Disclaimer: While the focus of this write-up is girls and women, anything written below is applicable to all genders. The statements above are not restricted to experiences girls have. However, it cannot be denied that the “fair”, “weaker” gender has been subject to the most brutal comments, catcalling, physical and mental trauma more than others. We want to make our planet a safe haven for everyone, but the need is greater for women.
Iconic women from all over Karachi recently gathered at Bahria University to attend an event titled “You Go, Girl!” The conference had a series of lectures on women empowerment.
There are several traits that define Merzia, a student at Bahria University. But one of the ways she stands out amongst her peers is her choice of riding a motorcycle to anywhere she has to be. You wouldn’t expect it to be such a big deal for people living in a metropolitan city to see girls riding motorcycles. In Karachi, it still is. Girls driving cars still manage to raise a few eyebrows. Riding bikes is literally a man’s territory and so one can well imagine how much “opposition” Merzia must have faced.
“My father was busy with his work; my brother was busy doing his stuff. I couldn’t remain dependent on them to pick/drop me or my things,” she stated. It took her at least a year to persuade her family to accept as she took these baby steps to becoming independent. Her aim wasn’t to break stereotypes, or to get a bike just because she was competing with boys who are entitled to ride one. For her, it was a necessity. She found it easy to learn and maintain; it was cost-effective, too.
One may think her family wouldn’t have had any issues when she switched from bicycle to motorcycle. “My father had gone to Punjab and I thought I would surprise him!” she shared. “What followed was completely different. He was distressed. But that, too, because he was concerned for my safety and how I would be affected by all the snide comments or stares or touch from strangers. I assured him they didn’t matter to me. I had learned to ignore it long ago. Once an ‘uncle’ passed close by me when I was riding my bicycle, saying ‘Kya zamana agaya hai’ and if I had given it any importance, become sad or angry, then I’d probably have felt that riding a bicycle is ‘evil’, and I would’ve never ‘dared’ to ride a motorcycle on my own!” She contacted Pink Riders (Pakistan’s first female bike riding institute) through their Facebook page and it took her only a day or two to get a grip on her bike.
Self-defence for women
We take great care to remind others to take their bunch of keys and some cash whenever they leave their house. “It could come in handy. You know, just in case.” We do the same whenever we leave a house. “You know, one should be prepared. What if a situation demands that we protect our body? How can we take care of ourselves, defend ourselves? What if things turn ugly? Your life comes first.
The very first thing on your mind should be to become aware of your surroundings. Whether you’re at a mall, a restaurant, cinema, class, or auditorium – observe and orient yourself accordingly. If you aren’t aware of the places you visit, you wouldn’t know the way out.
The OODA loop (as shown in the diagram) is used in every sort of decision making process. The person who goes through this loop fastest wins. There’s so much information around us. Without letting it overwhelm you, enhance your memorisation skill. Play awareness games. It will make the difference between life and death in any situation, including harassment. You’ll be able to identify what’s normal for the situation; use it to form a baseline. And then any anomaly, any behaviour that’s slightly out of ordinary, would automatically grab your attention. In fact, your gut feeling would warn you. Trust it!
What we really need to prep against are other people, though. Again, one of the techniques is to beware of people exhibiting abnormal behaviour in a situation: (a) dominant-submissive behaviour; (b) comfortable-uncomfortable behaviour; and (c) interested-uninterested behaviour. Usually, people like to get along with each other. They’ll be submissive. They’ll be comfortable sitting or standing next to each other. They’ll not be interested in what random strangers are doing.
Additionally, a possible predator may use some or all of these tactics to lure victims into their traps: (a) forced teaming; (b) charm; (c) too many details; (d) typecasting; (e) loan-sharking; (f) unsolicited promise; (g) discounting the word “no”. Common people skills to gain trust. And yet used by criminals, it makes them all the more dangerous. Don’t worry about “coming off as rude”. Remember, a stranger should not use the word “we” while talking to you. And if somebody’s being “extra nice”, just question it. You can also disempower the attacker by keeping a distance if they provide too many irrelevant and unimportant details or provoking you or providing you unnecessary assistance. The clearest indicators of their attempts to manipulate you are guarantees you didn’t ask for (e.g. “I won’t hurt you”) and not respecting your opinions or rights when you refuse them.
Obviously, not everyone is a hazard. But it’s only if you observe these things, the chances of you getting out of a bad scenario are much higher.
Digital rights for women
There are times when such harassment stems from online spaces. Think Qandeel. Think Naila Rind.
A common question then is why don’t girls report it? Sometimes, they do; sometimes, they ask a male acquaintance to register it on their behalf. The fear is real when they say what if someone they’re familiar with gets to know of the complaint. What if they are told to keep off the internet to be safe? If she’s strong, independent, opinionated, her reputation is at stake. Her character would be questioned.
Because blaming the victim is far easier than considering and arresting the culprit. Because just like “tum nay duppatta sar se nahi liya” or “tum nay jeans and t-shirt pehni thi”, “tum online theen” and “your pictures and videos and check-ins and other personal information were accessible to all” becomes the issue; the harassment, the victim’s fault. Or, like the barrister representing a man acquitted of raping a teenager in Ireland suggested, the teenager girl should not have worn “a thong with a lace front”. This is the general attitude towards victims around the world whereas the perpetrators of violence walk free instead of being held accountable for their actions.
According to the data collected in a survey by Digital Rights Foundation, 34 percent respondents said they’ve experienced cyber harassment first hand, 55 percent respondents said they’ve seen another girl being harassed online, and 72 percent respondents did not know there were legal remedies available!
Section 11 (hate speech), Section 16 (unauthorised use of identity information), Section 20 (offences against dignity of a natural person), and Section 21 (offences against modesty of a natural person and minor) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act are some of the most useful laws.
How do I file a cybercrime complaint?
It’s useless to file a complaint through FIA’s online portal as they are too understaffed to process it. You have to go to one of their offices in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar, and Quetta.
When you go, take along all the printed proof of the harassment you have faced. It’s not like you can show them through your phone or email them the screenshots. Make sure you include each profile or number or email address that has been used to harass you in the detailed application that you submit there. You will also have to submit your CNIC to process the complaint. If you’re a minor, you have to take an adult whose CNIC can be submitted.
Report even if it’s your own relative. And boys who are not harassing people but are not saying anything either to stop other aggressors are equally guilty. If they had the human decency to differentiate between right and wrong, then they won’t be abetting the criminals. We have to take responsibility to control harassment rather than create uncomfortable situations for girls. Don’t let them blame themselves. Be conscious about what you say to people, how you say it, and what will be the consequences of what you say. Everybody is going through their own battles; you don’t want to contribute to it. So, be kind.
All attacks are premeditated. A kidnapper follows his target; a harasser looks at the victims’ activity. The 4 D’s of self-defense are worth knowing once we have decided not to be a victim.
To be honest, most of us are engrossed in our phones all the time, which makes us pretty easy targets for someone who wants to harm us. We have to pay attention to predatory signs and assess our situation. If a person is looming close – not less than three feet away – scream. Not just mindless yelling. Scream “STOP!” Scream “HELP!” It’s not our friends pulling a prank; any physical contact, hair grab, purse snatching, and choking all have some serious consequences. The attacker is going to do anything and everything to us in the position they want us to be in. There are no rules. So, what do we do? Whatever it takes to defend ourselves! The important thing is to keep it simple and functional. A kick to the groin and/or head disable most people. Do it. A 3 to 5s is a good enough start to scream and run away from the spot. We never know if there’s another weapon or accomplice nearby so don’t waste time.
The chief guest of the event, Mehwish Hayat, spoke about the challenges she faces in the media industry every day. In her speech, she added, “It is okay to criticise my work, but why do you question my morals?” She also stated, “the more famous you get, the lonelier you become.”
My message to all the girls is: “hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams turn into reality.”