In parts of Pakistan, girls are given away as compensation to settle disputes or as payments 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 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. To ensure the law was implemented, Samar mobilized Pakistanis of all backgrounds to take up the cause, even convincing truck drivers to paint anti-swara slogans on their vehicles.
Through her media initiative, Ethnomedia, she has produced other documentaries on human trafficking, dowry and acid crimes, child domestic labor and forced marriage. Samar believes her documentaries give voice to those who are seldom heard. Her films are made in regional languages and screened locally, so that people can see themselves through her stories. She uses her lens to focus on unsung heroes within rural communities.
Samar was honored at the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards in both 2012 and 2015. In 2013, Samar participated as a fellow in the VVLead Fellowship Program. She has also served as a mentor in the HERlead Vital Voices Leadership Forum.