Things have been a little quiet around here. And there is a reason…
So, I’m afraid I have been keeping a secret from most of you. I have spent the past 3 months secretly plotting with 30 people to tackle Pakistan’s unspoken epidemic: Domestic Violence. You can see the website now that is has been launched: www.chayn.org. I was keeping a low profile about it because I wasn’t sure how it was going to be received in Pakistan. I wanted the wave of criticism to hit me after I had launched it. Thankfully, so far, I have received nothing but appreciation so I thought it’s time to let you all in on why and how I did it.
Let me give you the back story which you won’t read in any of the other articles….
I grew up in a happy home yet I knew not everyone grew up like that. I have always been passionate about women’s rights. Patriarchy is in the air you breathe in Pakistan. The mix of religion, politics and culture makes for a society that entrenches misogyny and accepts domestic violence. I have always wanted to do something to support women in Pakistan. When I was a kid, I dreamt about having a charity. As I grew older, it became a social enterprise. However, something always stopped me. I didn’t have the network of support in Pakistan that I do now. Interestingly, it’s only now that I have developed and discovered the feminist groups in Pakistan thanks to Facebook groups.
I participated in a hack weekend with MakeSense and GloberShapers where we had a weekend to launch a new strategy for Children Of Addicted Parents, a charity providing a peer-support network for children of addicted parents. I was facilitating the hack weekend and helped shape the flow of conversations through out the three days. Emma Spiegler, an inspiring young woman, who was spear-heading the organisation wanted to find a better way of engaging the online community and grow the charity efficiently. We discussed what worked, what didn’t and where the opportunities were for her.
While I was working on this, I had a #lightbulb moment: Wouldn’t it be great if there was a Wikipedia-meets-Womens-Aid website for women experiencing domestic violence in Pakistan? From researching online for months on domestic violence resources in Pakistan for two friend escaping a situation of abuse – I knew no such site existed. The day after the Hack Weekend, I sat down at One Canada Square(towering above London’s east side) and sketched out the website on paper sprawled over a table at Level 39. I also knew that women found it hard to find factual information about laws in pakistan and the help available online. Furthermore, because women in such situations are extremely depressed, they are unable to think rationally about their options available to them. I always say being depressed is like wearing sunglasses – the world has a different hue. It all looks different. It’s important for women to have information on mental health so they can identify and understand things like depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. And then there is the issue about knowing what divorce laws are and what options there are to study and work in Pakistan.
80-90% of women in Pakistan face domestic violence(Reuters, We Can Report). Pakistan’s the third most dangerous country in the word for women (Reuters, 2011). I wanted Chayn to be the switch that makes women identify abuse, question it and use the information on the website to make an informed decision. Whether they decide to stay or leave, that is their choice.
When we started, I was determined to treat this as a lean startup. The website as you see it now is the minimum viable product. I gave myself and my team an ultimatum of 3 months because I knew that things never get done if you leave them on for too long. I approached liberal Pakistani activist groups on Facebook and my existing networks to help me recruit volunteers. I developed a content strategy with my friends Evangelia and Devin after taking inspiration from websites like Women’s Aid and Help Guide. Once that was done – it took 70 volunteers from around the world to put the Chayn website together. We had a particularly strong social media and digital marketing campaign (of course we did! I was involved). It all culminated to the launch on Pakistan’s Independence Day. All those months of long days and long nights, google hangouts, facebook discussions and heavy web development finally paid off.
The support for Chayn has been tremendous from all corners of the world. We were featured in Dawn, The Samosa and Oximity. The website has had over 4000 page views. There is a powerful story of a woman about how she escaped abuse on the Chayn blog at the moment. I recommend you to read it. Whenever I read it (I’ve read it many times), it fills me with a sense of purpose. Here is what she said about Chayn:
“Chayn is a truly laudable attempt to reach out to those who are looking for some ‘chayn’. I believe if I had had access to Chayn back some 4-5 years ago, I would have dealt with my life with more prudence. I made some really hasty decisions because I didn’t have someone to help me prepare to step out of the abusive relationship(s) I was in. Though I did not have barriers to seeking help, I still held back because of lack of support since there was practically no support available for me online. Why? Because none of the countless websites was specifically tailored for Pakistani culture. So Chayn would have been of great help in the darkest hours of my life. No wonder Chayn gives me a commendable sense of purpose; to help others find peace (chayn) like I found it.”
This is why I do it. This is why everyone at Chayn does it.
I really want to thank my fantastic volunteers for making my ideas on a a sheet of paper spring alive. Their enthusiasm and ideas drive Chayn forward.
What is next for Chayn? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see. We are getting lots of feedback that we are using to improve the website. It’s an overcrowded website so it’ll always be in progress. If you have an idea – do send it to us at email@example.com.
And there is one simple thing you can do to help Chayn: Share it on your social networks. We want to reach out to as many women as possible.