The good ol' folks at Digital Rights Foundation, a research based advocacy organisation founded by activist and lawyer, Nighat Dad have launched a much-needed online portal free of cost.
Ab Aur Nahin is a pro bono directory for women seeking legal representation and psychological counselling regarding cases of harassment and gender-based violence; the website links survivors to the resources that they may not have access to otherwise such as experienced lawyers and professional counsellors to combat sexual harassment, violence or abuse.
Talking to Images, Dad explains, "It's a platform which we as DRF people including female lawyers felt we needed to start because in the last one year we saw a spike in these cases and complaints, specifically to our helpline and our Facebook pages and to me, mostly after the Meesha Shafi case I took up. There hasn't been much information around these services. People don't know who to reach out to. In this digital age, these initiatives need to do much more to raise awareness about themselves and what they offer. There also needs to be much more conversation around legal aid."
"I feel it [Meesha Shafi case] gave encouragement to lots of women to speak up and to know that there is a support available to them. When we started receiving a lot of cases, that's when we got a little frustrated because we didn't have the resources at DRF to deal with these cases while we're running the Cyber Harassment Helpline so this initiative came out of anger and frustration," she adds.
How easy was it getting 50 lawyers onboard, we ask?
"When so many women are coming forward, if they're not getting legal support and they don't know what they have to do then then there is no use of speaking up, as they will be slapped with defamation legal notices. So I started speaking to lawyers, my friends and especially young lawyers that if we want to start something like this, would they be willing to offer pro bono services and I was so amazed to see the response, there was so much passion and excitement from the young lawyers who wanted to help. I also tweeted and I received lots of responses that's when I [realised] that we have people who want to do their part and more so we started thinking about how we can give this initiative shape." she revealed.
Elaborating further, she shared: "There was a lot of interest from young lawyers. It was also word-of-mouth. Lawyers on the portal spoke to other lawyers who are also willing to do pro bono, that's how we're expanding our database. We have received six/seven new applications from lawyers to be on the portal and the good part that they're mostly women; out of the 50 lawyers on the portal, 30 are female lawyers, that's amazing."
"Ab Aur Nahin isn't funded... I feel like we shouldn't really wait for the funding. We know that with organisation like ours, sustainability is a massive issue but I think if you organically reach out to people who feel for the cause, you will find so many in Pakistan. And when there is no money involved, those who are close to the cause will stick to it."
DRF started working on the portal in October 2018 and launched this month; since then, they have received and worked on four cases, out of which one is nearly resolved.
"We're still defining the process for the lawyers. For now, we organically verified these lawyers who are on the portal already because we need to be careful that we don't add lawyers who might charge later. So we're trying to be very careful but at the same time, we are not taking responsibility because the legal system isn't a one-off case, it's a long process. Sometimes cases go on for years and years. so we can't take responsibility for the lawyers. When victims and survivors work with the lawyers, we keep a check on both."
When you go to the website, you can reach the DRF team via email or click on 'Speak to a Lawyer' to get in touch with an attorney. Here's how you can navigate your way through the site.
Details of the pro bono lawyers across Pakistan are on the portal. Victims/survivors can easily go to the portal and look into their respective cities and provinces and find lawyers in their locality.
Once you find the name of lawyer, you click on it and you'll see their bio, which will include their expertise, legal training, where they're based.
There's a small icon in the bio section with an email symbol, when you click that it opens another window of a form which asks for your name, email and text where you talk about your case/complaint. You can write it in Urdu as well.
When you submit the form it automatically goes to that lawyer and DRF so that the team can follow up with the lawyers and victims/survivors around the case.