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Of sexual harassment in Pakistani society

Maria Sartaj

While sex still remains a taboo topic in our social set up, sexual harassment is an accepted form of social transaction between males and females. It may often be shrouded in more respectable terms such as flirting; often called ‘line maarna’ by those who favour and/or are desensitised by it. It is no secret that some men consistently ruffle the boundaries set by women on a daily basis to merely up their ‘score’; expecting women to take it nonchalantly. For centuries, our subcontinent has believed in ridiculous adages like ‘hansi to phansi’ (she’s all yours if she laughs) and ‘dil main haan moo penaa’, which permit stalker-like behaviour to permeate at every corner. Now that Pakistanis have discovered sex and booze in a big way, their leap has been grand and turbulent. We went from an ultra-conservative society (where merely talking to females gave men the jitters) to a place where everyone has been overexposed to things like porn so they simply do not know how to deal with women anymore. Love and sensitivity have flown out of the window and all we are left with is an in-your-face hookup culture; one that is unapologetic of its brashness and does not care much about consent either. Last week, an Islamabad-based journalist, Zubaria Jan, took to the social media to expose her boss, a certain resident editor of a newspaper, for sexually harassing her. Her blog contained screenshots of the boss, Mr Salman Masood, calling her a pretty pistol and messaging her late into the night in hopes of steering the conversation on a risquè route. While her allegations are yet to be proven in the court of law, it is evident that her ordeals are not new. This frequently happens in Pakistan, but it takes a lot of guts for a desi woman to publicly come out and speak up against being harassed. Most outcomes in such situations are, however, against the woman where she is painted as evil; the case usually gets closed soon. Slut-shaming is rampant and often comes into play in such instances; a woman with a romantic past is deemed as characterless, doubtful and ‘problematic’. ‘Akeli aurat khuli tijori hoti hai’(a lonely woman is a man’s treasure) was the advice meted out to Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met and nothing can be truer than this. Some men — no matter how educated and polished they may be — take a woman to be their property once she steps out of home for work or any other reason. While gender-specific roles are repeatedly explained to us at the beginning of our lives, some equally important aspects such as consent, privacy and harassment are constantly overlooked. Any woman in a public setting thus appears to be ‘easy’ and ready to be devoured through the eyes: the stare game is quite strong in the country. Countless women will tell you stories of being groped or touched inappropriately in bazaars of Pakistan. Men bump into us deliberately and within a fraction of a second end up grazing their hands against our private parts, violating all sense of privacy. While sexual education that pertains to our reproductive organs is non-existent in the country, Urdu language has now been adorned with many phrases, which have been converted and reconstructed to emit a vulgar sense. One hesitates nowadays to use many terms on their own as these are instantly misconstrued to an invitation towards a sexual exchange of some kind. With rape cases and child molestation incidents on the rise, one must look within and assess where we are headed as a country. Why has it become okay to make females feel insecure at home, at work or in school? Last week, an anchor and journalist, Tanzeela Mazhar, also went on a Twitter overdrive to expose her bosses at the state television studios for sexually harassing her time and again. Once again, as proof, she had posted a WhatsApp conversation between men of power at PTV who were happily discussing her ‘nangi tangien’ (naked legs) and how it turned on one of the bosses. Locker room talk? Maybe, but one that would make any woman furious and uncomfortable. In Pakistan, we often stress the need for women’s education — which is a valid demand — however, what we truly require is men’s re-education.

A system where they are taught that in addition to their sisters and mothers, other females also deserve respect and security. We need social reforms, discourses and even campaigns where men are taught that women are neither baby-making machines nor fitted with a vagina for their pleasure but are beings with feelings, a soul and the right to reject.

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