#WITW14

04.05.14

Protecting Pakistan’s Innocents

Pakistani Activists Use the Country’s Men To Elevate Women’s Rights
Video screenshot

Some men in Pakistan believe women deserve a bullet to the head for simply going outside their homes. Activists Humaira Bachal and Khalida Brohi, along with filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Ambassador Catherine M. Russell are fighting to change their violent views.

Two weeks ago, a gang took over Humaira Bachal’s neighborhood in Karachi, pulled adults out of their homes, burned down their houses, and shot them point-blank in front of their children.  

Bachal, whose Dream Foundation Trust built a school for children in the community, one of Pakistan’s most dangerous slums, watched in horror as her neighborhood remained defenseless against these young gang members who are routinely armed with grenades and rocket launchers.

Bachal was a world away from her turbulent neighborhood as she passionately spoke at a panel during the 2014 Women in the World Summit at Lincoln Center in New York on Saturday. As seen in a video clip shown at the summit, Bachal gathers the children of her neighborhood to speak about the everyday violence that they witness. The kids hear gang members beating up their family members and neighbors so much that they put cotton in their ears to muffle the screams so they can sleep at night.

While sitting in a circle with the kids, Bachal asks them, “Who does this neighborhood belong to?” and encourages them to repeatedly answer: “To all of us!”

When encountering gang violence, police called to the scene simply file reports and leave, Bachal says. It is up to the community to protect themselves. So Bachal engages in open dialogue with the children of her neighborhood because she wants them to reject violence and to change the cycle of violence that has plagued their generation, she says.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who won Pakistan’s first Oscar in 2012 with her film Saving Face—which tells the story of female victims of acid violence—profiled Bachal in her short documentary Humaira: The Dream Catcher. There are many societal pressures to keep gender inequality in Pakistan, and Obaid-Chinoy says that men must take the first steps to ensure women are guaranteed simple rights. But that is often difficult, especially since some men won’t even let women and girls leave their homes or attend school. “It takes a certain level of stubbornness to move these men to change what they’ve known their whole lives,” Obaid-Chinoy says.

One of those stubborn women is Khalida Brohi, who leads a crusade against “honor killings,” in which men kill their female family members for bringing “shame” to their families. She travels to villages to confront these men, who are usually the leaders of their respective communities, and sometimes finds them quite hostile against her goals. She implores them to allow girls to have an education and for their wives to go out to marketplaces because, she tells them, that will spur the local economy. The men are resistant to change, though, and show no remorse when telling Brohi that they will kill women if they try to leave their homes.

“Our response to such behavior is the bullet,” one man told Brohi in a video clip shown on stage.

Even though it’s extremely difficult for Brohi to hold her tongue in such situations, she restrains herself. She says she returns to persuade the men to give women these chances because it gives their villages a chance to earn more money. As she declared at last year’s Women in the World Summit, “One day I know that guy is going to be working for me.” Brohi’s prediction came through. She reported that now those same men are engaged in her organization’s projects.

Brohi also started the Sughar Empowerment Society, which provides women with the training and resources to launch their own businesses.

ABC News network correspondent Deborah Roberts, who moderated “The Bravest of the Brave” panel, asked the women how people in the United States and elsewhere in the world can support their efforts.

“Men are critically important to the battle,” reiterates Catherine M. Russell, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. She added that the U.S. can support them, but the women on the ground — who are risking their lives every day — will incite the real changes. “They’re going to lead us there, and we just have to follow their lead,” she says.

Bachal is determined to never stop speaking out. She plans on opening a “peace park” to provide children and parents a safe space in her village.

“It is better that I speak out and die, than die in silence,” Bachal said in a video clip.

Some men in Pakistan believe women deserve a bullet to the head for simply going outside their homes. Activists Humaira Bachal and Khalida Brohi, along with filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Ambassador Catherine M. Russell are fighting to change their violent views.

Two weeks ago, a gang took over Humaira Bachal’s neighborhood in Karachi, pulled adults out of their homes, burned down their houses, and shot them point-blank in front of their children.  

Bachal, whose Dream Foundation Trust built a school for children in the community, one of Pakistan’s most dangerous slums, watched in horror as her neighborhood remained defenseless against these young gang members who are routinely armed with grenades and rocket launchers.

Bachal was a world away from her turbulent neighborhood as she passionately spoke at a panel during the 2014 Women in the World Summit at Lincoln Center in New York on Saturday. As seen in a video clip shown at the summit, Bachal gathers the children of her neighborhood to speak about the everyday violence that they witness. The kids hear gang members beating up their family members and neighbors so much that they put cotton in their ears to muffle the screams so they can sleep at night.

While sitting in a circle with the kids, Bachal asks them, “Who does this neighborhood belong to?” and encourages them to repeatedly answer: “To all of us!”

When encountering gang violence, police called to the scene simply file reports and leave, Bachal says. It is up to the community to protect themselves. So Bachal engages in open dialogue with the children of her neighborhood because she wants them to reject violence and to change the cycle of violence that has plagued their generation, she says.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who won Pakistan’s first Oscar in 2012 with her film Saving Face—which tells the story of female victims of acid violence—profiled Bachal in her short documentary Humaira: The Dream Catcher. There are many societal pressures to keep gender inequality in Pakistan, and Obaid-Chinoy says that men must take the first steps to ensure women are guaranteed simple rights. But that is often difficult, especially since some men won’t even let women and girls leave their homes or attend school. “It takes a certain level of stubbornness to move these men to change what they’ve known their whole lives,” Obaid-Chinoy says.

One of those stubborn women is Khalida Brohi, who leads a crusade against “honor killings,” in which men kill their female family members for bringing “shame” to their families. She travels to villages to confront these men, who are usually the leaders of their respective communities, and sometimes finds them quite hostile against her goals. She implores them to allow girls to have an education and for their wives to go out to marketplaces because, she tells them, that will spur the local economy. The men are resistant to change, though, and show no remorse when telling Brohi that they will kill women if they try to leave their homes.

“Our response to such behavior is the bullet,” one man told Brohi in a video clip shown on stage.

Even though it’s extremely difficult for Brohi to hold her tongue in such situations, she restrains herself. She says she returns to persuade the men to give women these chances because it gives their villages a chance to earn more money. As she declared at last year’s Women in the World Summit, “One day I know that guy is going to be working for me.” Brohi’s prediction came through. She reported that now those same men are engaged in her organization’s projects.

Brohi also started the Sughar Empowerment Society, which provides women with the training and resources to launch their own businesses.

ABC News network correspondent Deborah Roberts, who moderated “The Bravest of the Brave” panel, asked the women how people in the United States and elsewhere in the world can support their efforts.

“Men are critically important to the battle,” reiterates Catherine M. Russell, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. She added that the U.S. can support them, but the women on the ground — who are risking their lives every day — will incite the real changes. “They’re going to lead us there, and we just have to follow their lead,” she says.

Bachal is determined to never stop speaking out. She plans on opening a “peace park” to provide children and parents a safe space in her village.

“It is better that I speak out and die, than die in silence,” Bachal said in a video clip.