Last week, a clip of a “prank” video made by Khan Ali, with 323,000 subscribers on YouTube, went viral on social media. In this video, he was found asking random women on road to wear dupatta (scarf) and then began to harass them. Ali claimed he intended to “enforce Islam” and while doing this, he intimidates women to wear the dupatta (scarf), then makes their videos and uploads them on internet without seeking their consent. He got reported through an FIR with the police and arrested by CPO Gujranwala. Later, he confessed that he was misusing the videos of women to increase followers and would not do it again.

The behavior displayed by this man has alarmed women everywhere in Pakistan as they are being forced to observe modest dress codes to escape harassment and sexual violence. Women’s rights activists maintain that due to rigid patriarchal codes and gender socialization, men assume “power” and “authority” over women and do not spare them as they leave home and work outside. The undesirable comments including catcalling, use of abusive language, indecent exposures, odd staring, are some of the actions prevailed in our society to target women when they move publicly.

Observers maintain that sexual harassment has become a common sight in Pakistan. Men pass abusive comments with lecherous gazes fixing on women’s way of dressing and publicly harass them as they step outside their homes. While abuse through social media has been increasingly becoming a new challenge, men are also found commenting on and intruding in the personal lives of women, sharing their stories, and misusing their social media identities. Some do this for fun, and others exploit women to gain followers.

Experts lament that it is a sad reality that women have become a tool in the hands of men to use as per their whims and desires. They do not regard their “noble position” in the society and continue to adopt illegitimate means to put their honor at sake.

Maryam Amjad, manager at Chayn Pakistan, which works on spreading information about violence against women, explains, “street harassment is an ugly part of a woman’s life who dares to step outside and live a mobile life in Pakistan, irrespective of the socio-economic background or context.”
“No consequences for the aggressors and the general ‘oh what can you do’ attitude means women are either always chaperoned by the men in the family or have to deal with a barrage of lewd comments, groping, catcalling, whistling and shockingly high instances of stalking,” she adds.

Analysts believe that women are usually marginalised in our society and men enjoy their weak position and mock them for their dress codes and despise them carrying out their public dealings alone with no men escorting them along. They opine that a woman stepping out alone even in the case of emergency must take with her a male member to make herself return home safely. Twisted beliefs make women the real culprits with removing every onus of observing moral codes from men’s shoulders.

Data from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Pakistani research and advocacy organization Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) revealed that Pakistan experienced a peaked rate in cyber harassment cases during the lockdown period. The spike of cases was witnessed in the month of July when the total complaints rose to 697 as reported by DRF.

The DRF’s data showed that 68 per cent of the complainants were women and their cases ranged from fake profiles to data theft, cyberbullying, blackmailing, etc. Also, mentioning that the FIA said that 70-80% of complaints they received were filed by women.

Sexual harassment exists in the forms of cyber harassment, street harassment, workplace harassment etc. and are now threatening women’s safe mobility in the society. Every day, a woman is being harassed in Pakistan and subjected to threat, coercion and intimidation through violent means.

A research carried out on sexual harassment at workplace by Munir Moosa Sadruddin of Sindh Madressatul Islam University, Karachi brings into spotlight some of the contemptible behaviors displayed by men against their female colleagues at workplace. One of the respondents in the research said, “mostly guys and senior management used to tease girls on the dress code and passed racist jokes at my workplace.”

Another respondent said, “many years ago, my friend’s boss tried to grab her but when he realized that she wasn’t going to cooperate him, he just fired her on the pretext that her work wasn’t satisfactory.”

Experts suggest that besides passing legislation to resolve women issues, their implementation should also be rigorously brought into focus, since our country cannot survive economically if we stop our women leaving their homes and working outside.

“It is rather strange that the major concern in Pakistan vis-a-vis the issue of harassment revolves around false prosecutions and baseless allegations being instigated by women,” noted Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir, founding partner of Mazari-Hazir Advocates & Legal Consultants. “In a country where women and girls comprise the bulk of the population, the harassment culture can be seen in the reality of the absence of women from public spaces,” she added.

In order to protect the vulnerable positions of women, the state has been urged to protect their dignity and work for making Pakistan one of the most reliable countries in the world for women to live.

  • The writer is a polymer engineer with a profound interest in politics. She works on social issues and gender bias. She can be reached on Twitter @mehmilkhalid

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