Outlawed in Pakistan


I’m two films in at my annual visit to the incredible Full Frame Documentary Festival in Durham, North Carolina – and wow, this is proving to be an outstanding year for documentaries!  I rarely stop at the festival to write immediately after seeing a film, but “Outlawed in Pakistan” warrants it.  On a gray day in Durham, this film seriously socked me in the gut and woke me up.

With the recent news of more gang rapes in New Delhi (India)Ohio (USA) and most recently, in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), this timing of this film raises the subject about how we, as societies, are allowing women to be raped and then forcing them to fight for justice with difficult legal battles, at times, under impossible situations.

This is the case for Kainat, a 13 year old Pakinstani girl, who accuses four men of gang raping her.  With the support of her immediate family, she speaks out about this violent crime and files a court case against her accusers, aiming simply for “justice”.  In a tribal justice system, Kainat is “outlawed” by the village elders.  They attempt to silence her with money and are infuriated that her elder brother has not killed her for her accusations and “impurity”.  And if that is all horrific enough for you, here is the trailer to give you a sense of how difficult and emotional, but NECESSARY, this film was to watch:

If you were in the audience of this film today at Full Frame, you’d have heard the audible gasp and sniffling when it was revealed that her brother was murdered. I think you may have also heard my heart drop on to the floor and crack in a million pieces when Kainat is forced to make a living of $2 – $3 US dollars per day as a seamstress because she can no longer go to school. Or when she blames herself for her education, family  and life being “destroyed.”

Thankfully, organizations like War Against Rape, are doing tremendous work to educate and empower women and societies around this subject.  They remind us all that it is never the fault of a woman when she is raped and that she did nothing to provoke it.  EVER.  In Kainat’s case, they also provided pro bono legal representation.

This is a film that should be shown in schools – ages fourteen and older are appropriate in my estimation – as it provides insight into the trauma of rape, the search for justice, how legal systems vary around the world, the role of family/support across cultures, and the power of a young woman’s voice. Perhaps that is what I am most moved by – Kainat’s incredible strength and wisdom (as well as innocence).  Her family, despite social pressure from all sides, is entirely dedicated to her seeking justice, despite the personal sacrifices that they must bear in the attempts. This is very much a film about using your voice as a woman and as a citizen, even when the journey is all but impossible and the outcome is all but desirable.

Interestingly, this film was paired with another excellent documentary, “Camera/Woman“, which shows the difficult life of a divorced woman in Morocco. camera/woman documentary Morocco

Unlike Kainat, her family is not supportive of her choice of work as a camera operator at weddings because it keeps her out late at night and people “are talking”.  The contrast of two women’s families reactions to culturally taboo subjects are jarring and educational, and these films can easily be woven into a lesson plan for courses in women’s studies, anthropology, sociology, gender studies, cultural studies and more.