Tahafuz (‘Protection’) is a social enterprise incubated at the Social Innovation Lab in the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), which aims to create a world free of sexual violence and assault. The Tahafuz team recently launched their first self-defense seminar for women in Lahore, so we sat down with the founder, Omer Imran Malik to talk about Tahafuz, sexual violence in Pakistan and more.
“I perceived the idea of Tahafuz in 2015, during a Young Leaders’ Conference (YLC) in Islamabad. I was with a group of Islamabadi teenagers, and we decided to do a project on sexual violence and harassment. Some of my friends narrated a horrific incident where a girl was abducted and sexually assaulted by a perpetrator. They were trembling with fear when they narrated this story. It was then that I decided that an institutionalized system of self-defense classes was needed for women, as well as minorities who are often exposed to such situations. I brought the idea to LUMS, and presented it at the Social Innovation Lab with the consent of my team members at YLC. We got incubated, made a new team and started working towards the implementation of these classes,” told Omer.
The journey was immensely difficult for team Tahafuz, but they refused to give up. Omer and his young team spent their entire three-month long summer break working on their self-defense classes, and were finally able to execute them last weekend. In the past, only a few sporadic self-defense classes have been organized for women in Pakistan. Tahafuz is the first organization in the country to launch self-defense courses at an institutional level. “Since sexual violence is a taboo subject, most people shy away from discussing it, thereby making the entire process of addressing it extremely difficult. We began working on our classes by examining the curricula of international self-defense courses for women, and figured out how to bring about similar classes in Pakistan,” explains Omer.
In an effort to keep their project sustainable, team Tahafuz initially conducted surveys in order to gauge the level of demand for their classes, and prepared effective financing strategies accordingly. The team has come up with a two-tier financial strategy where women from the upper middle class will initially be charged for the self-defense classes. The money generated from these will be redirected towards organizing the same classes for women who cannot afford to pay.
Elaborating on the problems faced in the journey towards Tahafuz, Omer says, “The biggest struggle that I had to go through was the formulation of a team. Although many people want to fight sexual violence, it still is a very difficult area to play in. You have to be extremely careful with your product. Since this is happening for the first time in Pakistan, we had very little research to rely on. All the available models were foreign, and we had to figure out if they were even applicable to Pakistan. Another major challenge was finding a suitable instructor with whom all women would be comfortable.”
The first workshop series launched by Tahafuz, titled ‘Fight Back’, began last weekend. So far it is open only to LUMS students, but it will soon be available for the public as well. The purpose is not to train women to join fight clubs or choose violence as a way of life, but rather to teach them basic self-defense techniques that would prove useful in a situation that could otherwise lead to sexual violence. A two-tier training session has been prepared that consists of mind training and physical self-defense. The former is to help women be assertive, while the latter can be used as the last resort. The workshops will take place on weekends, allowing working women to participate as well.
“Although Pakistan is a conservative society, we have a colossal number of women who go out and work every day. Research has shown that sexual predators tend to stay clear of the areas where self-defense classes are held, as they are scared of assertive women,” Omer adds. “However, it will take 5 to 10 years to see a tangible change in this regard.”
Team Tahafuz is thankful to the Social Innovation Lab at LUMS for its continued support, mentorship and advice. Despite a small team and currently limited resources, Tahafuz has big plans of making the world assault-free, one workshop at a time.
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