Gawaahi: Pakistan's Online Diaries of Survival and Hope

Mar 24, 2011
Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart.

"Being a Pakistani means many things in today’s world; first, it means that every morning when I wake up, I feel like the underdog of the world."

This was written by Faisal Kapadia on Gawaahi—a recently launched site that is quickly becoming a platform for Pakistanis to share their stories. Through videos, words and art—like the illustration below by Abro Khuda Bux—Gawaahi is a venue for expression and a way for an international audience to see a Pakistan not shown in the mainstream media.

Pakistani artist Abro Khuda Bux is known for his artwork on women's issues. (Abro Khuda Bux for Gawaahi)

Co-founder Sana Saleem tells TakePart that in her country, "There's a lot of diversity, yet two polarized sides are being highlighted. Either you see a very extremist view or you have an 'oh my God this person can't be from Pakistan story.' There are a lot of people in the middle ground."

Mainstream news, she says, focuses on "the war or the Taliban or the extremism, whereas the human-rights abuse cases go neglected—especially with the rise in honor killing and rape." When the stories get swept under the rug, she says, "there's no accountability."

Having faced harassment herself, the 23-year-old wanted to give others a venue for their voices.

One woman who anonymously shared her story of child abuse, Sana says, "was in the same denial, believing that she deserved it." Writing about her experience and receiving comments of support and advice, the woman said, helped her to heal.

Sana and her co-founder, Naveen Naqvi, wanted to dedicate a section of the site to the Pakistani flood survivors. Both were on the ground assisting the victims after the worst flood in the country's history, which affected 22 million people. Nearly a year later, Sana says, "many people are still living in tents [and] a huge majority are not being provided with support."

A shot of a girl in a flood relief camp in Sindh. The picture is part of a photo series by Jamal Ashiqain. (Gaawahi)

Sana hopes that individual stories "can make an impact and get people in Pakistan to mobilize again."

Gawaahi is a website, and a nonprofit. In the long term, Sana and Naveen hope to arrange story circles for women and hire psychiatrists and lawyers to help women who are in trouble.

As seen in this video by Naveen Naqvi and Nofil Naqvi for Gawaahi, Sana wants the website to be a place where the global audience can "actually see what our youth think, the way they work, and that they're full of opportunities."

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