For women in Pakistan, domestic violence is a serious threat. Local NGOs estimate that between 70 and 80 percent of women in Pakistan are subject to verbal, sexual, emotional or physical abuse at home, according to Human Rights Watch.
Government efforts to raise awareness or introduce tougher laws have not been enough. An estimated 5,000 women are killed per year from domestic violence, with thousands of others surviving but with injuries. They have few shelters to turn to, and legal recourse is often not a realistic or available option.
However, Chayn, a volunteer-led, crowdsourced website, is trying to change the situation by supporting women who face domestic violence in Pakistan. Chayn aims to raise awareness of emotional and physical abuse, offer information on how to deal with abuse, and inform Pakistani women of their rights. The portal also acts as an online support system that allows women to share their stories of abuse and trauma.
Founder Hera Hussain, a psychology and economics graduate and social entrepreneur, provides the background in a blog post:
I have always wanted to do something to support women 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. [..] 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.
The site focuses primarily on educated Pakistani women and Hussain hopes that they will be able to make use of the website and get some ‘Chayn’ (meaning peace and tranquility in Urdu) from domestic violence.
In an interview with The Diplomat, Hussain elaborated about the team:
Chayn is solely run by dedicate and passionate volunteers who work on this part-time. It took 70 volunteers from around the world to put the Chayn website together. Now there are 35 dedicated volunteers who are continuing to work on the site. There are no managers at Chayn. We work through collaborating with each other across borders and time zones using Facebook, Skype, Google Plus and Google Docs. Most of the team is very young but very accomplished.
She also shared the updating process of Chayn:
We use a Wiki model, so we invite visitors to the website to submit alterations or new ideas for content. The content on the website changes constantly.
The website also serves as a platform for storytelling. Hera asserts that anonymous sharing of stories and experiences at the catharsis room can inspire others to get out of their abusive relationships.
Blogger Saniya Mujahid notices a unique feature of this website:
I noticed that the site also has a “Hide this Page” tab that always hangs in mid-air which, when clicked, takes the reader to an innocuous looking Daily Times. That's a pretty handy tool for someone who is afraid of being caught by her abuser looking at a site that encourages her to get out of an abusive relationship.
Twitter users have praised the site. Tanya Dlima (@TanyaDlima1) tweeted:
http://t.co/FVdqv8wmbH Simply amazing resource for any #Pakistaniwomen facing #domesticviolence and abuse. I encourage all to use and share.
— Tanya Dlima (@TanyaDlima1) October 4, 2013
Meera Ghani (@MeeraGhani) urged everybody to spread the word:
spread the word, it may help many who you may not even know are suffering abuse silently http://t.co/OSTqrT37yy #ViolenceAgainstWomenIsWrong
— Meera Ghani (@MeeraGhani) August 18, 2013
Chayn has plans to launch some offline initiatives soon. Hussain's future plan is to launch Chayn India and Bangladesh, create a pop-up shelter program and establish a scholarship partnership.
Follow the project on Twitter (@chaynorg).