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Bringing unheard voices to the fore

Sep 23, 2011

Gawaahi is a unique venture that couples ICT with social activism to bring forth under-represented voices of the Pakistani society. It is an online archive of videos and digital stories that aims to promote critical social issues that do not gain sufficient media attention.

Information and communications technology (ICT) has long been hailed as a harbinger of a global change. Researchers have argued over the potential of ICT, specifically in promoting literacy and raising social awareness. A number of projects around the globe have made a mark while trying to utilise ICT towards such ends proving ICT could be of immense significance in our world.

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Gawaahi is one such venture that aims to bring to fore underrepresented voices of Pakistani society. Coupling ICT with social activism, Gawaahi was started off by two eminent Pakistani social activists, Naveen Naqvi and Sana Saleem. It is basically an online archive of videos and digital stories that aims to promote ‘the other story’, issues that don’t usually make it to the mainstream media or are underreported.

Speaking about what Gawaahi highlights, Naveen says: "We want to share people's stories. Kids off the streets of Karachi. A peasant farmer from Qambar Shahdad Kot. A young woman who was molested at the age of eight and has survived to share the tale with us as a young woman. An acid survivor from the interior of Punjab. A woman displaced because of a landslide in the Hunza valley. These are the stories you will find on Gawaahi".

What started off as a small venture in 2011 has turned into a well-known online phenomenon in Pakistan’s online media. Not only has the project had a national impact, it has also made headlines in the international social media. Within two months of the launch, Gawaahi was nominated for the Best Social Activism Campaign and Best English Blog categories of the prestigious Deutsche Welle Blog Awards.

What can be called a truly unique aspect of the portal is its inclusion of digital stories. Digital story-telling has been around for long but is still struggling to find its way into the Pakistani blogosphere. The Gawaahi team has brought this facet of online activism to fore by narrating a number of stories digitally. To this, much has been contributed by Mehreen Kasana, an active blogger and an activist who is known for her awesome doodles. On the home page of it’s YouTube channel, a digital story narrates how a girl was molested for many years by her dad’s friend until she decided to speak up.

he presentation of the story and the aesthetics are captivating. Gawaahi’s YouTube channel also hosts dozens of videos: these are stories of abused women, tutorials on how to use cameras, as well as interviews with national and international bloggers and journalists about the significance of social activism, especially in the online world.

Today, Gawaahi is a registered NGO. The official website states that it “plans to produce video testimonies of abuse and survival for awareness and advocacy campaigns.” Talking about the possible significance of the portal, Naveen says: "We’re hoping it will be a useful resource for donor agencies, NGOs, media houses, governments including ours, donor states and philanthropist organisations".

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