Bowling out violence in Pakistan
VSO volunteer advocacy advisor Becky Higgins explains why launching a campaign on gender-based violence (GBV) in Pakistan is so challenging. Despite the obstacles, she's working with a forum hoping to still celebrate 16 Days of Activism against GBV (25 November - 10 December) using cricket as a tool for change.
A challenging situation
Even before coming to Pakistan I knew that tackling a topic as contentious as gender based violence would be tough.
In the global rankings, according to the World Economic Forum's (WEF) 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, the country is the second worst in the world in which to be a woman.
Acts of violence against women and girls including sexual harassment, intimate partner or spousal abuse and harmful traditional practices (forced marriage, honour killings or ‘karo kari’ and tribal rulings of ‘revenge rape’) are reported in the media on a daily basis, but the true extent of the problem unreported or accepted.
Attempts by reformers to change current legislation are blocked by religious groups. Efforts to pass pro-women laws, such as the 2015 Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act are also stopped.
In this environment, advocacy on any human rights issue becomes extremely sensitive and the space available is constrained.
Coming together for change
A small but committed group of local organisations in the shrinking civil society, were - despite all the obstacles - committed to pushing for reforms in policing. That could have a significant impact on women’s lives.
That’s why I decided to come.
As an advocacy advisor I’ve been working through partner Rozan with a forum of over 40 organisations in the Pakistan Forum for Democratic Policing (PFDP)
For the past four months, we’ve been designing an advocacy campaign called Preventing Gender Based Violence Through Democratic Policing funded by AmplifyChange.
Breaking the silence
Pakistan today is a deeply patriarchal and conservative society, so discussing gender issues is complex.
Much of the debate surrounding women’s rights and GBV gets bogged down in intransigent clashes over religious or cultural beliefs which can often lead to women’s rights been dismissed as an outside or western imposition.
We wanted to shift the narrative and instead link these rights to something unifying that the country is proud of; cricket. With cricket comes the message of fair play and rights, supported by influential cricketers- and then equality wouldn’t be a hard leap.
Sensitivity is not the only hurdle, however.
A police partnership
The police in Pakistan are often regarded as corrupt and in the pay of influential backers rather than working for the needs of the community.
Much of the coverage of police depicts them in a hard - and often brutal - light.
Women are afraid of coming forward for fear they’ll be harassed - or in the case of rape, charged with adultery if insufficient evidence is provided to warrant a case of sexual assault. In Pakistan, proof requires the signatures of four male witness who actually witnessed the assault take place - an almost impossible task.
To make any inroads in increasing the understandably low numbers of reports to the police, I knew that as a first step we’d have to work towards improving community-police relations.
My Police for Me
That’s where the inspiration for My Police for Me came from.
We want to promote a more positive, accessible image of the police and support the positive elements within the police working for good.
That’s why for these 16 Days, we are encouraging a ‘selfie with a police officer’, using the hashtags #ThankYouOfficer, #HamariPolice #HamariRakhwalay (Our Police, Our Protectors).
We’ll also create space for the public to describe what they expect from their force to under the hashtag #MyPoliceForMe.
We’ll be working with police to record supportive, community-friendly messaging on women’s rights and reaffirm their pledge to protect so the message is reciprocal.
Throughout these global 16 Days of Activism on GBV PFDP Sindh members will be providing opportunities all across Sindh province for a police-community dialogue.
Sport for change
Cricket is just one of the ways we are looking to bridge the gap between community and police. Sport for social change is a very effective tool for uniting people over a common interest to raise awareness of an important cause and cricket is a big unifier in Pakistan.
So for a big finale, we will host a high profile cricket match between the police and community on Human Right’s Day (10th December 2017) alongside famous cricketers.
The aim is to bring the police and community together on neutral ground, in a non-traditional setting, to talk about a sensitive topic, raise awareness of the rights of women and the need for the community and police to come together to tackle such an endemic issue.
On a topic as pervasive as GBV, you have to push the boundaries.