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Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.
Courtesy of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
Girls & Women

Resilient Pakistani Women Are Front and Center in Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's New Film


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Girls and women in Pakistan are treated like second-class citizens. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is drawing attention to the forms of gender discrimination that stop women in the country from having basic rights. You can join us and take action on this issue here

Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has dedicated her life’s work to highlighting women’s rights issues. Now, in a new short documentary called Freedom Fighters, she shines a light on the inequalities women living in Pakistan face. 

Known for her film A Girl in the River, which won the 2016 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short,the Pakistani director and activist offers a 30-minute snapshot into the lives of three brave women. 

Freedom Fighters profiles former child bride Tabassum Adnan, police officer Saima Sharif, and labor activist Syeda Ghulam Fatima, who are all putting their lives at risk to push for equal rights in Pakistan. Released May 31 on Reveal, part of the Center for Investigative Reporting, the film will also air on public television stations across the country throughout June.

In the short, which uses realistic and animated storytelling, Obaid-Chinoy introduces viewers to Adnan, who escaped 20 years of domestic abuse. Adnan opens up about how she felt “imprisoned” by her situation and how much she wishes she had lived a normal childhood, according to the Atlantic. Adnan is one of many Pakistani women who are targeted by different forms of violence, including rape, so-called honor killings, acid attacks, and forced marriage. Authorities fail to protect women or punish the perpetrators of violence, which worsens the problem.

Pakistani women who don’t have the opportunities or resources to overcome their circumstances are at a major disadvantage. In 2013, UNICEF found literacy rates are 20% higher for boys than girls. Harmful cultural traditions perpetuate child marriage in Pakistan, which keeps girls out of school. The country has the sixth-highest rate of child marriage in the world, according to the anti-child marriage organization Girls Not Brides. It is estimated that 21% of girls in Pakistan are married before the age of 18.

Read More: Millions of Girls in Pakistan Aren’t Attending School

Poverty and lack of education make women more susceptible to exploitative working conditions. In Freedom Fighters, a woman named Fatima shares her experience standing up for labor rights in the brick-making industry. Thousands of Pakistanis are forced to take loans from brick kiln owners and spend a lifetime working off what they owe, according to HuffPost. If parents don’t pay their debts, it can be passed to their children. Fatima estimates that over the past 27 years, she’s freed more than 80,000 brick kiln slaves, many of them women and children.

Despite the odds against women in Pakistan, the third woman in Freedom Fighters, Sharif, wants to empower women through her story. In the religious and conservative country, women are often expected to stay at home and take care of their families, instead of working. The Pakistan Elite Force only started accepting women in 2014, according to the Atlantic. Sharif, a commando in the police force, said she’s experienced violence and discrimination on the job, but she wants to be an example for women to join the workforce. 

By amplifying the voices of Pakistani women, Obaid-Chinoy hopes to create change. After seeing A Girl in the River, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised to take a tougher line on honor killings. 

“My films are examples of how one story, eloquently told, can move a country’s lawmakers to break through decades of impunity and legal deadlock,” Obaid-Chinoy wrote in Global Citizen. 

Freedom Fighters might just do the same.