One of our Pakistan accountapreneurs, Maria Mahmood, is making great strides with her project that is encouraging the proper implementation of the country’s anti-harassment legislation to keep women safe. By Bakhtawar Khalid
Growing up in a single parent household, Maria’s long been inspired by her mother’s tenacity and struggles and always wanted to work for the empowerment of women. During her university years she identified sexual harassment as the leading cause of low female literacy and of women not being able to work in diverse work environments. She explains: “I am passionate about working on the issue of sexual harassment because being a woman, I know how important it is to have a safe working and learning environment free from the fear of harassment.” She is working on promoting compliance of the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act of 2010 in educational institutions, through developing advocacy and action support programs for these institutions.
Her journey towards advocacy against sexual harassment and implementation of the anti-harassment laws began when she discovered the Accountability Incubator program online and thought that it could help her translate her thoughts into actions. The incubator helped her learn about different aspects of how to run a nonprofit organization which was useful in the ideation phase of her project. Prototyping was done through seed funding facilitated by the Lab which enabled her to organize an awareness ceremony at Government Islamia College Railway Road in Lahore, Pakistan, in which she led a very difficult conversation around sexual harassment among college students. Organizing this event led to the uncovering of many pertinent stories and provided a needs assessment of her assumption that there was a critical need for the proper implementation of the country’s anti-harassment laws in colleges and universities.
For the final leg of her incubation period, she was able to attend an International Visitor Leadership Program – a project the United States State Department’s premier professional exchange program. Through this program she visited different organizations in the US who were working on promoting peace and tolerance among youths. These included the US department of State, a variety of well-known universities, Muslim communities and law enforcement departments including homeland security. This program also helped her establish good ties with the State Department’s alumni network which will help her further expand her important initiative.
Currently she is working to create sustainability in her initiative with a registered organization called the Aatan Foundation, where she is trying to develop a network of universities and colleges dedicated to implementing Pakistan’s anti-harassment laws. Her work has indirectly affected more than 3,000 students who were part of the educational institutes she collaborates with. She has also organized awareness sessions on the compliance mechanisms of the anti-harassment legislation.