ali, the man who raped and murdered the minor girl, Zainab, in Kasur, was hanged in October 2018. Capital punishment clearly didn’t deter future rapists.  

Start police reforms. The police should make it easier and safer for women to report crimes. Create an atmosphere that is free of victim-blaming.

Donate to organizations that focus on rape and violence in Pakistan

Aurat Foundation: An organization working for women’s empowerment. The organization deals with a wide range of issues, such as ending violence against women and girls.  

Bedari: An organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls. Bedari focuses on violence against women and education for women. 

War Against Rape (WAR): An organization that provides crisis intervention to sexually abused women and children, including free services like legal aid, psycho-therapeutic counseling, and basic medical assistance.

Women in Struggle for Empowerment (WISE): A women-led organization that conducts seminars to raise awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace. Through its Survivor Support Unit (SSU), WISE also helps women who have survived torture, sexual harassment, and sexual assault by connecting them with legal services, counseling, and psycho-social therapy.

Anam Khan is a content strategist and founder of The NewsRun.