Facing down intimidation, women all over this traditional area are talking out approximately sexual harassment and violence
Sophie Hemery and Gayeti Singh in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh

Lawyer Nighat Dad on the Women’s March in Lahore, 2019.
Lawyer Nighat Dad on the Women’s March in Lahore, 2019. Photograph: Saad Sarfraz
Ali Zafar is famed across South Asia for his pop music, romantic comedies or even the occasional toothpaste ad. But ultimate weekend he gave an in particular emotional overall performance on Pakistani television, tears welling in his eyes as he spoke of the impact sexual harassment allegations has had on his existence. For the past yr, the actor and musician have been embroiled within the united states’ most high-profile #MeToo case: his initial accuser become the actress and singer Meesha Shafi.
Last April she issued an assertion claiming that Zafar had sexually harassed her “on a couple of occasions”. He answered by way of “categorically denying” the allegations and promising to sue.
The stars have seen that been locked in a legal war – along with a defamation match for 1bn rupees (£5.4m) in damages, which led to the courts ordering Shafi to abstain from making any in addition “poor remarks” against Zafar. Last weekend, after Zafar’s tv appearance, Shafi’s attorney, Nighat Dad, tweeted her verdict: “If all people have earned the right to cry today, it’s lots of survivors around us who have been pressured to watch a privileged guy accused of sexual harassment and whine.”

Since the #MeToo motion accrued tempo in October 2017, attitudes to sexual harassment and abuse have shifted in lots of parts of the world. Across South Asia, in nations wherein local feminists decry conservative and patriarchal attitudes, campaigners have started a marked growth inside the number of ladies speak out.
And, because the Observer located on a current visit to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, a newly emboldened cohort of female legal professionals are rallying to provide their help to survivors. One of the most prominent is Dad.
“Lots of younger girls are becoming so much courage and feature started talking approximately their own reports,” she stated in the course of a recent interview over chips and espresso in Lahore. In the wake of Shafi’s accusations, greater girls got here out in opposition to Zafar and different guys, whether or not celebrities or not. As one of us of a’s most important feminist lawyers, Dad discovered her inbox full of tales from girls soliciting for help. “I knew something had to be completed,” she said, “and I asked myself how attorneys trying to work in this difficulty ought to get together and do something to help these ladies collectively.”
In January, at the side of her small group at Lahore-based totally NGO the Digital Rights Foundation, Dad launched an internet portal for ladies to get entry to seasoned-bono felony help for instances of sexual harassment and violence. Dad decided the undertaking ought to be self-sustaining instead of funded through overseas donors because “organizations usually have their own objectives and objectives”, and due to the fact “whilst the cash ends, the initiative ends”. The web page is referred to as Ab Aur Nahin – “Time’s Up” in Urdu. “We’re telling those human beings that enough is sufficient,” said Dad. “We’re taking the fee of this problem.”
Now 50 legal professionals are registered on the web page, 30 of them women. “It’s super because there are so few lady litigators in Pakistan,” stated Dad. “Or if there are women attorneys, they don’t visit the courts because of the misogynistic environment.”
So some distance, the community of legal professionals has supported 15 women with the whole lot from writing statements to legal representation and recommendation on responding when accused men “slap lower back with defamation suits”.
“The site is targeted at young girls,” said Dad. “They are the usage of online spaces to speak up, and commonly don’t need their households involved because there’s nonetheless shame attached to being a survivor.” In many instances, she said, younger girls fear their research or work may be compromised if they tell their households approximately an incident.

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