The Dastak Charitable Trust in Lahore, Pakistan, has given shelter to more than 6,000 women in crisis since 1990. Those served include women who are escaping domestic violence, state torture, forced marriage, rape, or sexual abuse. The facility offers temporary safe haven during which women can receive medical aid and legal counsel. When I visited Dastak last month with a group of U.S. journalists, 29 women and children were living at the shelter, which has a capacity of up to 40. Three of the Urdu-speaking shelter residents agreed to be interviewed through a translator, and each asked that their names be changed to pseudonyms in this report to protect their privacy.
Fariha, 32, is arranging to move in with her parents following a fight with her extended family. Her mother brought her to the Dastak shelter six days earlier. Fariha’s three youngest children, ages 4 to 10, were with her at the shelter, while two older children, 12 and 14, remained with their father. A 16-year-old daughter, who married two and a half years ago at age 13, lived separately.(Elaine M. Grossman)
Nuzhat did not want her face photographed. She said she had married for love at age 19, but she was 25 now and things had changed. Nuzhat described her husband as an alcoholic whose parents had psychologically abused her. A lawyer who helped Nuzhat resist her husband’s efforts to claim title to her family’s land holdings told her about the Dastak shelter. Dastak took in Nuzhat and helped her gain custody of her children, ages 2 and 3.(Elaine M. Grossman)
Children boarding at the Dastak shelter proudly display for visiting U.S. journalists a silver cardboard house created in a craft project. The palms of their hands are decorated with flowers and swirling lines made with henna.(Elaine M. Grossman)
The in-house classroom offers informal lessons for all school-age children accompanying their mothers at the shelter. Dastak provides women and their children free lodging and board for up to three months, along with legal and medical aid, supervised visitation with family or friends, and even financial assistance for education in special instances.(Elaine M. Grossman)
Aneeka, 20, entered the shelter because of fresh nuptials that broke Pakistani cultural taboos. The Shia Muslim woman and her Sunni boyfriend had eloped to a secret courthouse wedding 10 days earlier. Aneeka—whose family had promised her in marriage to a cousin—took refuge at Dastak while her groom tried to persuade her parents to accept the mixed marriage.(Elaine M. Grossman)
Simi Kamal is chief of party at the Islamabad-based Aurat Foundation, which receives funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Aurat seeks to advance women’s role in Pakistani society by addressing their concerns, promoting development, expanding support resources, and facilitating participation in the political process. The foundation provides financial support to the Dastak shelter.(Elaine M. Grossman)
Akhtar Malik, foreground, is home manager at the Dastak shelter. She is flanked by Mehwish Taazeem, left, and Robina Shaheen, both Dastak program officers. The shelter’s mission is “to support women who are victims of violence or of denial of human rights and fundamental freedoms and to make available to them adequate protection and support services in situations of crises.”(Elaine M. Grossman)