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ISLAMABAD: The Embassy of Sweden, the European Union Delegation to Pakistan, the UN Women and the Potohar Organisation for Development Advocacy held a reading of the documentary play SEVEN.

Based on the personal experiences of seven women’s rights activists, SEVEN was conceived by Carol Mack and written by seven award-winning playwrights, Paula Cizmar, Catherine Filloux, Gail Kriegel, Carol K. Mack, Ruth Margraff, Anna Deavere Smith, and Susan Yankowitz.

SEVEN tells the true stories of seven prominent women activists who have fought for the well-being of women around the world: in Russia, protecting women from domestic violence; in Cambodia, rescuing girls from human trafficking; in Guatemala, giving voice to the poor; in Afghanistan, empowering rural women; in Nigeria and Pakistan, fighting for women’s education and rights; and in Northern Ireland, promoting peace and equality.

The objective of the performance was to promote women’s access to justice by increasing awareness and implementation of the existing legal framework on violence against women. The play had already been performed in 38 countries, reaching an audience of more than 50,000. More than a thousand celebrities, influencers, opinion formers, politicians and so on have stepped up on stage to perform the readings.

In Islamabad, the reading was done by National Commission for Human Rights Pakistan Chairman retired Chief Justice Ali Nawaz Chowhan, Ambassador of Sweden Ingrid Johansson, actor and activist Mariyam Nafees, engineer, mathematician and musician Momina Mustehsan, executive director of Digital Rights Foundation Nighat Dad, actor and writer Osman Khalid Butt and Secretary, Ministry of Human Rights, Rabiya Javeri Agha.

The play featured the stories of extraordinary women who in the course of their lives have faced harassment, violence and death threats and continued to work towards their objectives and making a difference in the lives of many.

the former Minister of Women’s Affairs in Cambodia Mu Sochua was co-nominated in 2005 for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work against sex trafficking of women in Cambodia and neighbouring Thailand. She challenged an old proverb that said a man is a piece of gold, a woman a piece of cloth - a muddied piece of gold can be cleaned but a stained piece of cloth is lost.

Anabella De Leon raised herself and her family out of poverty in Guatemala by earning a law degree with a scholarship, after which she became a congresswoman, devoting herself to the struggle for human rights.

She said: “If you are going to discriminate against me for being poor or for being a woman, I’m going to discriminate against you for being stupid.”

Inez McCormack was an internationally renowned and hugely influential human rights and trade union activist, who played a critical role in the 1998 Good Friday Peace Accords in Northern Ireland and continued to advocate for equal rights and fair labour practices for women and minorities.

Married to a Catholic from the undesirable side of town she became more politically aware and experienced the discrimination and violence that the Catholics from the wrong side of the tracks experienced.

Farida Azizi became an activist fighting the marginalisation of women under Taliban rule in Afghanistan. She spent 15 years in a refugee camp.

Hafsat Abiola became an advocate for human rights and democracy in Nigeria following the imprisonment of her activist father and assassination of her activist mother.

Against tremendous odds in the early 90s, Marina Pisklakova-Parker founded the first hotline for victims of domestic violence in Russia at a time when there was no name for such a thing. Talking about the women she could not save, the trust the women needed to open up and the hope they shared that they could change their abuser.

From Pakistan, the readings featured Mukhtar Mai who said: “He wants to humiliate someone, and that someone will always be a woman but I could never have imagined what happened next.”

She was gang raped by four men in retribution for an alleged honour crime. Mukhtar’s village had no school and she was taught silence, fear and there was a hierarchy so she learnt to submit. She brought her rapists to justice, built schools to improve the condition of women, and became an advocate for education in Pakistan.

These extraordinary women took their violent experiences and changed the systems that allowed those things to happen.

They answered Mukhtar Mai’ s question, ‘What am I going to do with my life’, with education, trainings, and changing the mindset.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2017