Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy encourages women in Pakistan to stand together and make their voices heard.
Throughout her career, two-time Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has used film to highlight the voice of marginalized communities, particularly the voice of women. She has used film to lobby governments to change laws, to change the way people think, and to start difficult conversations. She spoke with ADB about the impact of gender-based violence on women in her home country of Pakistan.
How does gender-based violence affect women in Pakistan?
There have been multiple reports in many communities, developing and developed, that show there is a direct correlation between gender-based violence and the productivity of a woman. There needs to be investment done to combat gender-based violence, whether it’s through creating awareness, whether it’s through investing in programs that counter gender-based violence or that empower women to break away from gender-based violence.
One of the things in a country like Pakistan, for example, is that when a woman faces violence, where is she to go? You are born in your father’s house and you die in your husband’s house. There is no third place for you. Creating safe places for women so that they feel safe enough to pursue opportunities is very, very important. And those kinds of investments will go a long way in creating a progressive country.
How can women facing gender-based violence respond?
I have always believed that there is safety in numbers. If enough women begin to speak out and a movement of sorts is formed we will have more of a voice. One thing that makes me disheartened is that women do not support other women. There are a lot of women who blame women for what happens to them, or just don’t think that’s an issue that is important enough to be highlighted.
Women have to understand their strength. We have to stop looking at ourselves as the other gender, the second-class citizens.
And I wish that women were more supportive of other women. Because if they were, then we together would have a very powerful voice in a country like Pakistan. We are a little more than 50% of the population now, so we would have such a powerful voice. We would also be such a powerful voting bloc.
Women have to understand their strength. We have to stop looking at ourselves as the other gender, the second-class citizens. We need to say, “We are the ones you need to woo. We are the ones you need to pass legislation because when it comes to election day our vote is going to matter.”
I have been on the receiving end of a lot of hate. But I will never let that hate bring me down. I will continue to speak up and I will continue to be who I am because I am true to what I know, what I want for Pakistan and for a progressive country. And I think that more women need to be able to do that.
How can ADB support gender equality?
I work in marginalized communities, I work with women, and I see firsthand what happens to a woman when she is given space to earn money, when she’s given space to have a voice.
When you empower a woman, when you allow her to earn for herself, she has a voice in the household because she’s bringing something to the table.
And I think it’s ADB’s responsibility to support women-led organizations, support organizations that are working to empower women, to provide financing in some way to those kinds of businesses, because when you have a business like that it gives back several-fold into the community.
We are never going to be able to solve all of our problems by handing checks out and handing money out to the needy. But when you empower a woman, when you allow her to earn for herself, she has a voice in the household because she’s bringing something to the table.
That is when real change happens and banks like ADB, who understand and are invested in Asia, can be on the forefront of that.
How can special courts for gender-based issues help?
Gender-based courts are one of the most ground-breaking things for Pakistan.
I have seen, firsthand, many of the women that I have made films about go to court, and struggle in court. Just the act of walking into a court in Pakistan, that requires a medal. You walk through hundreds of men, who judge you. So even before you reach the courtroom your resolve is broken. Then, when you reach the courtroom, nobody has been trained on the kinds of questions that they should ask you, how they should ask you, where you should be seated, how you should be protected. I think that any woman that goes into court in Pakistan and wins a case is a hero. You have to be the strongest woman.
Having a specialized court will change women. So many women don’t go to court, don’t have the guts to fight a case.
Is the situation in Pakistan improving?
Pakistan has a very young population and our population growth rate is growing at an alarmingly exponential rate. I’m hopeful that we have more women going to school, more women graduating, more women entering the workforce; I see some semblance of political stability, violence in Pakistan is down by 70% which means it has allowed businesses to flourish.
But I am also concerned about what is going to happen to this youth when it enters the workforce. What is going to happen? Are they going to have the required skills? What are the jobs available to them? That’s the key to Pakistan’s future. If this youth finds opportunities to become who they want to become, then we will be on the path to stability. But if this youth gets dejected then this very power that Pakistan has can turn against itself.Stay up to date Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest issues, news, events, jobs and data in your e-mail inbox.