Issue 5: Featuring Mahnoor Ali Syed
Every month, The Mindful Missy platform will feature an inspirational cover story about real life heroes sharing their journeys. Each cover star will be featured without any retouching in an effort to promote body positivity and self-love. By featuring real people who share their struggles and bare their vulnerabilities we hope to start a meaningful discussion and a powerful movement towards a more accepting, inclusive and compassionate community.
It is an honour to share TMM Issue 5 featuring Mahnoor Ali Syed, the brave voice that spoke out about her own personal experience with sexual abuse and started a domino effect. From a surivor to an activist we are so proud of Mahnoor’s journey. She has helped so many women who are no longer afraid to speak their truth. It has helped start a discourse on the changes we need to make as a society to end rape culture and victim blaming and for policies to have a survivor centric approach.
Here she is conversation with Nayab Jan.
Q1) Describe your journey of coming out with your story. How important is it to have mental health support for survivors?
My journey with coming out has been very multifaceted. It started with processing my trauma and coming to terms with what had happened, understanding the nuances of my own experience and sexual violence in general led me to speak out.
I was lucky to have very supportive people in my networks. I met my fellow Queen’s Young Leader Martina Caruana in London in 2018. Martina is an international lawyer and after hearing my story, she remained a constant support for all the survivors and also remained our legal advisor in investigations.
Mental health support and resources are crucial for healing and processing trauma, and I believe the state should invest in that.
Q2) Do you think social media has helped or harmed the cause of survivors?
I think it goes both ways. Some people use social media to support survivors and further the movement and discourse, while some end up projecting deeply rooted misogyny by invalidating experiences and victim-shaming. I am lucky to be part of networks and communities who use social media to support me and the movement.
Q3) What are the impediments that survivors face in the context of Pakistan specifically?
There are so many. First and foremost, it is difficult to accept that someone violated you because as femme individuals we are never taught about bodily autonomy and agency. It is also difficult to disclose the experience to anyone because of the larger societal attitude and prejudices against women.
Q4) What are the factors that allowed you to carve out this journey from survivor to activist? How can this journey be made easier?
I started with processing what had happened by going to therapists and talking to my best friends over and over again. I really want to mention and appreciate my best friend Hamza Khalid who remained a constant support, helped me validate my own feelings of being violated and pushed me to take all the action and support I needed. I think what led me to activism was that I did not try to suppress my anger; I kept telling myself that my anger was valid. I tried understanding the nuances of abuse and after realising how so many societal norms play into it, the fight was no longer between me and my abuser only. It became a fight for all women who had experienced abuse, and it became a fight against all abusers and everything that enabled them.
This journey can be made easy with support from communities around us and survivor-centric approaches. Like my best friend Maria Waheed likes to say, “With power and pyaar.”
Q5) Lahore has had its MeToo moment. What developments do you see happening in the future? Do you think stakeholders such as the government, civil society and the justice system will incorporate survivor centric discourse?
There have been many developments in the past couple of months, including termination of teachers accused of harassment, the decision to establish a national sex offenders database and the beginning of discourse of sexual abuse and violence against women in multiple spaces. I think there is a long way to go until a truly survivor centric discourse is incorporated, considering how deeply prejudices against survivors and misogyny are embedded, but we have to keep going.
Q6) Why do you think it’s important for survivors to speak out?
From my own experience I can say that speaking out has a powerful domino effect. It starts with one survivor telling their story and so many others find the courage and space to speak out where they feel their experiences are acknowledged. It helps others validate their experiences and then potentially reach out for resources and support for their own healing and justice. The movement started as a group of survivors sharing their experiences and the collective efforts have already been showing tangible impact. I believe we should believe in the power of our voices.
Q7) What has helped you heal?
I think healing is a process with no end point, but taping into my feelings and needs has helped a lot. I came a long way from questioning my own trauma and feelings to putting my needs above everything else. That has helped me feel closer to myself and my own feelings, and that helps in healing. I also think teaching myself to believe that I deserve to take up space and ask for the support I need has helped me greatly and I wish the same for all other women and survivors.
Interview: Nayab Jan | Styled: Mehek Saeed | Make up: Syed Hussain | Photography : Natasha Zubair