TNS asked what the #MeToo movement Pakistan was like in 2019? What do you hope 2020 will bring?
When Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, broke the Harvey Weinstein story in 2017, it ignited a worldwide movement. The idea was simple; if enough women talked about their experience of sexual harassment, it would be easier to combat the culture of silence and acceptance that makes justice for victims impossible. The hashtag ‘#MeToo’ first used by Tarana Burke, recovered millions of repressed memories, brought to indisputable fact what we always knew; sexual violence is complex, traumatic and cannot be treated like other crimes. Worldwide, laws were expanded, marches were launched, men and women from all economic-political and social strata collectively and organically agreed; no more will shame associated with sexuality, deny crimes sexual in nature.
When prominent members of Pakistani media came forward with their experiences, something broke. No more could we say that harassment was a ‘western’ issue. Those naming and named were known, cared for and loved by us. Since then, we have been broken, grappling with just understanding sexual violence, its consequences, punishment and procedure.
As 2019 ends we are still not unified in our stance towards harassment. While there is unprecedented dialogue, it is engulfed in power projection, silence and vested interests. We must work together to understand what it means for us as a society to house both the victim and the perpetuator.
Nighat Dad, Human Rights Lawyer
The movement gained great momentum in 2019, thanks to those who came forward in the years before. It gained strength, as people across the country came forward with their stories, not only women – but also men who spoke out against their rapists and harassers.
However, it has received more than its fair share of resistance. As expected, voices against the movement were raised, alongside, existing structures and organisations whose actions protect the status quo, not only delaying, but also denying justice. We have seen certain authorities used to harass and silence victims.
These negative experiences have taught us a lot. They have helped highlight issues and loopholes in the laws. Clearly, they were not as inclusive as they should be. This gave the movement power to point to discrepancies in laws, and demand for necessary changes to make an efficient law and legal process.
While we hoped for drastic change in the current system, it is unrealistic to expect overnight evolution. We are seeing in Pakistan, a ‘snowball effect’. #MeToo started small, yet with the passage of time it has grown and will continue to do so. We hope that in 2020 more people will come forward and the mechanics of justice will work to support victims and give them the justice they deserve.
The movement is not about winning a case, it is about raising awareness, and creating safe spaces for everyone. The #MeToo movement’s aim was to create discourse around topics that were taboo in our society. Creating public discussion and bringing topics like harassment to the mainstream, is one of the biggest achievements as it is.
2019, was an important year for #MeToo in Pakistan. I learnt that the culture of silence which protects those in power is thriving. I’ve learnt that friends and loyalties are fickle in the face of financial gains and job security. Till censorship and fear prevail, integrity has no place. I hope that in 2020, the movement and victims will see laws, social attitudes and journalism which make room for justice and not silence.
Tanzeela Mazhar, Journalist
This year has been important for initiating and continuing public discourse on #MeToo in Pakistan. The debate is challenging taboos and anti-women practices across the board. Despite problems on every front, we can see harassment recognized as a serious social issue, which needs to be dealt with legally and socially.
Most importantly the coming forward of male survivors has presented unique challenges to our society – questioning the existing understanding of power dynamics and gender-based crimes. Debate on social media, in particular, has played an important role to expose deep patriarchal and social complexities attached to sexual harassment.
I have also seen growing anti-feminist campaigns in response to the reporting of cases, coming forward of victims and the Aurat March. I believe this indicates that resistance of women and other vulnerable groups is increasing tremendously.
2019 was crucial in identifying gaps in harassment laws. It is time to fill these gaps through legislation. The political environment must be made suitable to work upon these issues.
Ali Gul Pir, Musician
I would like to think that #MeToo movement in Pakistan has just began, I’m very hopeful that it will grow, resonate and bring actual change for the victims of sexual harassment and improvement in society at large. Unfortunately in Pakistan, it feels as though there are only a few cases out in the open, especially from the industry I am in. I know that harassment and inappropriate acts take place, but people don’t speak up. Mainly because it’s a boys’ club and people protect one another.
That being said, I think the future for the movement is bright in Pakistan. It has made more waves than in India, where the industry is much larger than ours, yet fewer cases have come to light. There is reason to be proud of certain factions of our nascent industry, creating space as we grow – we have a long way to go – but it’s important for harassment-related issues to come out.
In 2020 I would hope and work towards taking the movement forward. Men must play their part. As a man, I can’t speak for women and their experiences. I can, however, create safe spaces for women to speak up against any kind of harassment. Men should not be slut-shaming and victim-blaming; these changes must be made. If men, especially those who understand the severity of sexual harassment, were to change, accept that ‘feminism’ isn’t a bad word and work towards creating safe spaces for all vulnerable groups; I think we will go a long way.
Fouzia Saeed,Women’s Rights Activist
#MeToo campaign has opened up space to talk about sexual harassment and removed stigmas associated with the topic. Since the ‘speaking outs’ were limited to media or twitter, there were not many formal follow-ups. In some cases– telling the truth was enough. The stories will open doors for social change. However, there were also cases which trivialised or diverted from the main issue.
I strongly feel that Pakistan is well on its way to a systematically institutionalised accountability oriented system. We must build upon the two laws we have in place. #MeToo has helped bring the issue of harassment to spotlight, which is helpful for our lawmakers in proposing new, and amending old laws.
I want to be clear, we do not need to change the law; it is implementation that is required. It is the breaking of stigma, building of support systems for complainants, appointing credible personnel to inquiry committees; selecting more ethical and committed Ombudsman that I hope 2020 will bring.