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Pakistan and Domestic Violence

By Hera Hussain
August 21 2013

 

 

 

 

Chayn is Pakistan’s first global volunteer-led crowdsourced website that informs and supports women facing domestic violence. Eighty percent of women in Pakistan face domestic violence in their lives (We Can Report, 2011). Yet, cultural attitudes and the legal and economic status of women prevent them from taking action to protect themselves or, worse, lead them to believe that acts of domestic violence are acceptable, or even their own fault. Chayn is the beginning of a global, volunteer-led digital network to combat domestic violence in Pakistan, one informed woman at a time. Started from one laptop in London three months ago, the project has become a movement challenging Pakistan’s biggest and unspoken human rights issue – domestic violence. The global movement has over 30 volunteers contributing to the online and offline initiatives such as crowd-sourcing information, putting up stickers in public bathrooms, hosting events and stirring conversation amongst Pakistan’s youth about addressing the prevalence of domestic violence head on.

I often get asked why I started Chayn. As far as I can remember, I have always been passionate about empowering women. Despite growing up in a happy family in Lahore, it became clear to me that most women were in fact, not happy in their marriage. They were either forced or ‘pressurised’ (a softer, more acceptable but equally lethal form of parental abuse) to marry someone they did not know or like, or lived a life at the beck and call of their in-laws and an abusive husband. It was even harder to stomach that abusive in-laws and husbands were so normalised in Pakistani society that a girl was brought up to expect it, internalise it, hide it from her parents; to feel that it is her fault or even her fate.  I didn’t share this belief. In fact, it revolted me. It is never the fault of the victim. Women do not call for abuse. The responsibility of the abuse lies with the abuser – always. The fire and passion has remained with me from witnessing violent relationships in college to helping family and friends escape abusive marriages. I spent 8 months helping two women close to me get out of abusive relationships.

Working on another project to support children of addicted parents at a conference inspired me to use my background in digital media to build a one-stop website informing women experiencing domestic violence in Pakistan.

It struck me that it was only when I said ‘You are in an abusive relationship. He will not change. He is in control and he likes to torture you. It’s not your fault.’ that it turned a switch inside them and they began a path to leave the relationship. Similarly, helping them identify their lack of interest, sadness and low energy levels as depression brought about a feeling of empowerment in them. That’s when I realised information is power. Access to information about mental and emotional wellbeing as well as practical information on law and finance can be empowering for women. What I found intriguing was that the thing stopping most educated women from taking action (before I intervened) was fear of not knowing what support was available, how divorce laws worked and confusion on legal rights husbands have over the wife. e.g. can he get me arrested if I run away?, will he hurt my family?.

I decided to found Chayn with the help of 30 passionate volunteers from around the world. Since women from rural areas need help that requires a large scale operation, we decided to focus on educated women that have some access to resources. These women will be able to make use of the website and get some ‘Chayn’ (meaning peace and tranquility) from domestic violence. Passionate, driven and empathetic, the founding team pulled together information on specific laws and mental health to ideas for escaping abuse. We speak up against abuse from Pakistan to Greece, London to USA and Germany to Argentina. We collaborated online, sometimes over Google Hangouts, and through Facebook to create Pakistan’s first dedicated digital solution to domestic violence. Chayn volunteers range from psychologists to entrepreneurs coming from Argentina to Greece, India to US, and London to Pakistan.

 

Visit us at: www.chayn.org to see what we do.

 

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