A study of CTS on Sexual Harassment in Pakistan. By Katherine Sapna


Our society is complicated. Pakistan claims to be a democratic and free country, yet we can’t ever talk about countless deep rooted issues that have plagued our society. Pakistan claim to be an Islamic state, yet its women consider they safer in Europe and America than the Darul Islam.
Pakistani women are assaulted, tortured, raped and harassed every single day within our homeland and to put a cherry on the top, many of our women themselves stay quiet over this injustice because they don’t want to embarrass their families or become the talk of the town.
While one may go on to explore many loopholes in our society, let’s dwell on one such issue that hampers the working of majority of our women. That is sexual harassment.
Few months ago, Human Rights watchdog reported that in Pakistan, 68% women are sexually harassed. If one looks at the definition of sexual harassment, one would surely find those behaviors and gestures that are quite prevalent in our society. In fact, constant staring, deliberately touching someone’s body, making sexually explicit remarks and gestures, are all so prevalent that probably many of us don’t consider that harassment. It is more of a daily routine matter now.
After interviewing a number of educated women from diverse backgrounds, it is clear that many of us don’t fully conceive the term sexual harassment or know the fact that by law, it is a crime. However they did manage to identify certain acts of sexual harassment. Most of them requested to keep their names anonymous or use pseudonyms. Interestingly, a suitable place and time had to be found as none of them wanted their parents or any other relative to hear about the conversation that was held with them.
When asked what was the first thing that came to their minds at hearing the term sexual harassment different themes emerged. Women get scared! They do not want to be in that situation.” Men stare on them at workplace, on the way, in universities, and even at home as well, giving signals that make you uncomfortable, somebody continuously chasing you.”
Girls are harass, in the schools by male teachers or other male staff such as office clerks, peons in the schools for giving girls a little favor. They are abused at tuition centers by their tutors. I know a girl whom name I do not want to mention.“ She wasn’t good in academics and her parents had arranged for her a tutor…the tutor would get physically close to her and upset the student…However, she couldn’t muster up the courage to tell her parents and kept on asking for my suggestions at that time.”
Few of my friends shared with me their experience about the cell phone harassment that is prevalent in society. “Those perverts call you..if you pick up the phone, they make a sexually explicit remark..” they further shared that they would also send text messages with vulgar poetry. Yet they can never be traced out who those people are.
One of my friends also shared with me an incident that took place at Rawalpindi Medical College.. “My friend who was studying in Rawalpindi medical college was going to fail in an exam. Her professor told her that he would pass her if she goes on vocation of three days.” She didn’t agree to it and failed in that subject.
A young girl Amna who was a student and works at a TV channel shares stories about how a girl is exploited by her colleagues. ”Many girls who want to be anchors are exploited by the producers…They ask you to go with them on lunch or accompany them if you want to come on screen.”
Amna was also selected as a host for a news program but she couldn’t make it. “She was selected for a TV talk show as a host. She was told to meet the anchor person who is well known and she had deep respect for him till then. However, the way he looked at her and talked to her in the first two minutes of the meeting made her cry.” She couldn’t go to office for the next week and later refused to work with him as a co-host of the show.
Despite the fact that there was a sexual harassment complaint cell in her office, Amna didn’t lodge any. “as she was afraid that People will get to know her for bad reason.” She didn’t tell her mother as well because of the fear that mother would get upset and that may even end her career as well.”
However she believes that organizations and government should take measures to ensure that nobody’s exploited on the basis of gender. “I know women who have to earn to make money and feed their families…They are most vulnerable to sexual harassment.”
All of them seem to be disappointed at the way women are treated in our society. Our society is not supportive enough for girls. “In our society, a woman by default is considered at fault,” It is better for a girl to forget these “petty harassments” every night before she went to sleep.
In my point of view communication gap between parents and children is the biggest reason why this situation is prevalent. Before the girls stepped out of the house, mothers should tell them how to carry their self. “Communication helped a lot and because of that they always remained on high alert.”
Media is not doing enough to highlight and educate people about the growing issue of sexual harassment.” Our media personnel do not have time to talk about these social ills. Neither do they talk about personality development.” If they give such awareness, society can overcome this to a great extent.
Sexual Harassment of young girls and women is ugly reality in Pakistan. Women of Minority groups are mostly harassed. I think implementation of law will resolve all the issues. “In developed countries, women are empowered by law…if anything tries to harm they can immediately call the police.” As long as women aren’t empowered by law, nothing would be changed for women. In many cases the complainant has withdrawn her application due to a pressure by the influenced persons and hence no charges could be proven.” Sometimes, this is used by the dominant groups to defame people of high respect. “However the remedy for this is to punish the complainant in case it turns to be false.”
I feel optimistic about the law recently passed to criminalize sexual harassment. “It’s a good thing but it won’t bring any change. Girls will not be willing to go to a committee or talk to someone as they would feel humiliated.” However girls have to be bold enough to speak up and raise their voice against it. Not only society but also parents are not supportive to stand by their daughters in such situations”
Electronic media in Pakistan is responsible for worsening the situation. “Our media is highlighting this issue but the way it is done is only glorifying this act. “ If media doesn’t tame down the sexual exposure in movies and people are not punished, then this menace can’t be eradicated.

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