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Opinion

April 11, 2016

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A constitutional violation

Additional district and sessions judge Najaf Shahzadi was recently locked in her courtroom by a group of lawyers in Lahore. It took a male district and sessions judge, Nazir Gajana, to take notice of the incident and ensure that the courtroom was unlocked. This incident is just one of the many manifestations of the misogynistic mindset that is deeply entrenched in our society.

Worse still is when men stand up to defend this sort of behaviour, arguing that it isn’t just women but also men who suffer similar humiliation. It seems strange that the only time these men realise that they must speak up against injustice is when it is to draw attention away from situations in which women are harassed and discriminated against.

There is no doubt that there is little to no respect for female professionals in Pakistan. Women are harassed on a daily basis for something as basic as doing their job, despite the fact that legislation is in place to protect against sexual harassment. The fact, however, remains that no woman wants to be the woman who claimed she was being harassed.

It is pertinent to note that harassment is not limited to sexual innuendos or advances – the kind of harassment women have to face while performing their professional duties is a far bigger and more complex issue. I find it extremely difficult to believe that most women in this country have not been patronised by their male counterparts at one point or another in their lives. We are constantly told that ‘this is Pakistan’, ‘this is the way things are’ and ‘just deal with it and do your job’.

It’s no wonder then that many women in Pakistan stay at home. If women have the choice to either stay at home and be at peace with themselves or to go to work and be humiliated and degraded by their male clients and/or co-workers, you can’t really say they are ‘choosing to stay at home’.

One has to constantly deal with extremely frustrating situations. I have never heard of a male professional giving out his visiting card and being harassed in return.

It is absolutely ridiculous that we are told to accept these sorts of situations and act with ‘professional courtesy’ when these ‘male professionals’ have no idea how to behave. That is not to say that harassment is a problem limited to Pakistan – but the acceptance of it as ‘normal’ or ‘the way things are’ is a typically Pakistani response. That is what we must change.

The fact remains that so-called ‘educated’ men know that they can get away with this sort of behaviour. This is because women are often too embarrassed to report unprofessional behaviour or because we question whether we should be ‘making such a big deal out of nothing’. It’s the way we have been taught to think, raised to be soft-spoken, non-confrontational and, most importantly, obedient. Any woman who does not possess those qualities is ‘hostile’, ‘overly ambitious’, ‘un-lady like’ and of ‘loose character’.

As if it isn’t difficult enough being a woman in this country, certain people feel it is their God-given right to ensure that the workplace is a purely male-dominated environment. There are many law firms that refuse, point blank, to even hire women. Put aside the scattered pieces of legislation for the protection of women and just look at the entire status quo through a constitutional lens. Article 25 of the constitution provides: “(1) All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law. (2) There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex.”

I ask to view it from a constitutional lens simply because the protection needs to be broken down to its most simple and basic form in order for discriminatory practices to come to an end. What is discrimination on the basis of gender? If a female judge gets locked in her courtroom and a male judge has to get her out of that situation, that is discrimination on the basis of gender. When a less qualified man is given a promotion because the woman is ‘going to get married and have kids soon’, that is discrimination on the basis of gender.

Whenever men create a hostile environment that prevents women from participating fully in their respective fields, there has been a clear violation of Article 25 of the constitution. Whether it’s a minor violation or the gravest, it is becoming more and more necessary for women to report this kind of behaviour – and for men to take it seriously.

The writer is a lawyer.

Email: [email protected]

 

 

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