‘Humqadam’ app launched to support survivors of gender-based violence

ISLAMABAD: A user-friendly ‘Humqadam’ mobile application to assist more than one-third of the country’s women who face physical and emotional violence was launched her at a local hotel in the federal capital on Tuesday.

Developed by women’s rights CSO, Shirkat Gah – Women’s Resource Centre in collaboration with the National Commission of Status on Women (NCSW) and the technical support from LUMS, the Humqadam App connects survivors with legal and other services. The project was funded by the UN Trust Fund.

The App was widely appreciated by all speakers, including Ms. Nilofar Bakhtiar, Chair NCSW, five MNAs, and senior government officials, who called the App timely and much needed while they lamented the lax implementation of relevant laws, the absence of integrated data, and persistent negative cultural norms that allow impunity for violence against women.

Shirkat Gah Executive Director Farida Shaheed said, “Gender-based violence is a huge issue across Pakistan. But when violence happens women as well as their helpers rarely know who to call, where to go, what their rights are or what services exist.

The Humqadam App provides the answers, detailing national and provincial resources and details of existing services in 16 districts.” Speaking on the occasion, NCSW Chairperson Nilofar Bakhtiar said there was a need to re-prioritise policies concerning women, which had been on the backburner for quite some time, and the GBV was a first priority for NCSW.

The chairperson said Sindh, Punjab, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa did not have the NCSW chapters while the commission itself was working without a regular board for more than one year.

“A woman who is a victim of domestic violence cannot look towards her family for support and this is where this [mobile] application helps,” she said, adding that the initiative would also help in the capacity building of law enforcers and the health authorities.

Former MNA, Mehnaz Akbar Aziz, stressed the need to raise awareness to make this initiative successful by introducing this in universities, among women lawyers, and influencers which she termed the “pockets of change”.

Her talk was followed by a detailed presentation by Shirkat Gah coordinator Sana Raza and Dr Salman Shahid from LUMS, who played a key role in the development of the application. Ms Raza said the platform was developed to create awareness from the “grassroots to the very top” in a bid to engage the whole society.

Addressing the participants, UN Women’s Portfolio Manager, Ms. Saman Ahsan, said over time funding for gender inequality initiatives had decreased and cited the example of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She quoted a 2014 survey, that found that a mere 8 per cent of human rights funding goes to violence against women and girls which “empower women to exercise their agency, change their lives, and access support services like the Humqadam app”. She further stressed that at least 34pc women facing some kind of violence “ is shocking…but if apply the definition of violence in a wider context, I don’t think you are going to find a woman who has not experienced it,” she added.

According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey, 56pc of the women experiencing do not even share it with their families, then how can they approach the authorities?

MNA Ms. Huma Akhtar Chugtai noting that the mobile application provided a comprehensive referral mechanism as well as credible data crucial for policy-making, stressed the need to train judges, civil servants, and the police to bring about reforms which would facilitate the journey towards ending the violence against women.

MNA, Ms. Sehar Kamran, emphasised the need for the enforcement of such policies, for which all stakeholders must be taken on board and existing laws reviewed with a focus on their execution. She underlined the need to make police stations safe for women through proper training to encourage survivors to lodge complaints and advocated reforms in the criminal justice system for deterrence and for more women in the judicial system.

MNA Ms. Sabeen Ghauri said women were often silenced by their families despite incidents of violence but this application would give them the confidence to stand up for themselves. MNA Ms. Ghazala Anjum also raised the lack of implementation of the laws and advocated criminal justice reforms to eradicate domestic violence. MNA Shaista also spoke on the occasion.

In her video message, Ms. Sumera Samad, Secretary Women Development Department Punjab, said the application raised awareness among GBV survivors, particularly psycho-social counselling.

Ms. Amna Waheed Durrani from the KP Commission on the Status of Women said the platform will help break the taboo about gender-based violence, as usually it is “not considered unacceptable”. She said “not only will it provide services to the survivors in KP, but it will also play a key role in changing mindsets”.

Ms. Khalida Parveen Somroo from the Women Development Department Hyderabad lamented the lack of integrated data regarding the violence against women. Though the country has turned into a “graveyard for laws”, she said the legislation to eradicate child marriage has proved pretty successful, Ms Somroo said. She, however, stressed the need to link the application with Darul Aman (women’s shelters).

Ms. Naseem Hasan Mastoi, Deputy Director, Women’s Development Department Benazirabad, welcomed the App which would reduce their workload as the integrated platform provides survivors with relevant information with just a click.

Ms. Zarghoona Barrech of the Balochistan Commission on the Status of Women said the stakeholders in the province will get data to make the application effective.

In concluding remarks, Ms. Farida Shaheed expressed her thanks to the United Nations Trust Fund, NCSW, LUMS, and all the activists who made this App possible which she said was “a way to give a voice to the voiceless in our country,”. Noting that “laws are not implemented because rules of business are usually not formulated in addition to the non-allocation of resources” by the government, expressed the hope that the MNAs and others would consider the GBV issues in the upcoming budget session.

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