Intellectual and a voice of reason in a pool of celebs who seem to be gravely misinformed, Anoushay Ashraf has never been one to shy away from speaking her mind – whether it’s raising her voice on pressing issues or schooling other famous folks who honestly, need it.
Deeply affected by the pain of women around her, traumatised after the heinous motorway gang-rape incident, the VJ-turned-host and actor took to social media to announce her initiative, ‘Believe Women’, which she hopes will raise awareness through her personal platform.
“It’s my small attempt to bring to light REAL stories of harassment/rape/assault women have faced at the hands of some sick minded individuals, so some of us can understand how deep rooted this sickness is and how it effects women,” Ashraf posted.
Keeping identities completely anonymous, Anoushey has been posting 4-5 stories that women have been sharing with her, every day.
“Just listen and read carefully. Mindfully,” she requests her followers, promising that none of what she is posting is made up and making her absolute intolerance towards hateful comments, clear.
She further adds that the stories are not only from Pakistan, but from all over the world, highlighting the gravity of the issue at hand.
Inspired by those who’ve gathered the courage to speak up, many women have been using Anoushey’s platform to raise a voice against the rampant violence that women are subjected to all over the world; opening up about all the places they were unfortunately, molested.
At local marketplaces
“My phupho and aunt had told the sales guy to measure the cloth according to my height but he wanted to check my height by aligning it with me. At first, nothing felt wrong until I felt his hand on my chest directly. I never told this to anyone. I remember never wanting to wear that dress again.”
“We used to have a male teacher who used to touch girls inappropriately. Once he wrapped his arms around me while he was checking my copy. I tried to get out of his grip and failed. When I would tell him to remove his hand, he said, “Aap har kisi ke baray mein aise sochte hain, buri baat hai.” (You think that way about everyone, it’s not a good thing)
“We complained to our head but nobody did anything.”
“When I was 15, I was harassed by a guy in my school who would follow me home, stand under my building, send me filthy texts and rape threats. I became a neurological patient after that because like many desi households, I wasn’t able to speak up. I was in therapy, and once on my visit to the hospital, I was molested in the X-Ray room. The series of events broke me. I became mentally unstable – even dropped out of school.”
“Once I went to my sister’s house where a relative of her husband, who was almost my grandfather’s age, had come over. I was too young to judge or notice his intentions. He held me and started kissing me on my cheeks. Within a few seconds I felt something wrong because he was almost kissing my lips. I ran and never saw him again in my life. Even told my sister.”
“I was 6 when we went to visit my phupho’s house as usual. The kids asked if they would take me upstairs to play. I exactly remember glimpses of my cousin’s . He made me sit on his lap. These were three brothers. My mother tells me I described it as milk. She asked my father to confront his nephews but he refused, calling his 6-year-old a liar.”
“I used to be very close to my older brother but he started sexually assaulting up until the age of third grade all the way up to fifth grade because I didn’t even know what sex was or what he was doing, I just knew it felt wrong and didn’t tell anyone.”
At home by religious teachers
“I was a 6-year-old while I was molested, that too while reading the Quran. It kept on happening for 4 years. I used to skip parts of the Quran soon so I don’t have to go through the process of being molested again and again. It’s been 20+ years to that and I automatically stop at the ayats where my body knows I was molested while reading those.”
“I was 7 and living in Karachi. The maulvi sahab would come every evening and ask me to wear a frock. He used to make me sit extremely near to him and touch my private parts. I used to feel extremely uncomfortable and tried telling my parents but they thought I’m making up stories just to avoid reciting the Quran.”
“One day, when I was returning to my hotel after Isha, (it used to be so jam-packed that people used to be neck to neck, and the queue moved very slowly) that I felt someone push me from behind and something hard against my butt. It was a tall guy pushing against me. I shouted at him, kept pushing him away, but he just kept looking away like he couldn’t hear me or nothing had happened.”
At tuition centres
From age 4 to 16, I was constantly harassed by a group of boys, one of them was my tuition teacher’s brother. He was in the ninth grade and whenever I was there, used to stick his hand inside my pants from behind. Sometimes he would stand at the main gate and asked me to walk inside so he could rub himself.”
These were only a handful of the many many stories, that broke our hearts while we read them.
“Reading them has personally affected me to a point where I look at people sometimes and wonder if he has abused somebody in his life,” revealed Anoushey in a conversation with Images.
“All of them wrote one thing, that is particularly common, that their family members and friends have a hard time believing them. That is the worst thing that can happen to you because we’re in a society where these things are already a stigma and taboo. I wanted to validate their feelings. I felt very strongly about that in particular. They have to be believed because it happens.” she said.
While it wasn’t an intentional decision to start something like this, Anoushey sharing her own story became a catalyst for the countless survivors who trusted her with their trauma and wanted to speak their truth.
“It makes me feel like I can help them in some way and that is a blessing for me” she shared.
Kudos to the powerful women who opened up, and kudos to Ashraf, for giving them her platform wholeheartedly.