Samar Minallah Khan
Global Leadership Awards
In parts of Pakistan, girls are given away as compensation to settle disputes or to pay for crimes committed by men in their family or tribe. The family receiving the girl can make her a child bride, enslaving her for the rest of her life. Swara, as this practice is known, occurred legally in parts of Pakistan for generations—until one woman, Samar Minallah Khan, used a camera to catalyze change.
In 2003, Samar, a Pakistani Pashtun filmmaker and anthropologist, created a documentary on swara. Her goal was to raise awareness of the horrific custom and mobilize policymakers to abolish it. Thanks in part to Samar’s campaign, swara was made illegal in Pakistan in 2004. Dozens of girls were rescued.
Samar did not stop there — she made sure that the law was implemented. She took the cause to Pakistanis of all backgrounds, even convincing truck drivers to paint anti-swara slogans on their vehicles.
Samar feels a personal connection and responsibility to the people who are the focus of her films. “I went so often to the villages and spent time with the villagers; this, to me, was a normal childhood,” Samar explains. “When I was older I realized the differences between us and that made me uncomfortable. But I believe that I’ve crossed that bridge via my films because their content impacts the lives of girls I grew up with. They didn’t have the same freedoms and opportunities I was given.”
Through her media initiative, Ethnomedia, she has produced documentaries on human trafficking, dowry and acid crimes, child domestic labor and forced marriage.
Samar sees her documentaries as a way to give voice to those who are seldom heard. Her films are made in regional languages and screened locally, so that people can relate and see themselves through her stories. She uses her lens to focus on unsung heroes within rural communities, such as Pakistani fathers who take enormous risks to stand up for their daughters.
As a result of her courageous filmmaking, threats ensued. But Samar, who is married and the mother of two children, remains undeterred. “I believe I serve as a role model for my children,” she says. “Speaking the truth is now a habit, and there are more rewards than there are impediments.”