Taking time off after having a baby remains an off-limit luxury for many

By: Sarah Munir

Suggested reading time: 8 minutes

Earlier this month, the Pakistan Cricket Board announced a refreshing new parental support policy that would allow both men and women cricketers some time off after having a child. As part of the new set of policies, women cricketers will be allowed to take a year-long paid maternity leave, in addition to the option of switching to a non-playing role as they approach their maternity leave, Dawn News reported. A contract for the following year will also be guaranteed when leaving for maternity leave. When the athletes return to work, they will be provided physical training and support to rehabilitate after childbirth. Male cricketers are also allowed concessions, and will be able to take a month-long paid paternity leave. On May 16, Pakistan cricket team captain Bismah Maroof announced her decision to take an indefinite maternity leave. 

The policy reform by PCB has been widely lauded as a much-needed step forward in providing childcare support and fostering gender diversity in the workplace. 

Tell me more …

Though women constitute 49 percent of Pakistan’s population, female labor force participation stands at 22 percent – placing it among the lowest in South Asia and the world.  The gender gap stands at 23.7 percent with only 4.2 percent women holding senior or middle management positions. According to the Global Gender Gap Index Report 2020, published by the World Economic Forum, Pakistan also ranks 151 out of the 153 countries, surpassing only Iraq and Yemen.

Despite maternity protection being labeled a fundamental labour right by major human rights treaties like UDHR, ICESR and CEDAW, Pakistan has failed to provide sufficient childcare facilities to its workers, especially women. As a result, most women drop out of the workforce as they near or experience childbirth, reducing their economic participation drastically. When half of the country’s labor force remains unsupported and watches from the sidelines, it is no surprise that the economic performance takes a massive hit.

Source: Shutterstock

Between a rock and a hard place

According to local law, employers are expected to provide 12 weeks of paid maternity leave (16 weeks in Sindh), free healthcare during and after pregnancy, protection from dismissals and periodic nursing breaks in accordance with the International Labor Organization’s Maternity Protection Convention 1919 (No 3). But the measures fall short of what is required or needed.

And in some cases, it directly affects the mothers who are trying to build a career while caring for their families. Kiran*, a medical officer at a Karachi-based private healthcare facility describes her employer’s policy of granting only a 45-day unpaid leave after delivery as “exhausting.” “Not having a daycare facility at the workplace also exacerbates the guilt of not being with my newborn. It feels like I am losing on both ends,” she shares.

Women who are employed in the private sector usually have better luck if the organization is progressive, the labor force is unionized and/or if their immediate supervisors are cooperative. Madiha Javed Qureshi, who was working at Nestle at the time of her pregnancy lauds the company for being extremely flexible with their maternity and paternity leave policies and providing day care services to parents. “Being a first-time mother is an extremely difficult and anxiety-ridden period for working women,” she says. “If my employer had not extended the kind of support they did, I can’t imagine how I would have continued working.”

According to Iftikhar Ahmed, founder of Center for Labor Research, paying for maternity leave and establishing day care centers should not be the employer’s responsibility. Instead, he recommends building of day care centers at a community level by the government and financing maternity leaves by social security rather than making it an employer liability.

Source: Shutterstock

Care and support goes a long way

Even when maternity/paternity leaves are flexible, lack of affordable and reliable childcare facilities often discourages young mothers from returning to work. With more and more families becoming nuclear, most women start contemplating leaving work during pregnancy as there is no one to care for the child. Zainab Bhatti, who works in a managerial role at LUMS, gives credit to the institution for allowing her a generous maternity leave but wishes there were more options for bringing your children to the workplace. “I am a special needs mother and it is difficult for me to leave my baby for prolonged hours.” Her concern is echoed by Bisma*, whose decision to continue work was impacted by the availability of a subsidized day care facility at the private hospital she worked at. “I don’t think I would have been able to work full-time without this support,” she says.

Unfortunately, if these needs are not met, legal recourse for workers is limited. Even in cases of unfair dismissals or discriminatory policies by employers, there isn’t much employees can do, says Parvez Rahim, a labour law and employee relations expert. “The labour litigation process in Pakistan is expensive and time consuming.  Even the cases of ‘alleged unfair dismissals from service’ take years for decisions,” he said. Hence, young parents are not left with much choice besides relying on each other or families for support or dishing out money from their own pockets to ensure that their child is in the safe hands of a private caretaker.

Is change on the horizon?

In January 2020, the Senate passed the Maternity and Paternity Leave Bill, 2018, which entitles women to a maternity leave of six months and also allows men a paternity leave of three months. Mothers and fathers may get further three- and one-month optional leaves but those will be unpaid, it says. The employer won’t be allowed to terminate the services of an employee for seeking leave under the provisions of the bill. The bill was moved by Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Quratulain Marri and is still to be considered by the National Assembly.

While some have lauded the bill for providing relief to working mothers and paving a path for equality, where men and women share the role of providing for and raising children together, others have reservations due to its limited application. The bill will be applicable only to enterprises within the administrative control of the federal government. Moreover, experts think some checks and balances are also required to ensure it is not misused as a recreational leave but instead allows fathers to step up as the primary caretaker while allowing mothers to rest or return to work.

Given the physical and financial strain of having a child, coupled with a lack of support from the state and employers, more and more young parents are choosing to delay childbirth. Those that don’t are often forced to take a sabbatical from work and/or forgo their career completely. According to Rahim, the sphere of labour laws in Pakistan is in “complete shambles” after the passage of the 18th Amendment in April 2010, which devolved more control to the provinces. There is little focus on maternity leave and working women’s rights when other critical labour welfare laws applicable to the entire workforce are on the “verge of total collapse”, he added. But some young parents choose to remain hopeful for change. “Women can be mothers and have ambitious careers at the same time. The world is making it happen for us, it’s about time that Pakistan takes a step in that direction too,” Kiran says as she gets ready for her first-born. 

A look at the rest of the world

Here are some countries that are miles ahead in terms of extending support to both parents:

Finland: Starting in 2021, each parent will be allowed 164 days, or about seven months.  A single parent can take the amount of two parents, or 328 days. 

Denmark: New moms in Denmark get a total of 18 weeks of maternity leave: four weeks before the birth and 14 weeks after, at full pay. During the 14-week period, the father can also take two consecutive weeks off.

Sweden: New parents in Sweden are entitled to 480 days of leave at 80% of their normal pay. 

Norway: Mothers can take 49 weeks at full pay or 59 weeks at 80% pay, and fathers can take between zero and 10 weeks depending on their wives’ income.

New Zealand: Earlier this year New Zealand began to offer a three-day paid bereavement leave for couples who have suffered a miscarriage. India and China also have similar policies in place that allows couples to take time off and grieve in case of experiencing a misscarriage.

Some names have been changed due to privacy concerns

Bio: 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 complicated relationship with body positivity

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. 

Don’tsDo’s
“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”

Bio: 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

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:

Bio: 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.

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

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.

Exclusive interview with Julie’s lawyer, Hassan Niazi

DEEP DIVE: THE PLIGHT OF TRANS ACTIVIST, JULIE

News about the arrest of Pakistani trans activist, Julie, has been making rounds on the internet. Because of the online Naked Truth series, Julie became a viral, household name earlier this year. She had been vocal about the plight of the country’s trans community, receiving both support and criticism as a result. In particular, her arrest was allegedly based on a fabricated case. Because of a lack of attention from mainstream media channels, a lot of the facts about Julie’s case were unclear. That’s why The NewsRun and lifestyle and culture blogger, Ushah Kazi, worked together to clarify as many details as we could. You can visit Ushah’s blog to learn more about Pakistan’s transgender community.

We reached out to Julie’s lawyer, Hassan Niazi, and asked him about the case. We also recapped whatever has already been published about Julie’s case. 

A BREAKDOWN OF WHAT WE LEARNED

Background: Reportedly, on July 12th, a group attacked Julie’s friend Rosy at her residence. Julie, along with other activists, spoke out against this. A few day’s later, the same group behind the assault on Rosy allegedly retaliated by filing false charges against Julie and her friends. 

The alleged incident: On July 16th, Lubna, another member of the trans community, accused Julie and three others of attacking her at her home, and taking her valuables. However, according to Niazi, Julie was at Bari Imam at the time, and was never at the Golra Shareef suburb, where the alleged incident against Lubna took place. In fact, Niazi claimed that Lubna was the one who led a group of trans people to attack Julie in her home on July 15th. Basically, the group responsible for attacking Julie allegedly filed a First Information Report (FIR) against her based on a fabricated case.

Julie’s arrest: On August 10th, Islamabad Police arrested Julie and kept her in Adiala Jail. According to Niazi, the initial police report stated that Julie was not a part of any violent act. However, she was still arrested. 

Dissent within the trans community: The circumstances surrounding Julie’s arrest have brought the internal politics of the trans community to the forefront. Niazi suggested that Julie’s public commentary on trans rights threatened members of the trans community who reportedly benefit from the status quo. Niazi also claimed that members of the community are jealous of Julie’s “fame.” 

  • Challenging the guru-chaila system: Julie reportedly condemns the prevalent ‘guru’ (teacher) and ‘chaila’ (student) system, which Niazi has likened to “slavery.” Allegedly, some wanted Julie to be placed under “Guru Najma.” However, Julie left her guru, because she doesn’t want anyone to own her. Niazi said the gurus want money in return. 
  • Exploitation: Niazi went into detail about how people in the transgender community are assigned a “ranking.” Circumstances naturally turn gurus into heads of the community. When trans people leave their homes, they need a place to live, and prefer turning to the transgender community. If they end up staying with gurus, the gurus want something in return. Trans people make money for gurus through sex slavery or begging. When a trans person starts to become “useless” in the eyes of the guru, they are sold to another guru for a price.
  • Stance against begging: Julie wants members of the community to have employment prospects so they don’t have to beg to survive.
  • An alleged mafia: Niazi named Guru Najma as a member of a “mafia” group that allegedly put pressure on the local Station House Officer (SHO) to get Julie arrested. Lubna, who filed an FIR against Julie, is reportedly Guru Najma’s “chaila.” When asked about Julie’s history with this mafia group, Niazi claimed that threats and violence have been ongoing for a while. According to Niazi, two members of the trans community, who work with human rights organizations, went to the police station and advised Julie to comply with Guru Najma for reasons that are unclear. 

Julie’s release: Julie was recently released on bail. In order to ensure her release, Niazi and his team applied for bail, met police officers, and pushed judges to not give an adjournment. “…I can’t disclose more details, but I do know that dirty games were being played to delay the bail hearing and then her release,” he said.

Julie’s celebrity status: In a video published after her arrest, Niazi claimed that Julie could have faced even more danger had she not been so popular. He stated that trans people who rebel are normally murdered by such groups, and there is hardly ever a conviction.

Next steps: In a recent video, Julie thanked everyone for their support, and encouraged them to speak out against injustice. Niazi also encouraged people to, “accept Julie as your leader in this cause, raise your voice with her, and stand by her.”