Chanting the popular “Azaadi” slogan by Kamla Bhasin, around 90 protestors gathered at Liberty Chowk in Lahore, to join a national movement of women protesting against domestic violence.

“Times Up” read one poster at the protest, while another demanded, “Consent mango, proof nahi” (ask for consent, not proof)”. The single day protest drew almost a hundred people, who took over a busy area of the city to reject violence against women in a colourful riot of placards.

A women-led protest was organised by the members of “Girls at Dhabas” (a local feminist collective advocating gender equality in the public sphere), as a response to the recent domestic abuse and harassment cases that surfaced online.

The first case involved a famous vlogger, who was accused by multiple girls causing an online maelstrom of #MeToo accounts. And the second account dealt with domestic violence which came from Pakistani singer/actor Mohsin Abbas Haider’s wife Fatima Sohail, who shared her ordeal on the internet of surviving a violent marriage.  

While many people supported the victims, who opened up about their experiences with the men named in cases. Then, there was the “culture-police” on social media which comprises of both men and women, who set out to question the behaviour of the women and demonised the progressive cause of #MeToo, labelling it as a “feminist agenda”. 

“Social media to some extent ensures justice, but that is not going to bring about a change, especially not for the working-class women. Our main aim was to come out and raise our voices to put pressure on the government”, said the actor and activist Eman Suleman.

Finally, a public, media and national awareness campaign regarding domestic violence to raise awareness amongst females across the nation was also highlighted.

In the light of pervading patriarchy in Pakistani society, constituted by honour killing of females carried out every year, and a plethora of other crimes carried out against women such as bride burning, acid-attacks, harassment of females in the public and domestic spheres, this protest has emanated at a very important time.

A raft of government initiatives to protect the women seem to have done little to change the attitude and practices in Pakistan. Pakistan stands at 150 out of 153 in the Women, Peace and Security Index. 

According to a study carried out by Human Rights Watch in 2009, it is estimated that around 20 to 30 percent women in Pakistan have experienced some form of abuse. Around 5000 women are killed every year from domestic violence. Women have reported attacks of physical, psychological and sexual abuse from their intimate partners.

There is a depressing rise in these figures every year and the increase in number of reports despite the existence of a raft of legislation aimed at protection of women and their rights.

But, the question still remains as to why matters like these are never reported? For many in Pakistan, physical and sexual assault survivors are seen as on object of “shame”. Survivors and families usually drop their complaint against their perpetrators in order to avoid facing any social stigma in their communities. Moreover, the nature of the present policy initiatives is vague in nature and needs to be amended so that it focuses more on punishing and preventing the abuses rather than just reporting it.

“Social media activism is a real thing but maybe coming out would be effective as well,” said Dr Osheen Fatima, a doctor, activist and organiser of the protest.

She further stated, “We are holding this protest so that our demands for the protection of women are heard. These are what we think we need!”

Demands put forth at the protest aimed towards securing greater legal security for women through propositions such as notification of the ‘Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2016’ across the province and the criminalization of domestic violence. The government should organise gender-sensitized programmes of law enforcement agencies. 

The need for improvement of ‘District Women Protection Committees’ and ‘Protection Centres’ was also emphasised to provide shelter for women in need.

Traditional courts and current policy initiatives are viewed as ineffective by the civil society organisations and human rights activists. Through spreading awareness regarding the rights of females, the protesters had put forth their manifesto and hoped for the government to take action to safeguard the rights of women throughout the country.