March issue 2011

By | People | Profile | Published 13 years ago was born out of a discussion between Naveen Naqvi (former TV anchor) and Sana Saleem (medical student and blogger). Naveen had recently returned from a conference in Germany, Global Media Forum, and Sana from Islamabad where she had attended a 5-day digital storytelling workshop, when the two got talking about the need for a space to speak out against abuse. And that’s how Gawaahi happened. The women applied for a grant and their proposal was one of the five in Pakistan to receive one from the MDG3 (Millenium Development Goals) Fund. In just over a month of receiving the money, the website was up and running.

As stated in its mission: “The idea behind is to archive and make available on the Internet digital stories of the people of Pakistan … [with] special focus on those who have endured and survived abuse.” But digital stories are not the only format in which stories are featured on the website. Content in the form of photo series, short documentaries and blog posts find equal space. While the initial content came from the two brains behind Gawaahi, as a space that accepts contributions, the website now also hosts stories sent in by others.

In an attempt to bring different kinds of stories to the fore, there are five main sections — Abuse, Flood Survivors, Resistance, Take Back the Tech and Blog — each with their own theme and purpose.

Under “Abuse” is listed an edited (shorter) version of a documentary by renowned filmmaker Samar Minallah that she made for the Acid Survivor’s Foundation. The documentary is about Zainab, a survivor of two acid attacks, who speaks about what happened to her. This section aims to carry stories NGOs in particular may want to post, of people they cross paths with and whom they are helping.

While flood stories have assumed a less newsworthy position in the mainstream media, Gawaahi has devoted an entire section to them, to highlight the plight of those like Sohrab Ali, who hails from Kashmore but has been living in Karachi’s Keamari camp ever since the floods hit and is still unable to return home. Resistance forms an important part of Gawaahi: the act of speaking out is itself considered an act of resistance. Here one hears the voice of the people — particularly the youth. Two video interviews, one with a schoolboy on what kind of a Pakistan he wants, and the second with an NED student on the growing religious extremism in the country, are featured in this section.

Take Back the Tech (TBTT), a global campaign to end gender-based violence against women by reclaiming the use of ICTs (Information and Communication Technology), is about using technology to empower women (read more about TBTT in the archives on — and the digital storytelling format does that. In a digital story, the storyteller makes use of, and mixes “words, pictures, music” for impact, to narrate his/her story. Currently up for viewing is one such story titled ‘My body, My country.’ Blogs, which almost seem to be a traditional medium in comparison to the digital format, use the good old-fashioned tool — writing — for storytelling.

Gawaahi aims not only to create awareness, but also to give strength to those who might come across a familiar tale, and encourages people to find their inner strength and speak out. Indeed a worthy effort by two accomplished and dedicated women — welcome to the 21st century!

Farieha Aziz is a Karachi-based journalist and teacher. She joined Newsline in 2007, rising to assistant editor. Farieha was awarded the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008. She is a co-founder and Director at Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum of Digital Rights.