Women are often subjected to leering and sexual harassment in parks and recreational spaces, making it harder for them to feel safe.
ities are made for their residents but it seems that Islamabad is a different story. The city has quite a few recreational places. Unfortunately women and families struggle to enjoy themselves there.
On occasions like Eid, this struggle becomes a matter of law and order. Lake View Park had to be shut down for single men so that families with women and children could spend some time there.
“Not only on Eid, this beautiful place has been haunted by scoundrels throughout the year. It is a take it or leave it situation. If you want to see the beauty of the body of water, you have to bear the leering and verbal harassment,” says Natasha, a graduate student from Lahore.
Salim, a visitor, and his wife, succeeded in finding a secluded corner at the lake. When asked why they did not sit closer to the lake, they said, “We are fine. We have come here to enjoy ourselves. We are not here to get tense. Everybody has enough tension in life already. We have no interest in ruining our day by coming across anti-social elements that crowd these places.”
Some parts of the park are now out of bounds for the masses because of the mighty structure of the Navy Club, which the Islamabad High Court has declared an illegal construction. Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) has also made it clear in its reports that the structure stands in violation of all protocols for the construction of buildings. Pakistan Navy had told the court, however, that it is for training in water sports and relief activities.
Irfan Nawaz Memon, the newly appointed deputy commissioner of Islamabad, says situating armed security at such places will do little to improve the environment. “The society needs to grow mature enough for women to feel secure and move freely in our cities,” he tells The News on Sunday.
“Armed security is not needed at recreational places as people are aware of the consequences for anti-social behaviour,” says Memon. However, he does plan on designating timings for families, women and unaccompanied men to visit these places. “I am looking at the infrastructure and manpower. If this succeeds, a mechanism for the protection of women and children will be in place very soon,” he says.
The administration of the Lake View Park is also a matter of concern. The lake falls under the Small Dams Department of the Punjab government. Its maintenance is overlooked by the Capital Development Authority. Fishing here is subject to the Fisheries Department regulations. Private contractors operate parking areas, games and boats. They are often accused of lacking professionalism and overcharging.
“Even besides Eid, this beautiful place has been haunted by scoundrels throughout the year. It is a take it or leave it situation. If you want to see the beauty of the water body, you have to bear leering and verbal harassment.”
In addition to Lake View Park, Islamabad has Fatima Jinnah Park, Rose and Jasmine Garden and the Pakistan Monument among other places that are better maintained than Lake View Park.
Amina Beg, the deputy superintendent of police (DSP), who has won national and international awards for her work and has a big fan following on social media, says that the police use a digital tracking system to stop harassment against women and children at public places. “We also use drone cameras to monitor parks and other places,” she says.
Beg says the department can spare only a couple of officers for a park due to manpower constraints. “We have a bicycle squad. It moves around public places because big vehicles and motorcycles are harder to navigate. We are going to increase the number of bicycles from 21 to 30,” she says.
Islamabad Police Inspector General Ahsan Younas is known for using digital methods to curb crime. Before assuming this office, he was the Rawalpindi city police officer. In Rawalpindi, he had stationed vans and data recording devices at places like Saddar and Commercial Market on Murree Road to fight harassment of women and children. He had also set up the country’s first centre to register crimes against transgender people and women.
Now a similar centre has been set up with a dedicated hotline to record complaints by women and transgender people regarding harassment and other gender crimes. However, only a few women in Islamabad know about it.
On the bicycle squad, DC Memon has a different opinion. “Such cosmetic actions are not sustainable. There has to be enough manpower and infrastructure dedicated to run a new squad. If you don’t have these things, such squads are not very effective. Today, the police force was stretched thin due to a protest by government employees and a strike by a group of students at Quaid-i-Azam University. So how can they spare manpower to run this squad permanently? The city needs sustainable solutions,” he says.
In addition to the settled sectors of Islamabad, a good portion of the population lives in cooperative housing societies. In almost all housing societies, land designated as recreational places on paper has been commercialised in one way or the other. Some societies have openly created commercial plots on this land and have set up restaurants and clubs. Meanwhile, the residents have nowhere to go for recreation.
The writer teaches development support communication at International Islamic University Islamabad.Twitter: @HassanShehzadZ Email:Hassan.firstname.lastname@example.org