The world is a mess today, with an ever-growing list of atrocities, human rights violations and environmental concerns crossing borders and cultures.  I recall reading world history as a high school student, curious as to how people could remain silent while lives tore apart before their eyes.

Social media has created a series of hashtags to create awareness, such as #metoo #meinbhi while I support them wholeheartedly, I sometimes question whether social media activism has created too simple a solution to ‘like’ something, creating a false impression that by doing so a system has changed, a society challenged. Perhaps it is the first step, but what next? How do we take responsibility as society, to rise and speak up against injustice?

I recently read an article following the 2018 Lux Style Awards in Pakistan, which left me, in all transparency, in tears, as it focused on how the vision of the award show, as a glamorous event for celebrities, had been “compromised” by taking up a social cause this year, throwing it “off balance”. Those commenting, sharing and supporting the article further surprised me. Did I read the article right? Did I miss something? What is the intention of this piece?

As a nation with a history of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stigmatisation of mental health, and recent cases such as the tragic death of seven-year-old Zainab raising uproar in the country, this conversation is more urgent than ever to continue to create awareness, and it would be rather distressing and unfair if this was not a part of the night.

To put it straight, it is not about requiring a need for relevance with social causes and what “belongs on stage” but rather the need to create and facilitate more spaces to have these conversations in the first place. People’s experiences are valid, important and the reality of a large majority of Pakistan. I applaud and salute all those involved in the #meinbhi movement in Pakistan for taking a step to acknowledge the issues that exist and its incorporation at the event, especially with the recent loss of human rights activist Asma Jahangir, who Frieha Altaf quoted to show her support for the #MeinBhi campaign, ‘Mein woh aadhi gawahi hon jo poori gawahi ko paida karti hai”. The LSA platform holds a responsibility to spread awareness, and as Bertolt Brecht would argue, challenge the audiences to not only seek entertainment in performances, but also to feel challenged to think and inspired to be agents of change. 

Through personal experience and as my role as a therapist, I am aware that the personal is political, that events are not situational, and they follow people around from home, to work, to social settings. Some people do not have a choice to tune in or out of social causes; it is the reality they live in. It is the responsibility of those with the power, privilege and platforms to speak up for those who have been silenced. The fact that no one has “gone on record” to speak about issues does not mean they do not exist. To come up, and speak out about such issues requires a confirmation of support, safety, acceptance, and radical empathy.

The #meinbhi movement has many layers, and to me, allows room for all those, especially who identify as women, to know they are seen. As an actor on the TV show “Aag”, in Lahore a few years ago, I recall people in the crew telling me I was talented and should continue acting, but If really wanted to make it big, I needed to get a nose job. All at once, I was expected to fit into a certain beauty standard as a woman, and fed the all too familiar message perpetuated by patriarchy, that my talent was not enough if I did not look “attractive” enough. To which I respond #mybodymychoice I am unapologetically the way I am and ready to stand up, to those who use their power to undermine my safety and confidence and make it difficult for women and children to live their lives without fear, are you?

As the women’s march in Pakistan approaches, I am there, in my fullness of being in spirit, across oceans, with the words of Audre Lorde beating in my heart, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

If you have a story, and feel safe to share it, I encourage you to do so with someone you trust. If you don’t that is okay too, trust your process and know, that your story is valid, and you are not alone.