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Must Read

Opinion

March 14, 2015

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The reality of harassment

Pakistanis are sometimes accused of not having a common enough identity and traits. Divided by religion, language, caste and various other subdivisions, we are thought to be a people who have yet to find a common identity.
But there is one trait that can be found across the length and breadth of this country and that is the tendency of men to consider a woman in a public setting just as worthy of admiration as if she were a natural wonder. They turn their heads away from the oncoming traffic and stare, they whistle, they spontaneously break out into song.
This phenomenon is not limited to any city, province or race. People indulge in it next to mountain tops as much as they do on the beaches, as much in big cities as in tiny villages. It has nothing to do with the kind of clothes they wear or their level of English language proficiency. So there is nothing that can be used to pin this particular trait down to any group. It is a form of sexual harassment that is practised widely by Pakistani men without much guilt or fear of recrimination.
And sexual harassment it is – make no mistake. Though it is crimes like rape that receive the most attention and outcry – as they rightly should – things that appear small on the surface such as catcalls and whistles speak of women’s objectified status in society. A lowered status which then encourages some to go further: to touch and to violate.
No woman who is going about her daily business, shopping, going to work, meeting friends, asks to be stared at lecherously or to be casually brushed against. She is not asking to be serenaded in song or for men near her to start inching towards her as if she has some kind of a magnetic pull. Yet these are the experiences that Pakistani women share. Everywhere – trendy upscale cafes with only ‘sophisticated’ clienteles to seedy roadside tea stalls, in big city malls and small town old bazaars, in their neighbourhoods and at their workplaces.
By the time

someone reaches this point of a column, they either agree with the opinion or have prepared a counter-argument. When it comes to the social issues of this country, there are two that are commonly presented: ‘but this never happens where I live’ or ‘but this happens everywhere not just in Pakistan’.
Well it may not happen where you live or you may not be doing it but it is common enough to be a cause for concern and consternation to a vast majority of Pakistani women. And yes, it does happen in other parts of the world too, but we don’t live there do we? We live here and it is up to us to take responsibility for what goes on here and to change it.
What is the solution then? That is the most common response when it has been established that a problem really does exist as if the lack of a solution means that the problem is worth ignoring. There are no hard and fast solutions when it comes to social ills that plague us. There is no magic formula. You can go about shaming men to behave better or shaming women into covering up more and more progressing from dupattas and burqas to being behind walls.
Nothing will solve this problem so long as women continue to hold a lesser status. While they are taught to behave as if they are not only deaf and blind to harassment but also do not feel bad about it and while men are taught to behave that standing in front of them is not a person but an object, such casual harassment and misbehaviour will continue unabated and the amateur singers will get to exercise their vocal cords in front of an unwilling audience.
The writer is a businessstudies graduate from southern Punjab.
Email: [email protected]

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