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Sexual Harassment: Stop Accusing the Victim

By Ayesha Zahid

“No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you; we are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live.” Mohammad Ali Jinnah, 1944

It isn’t his fault, it’s yours! You could have covered yourself properly. Why did you go outside? Oh! If you did not have your veil on, you have no right to complain! Don’t you know what religion has said about the pious women? Do you have any idea how many of you are leading men to a wrong path by this vulgar dressing? Pakistani girls are often asked a never ending list of such aching questions. Has anyone ever wondered who the actual culprit is? The misery is not the entire blaming process rather the whole idea of it. People, especially men do not even consider the minor forms of harassments as sexual in nature. To them it is quite normal and the girls must get adapt to such environments. Before moving on to the solution there is a need for the identification of the problem. People need to get the facts straight. They need to understand that sexual harassment is not only the physical abuse but it also includes verbal comments and unwelcome sexual advances of any kind.  Sexual harassment is not only about rape rather it includes all other minor forms of sexual acts. This harassment even includes the unwanted gazes that men consider as their right in the public places.

The list of the victims is unending. The statistics are threatening. According to a 2011 poll of experts by the Thomson Reuters Foundation Poll, Pakistan is the third most dangerous country for women in the world. A research conducted by UNISON in 2008, reported that more than 50% working women face sexual harassment in Pakistan. A total of 8548 incidents of violence against women were reported in the four provinces of Pakistan and in capital territory Islamabad during year 2009. Of these, 5722 cases of violence were recorded in Punjab; 1762 in Sindh; 655 in NWFP; 237 in Baluchistan and 172 in Islamabad. 1384 daughters of Pakistan were murdered; 928 raped; 683 committed suicide; and 604 got killed in year 2009. A survey report published in Stop Street Harassment sighted that 96% of girls were sexually harassed on the streets in Pakistan. “Alliance Against Sexual Harassment” (AASHA) reports that about 93% females face harassment at their respective private or public sector organizations. According to women’s rights advocacy group Aurat Foundation, 5,800 cases of women violence were reported in Punjab in 2013, which represented 74% of the national total. According to the Punjab Gender Parity Report 2016 (PGPR) and Gender Management Information System (MIS), 6,505 reported cases of violence against women in 2015 were registered in Punjab, but unfortunately, only 1 percent or 81 perpetrators were punished. In fact, these digits keep on increasing. In 2014, Pakistan was the second lowest performing country in terms of gender equality in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. Thousands of them get abused but a lot of them do not even report.  Number of women do not feel it secure to file an FIR against the culprit rather they find it a convenient option to quit the office, stop going outside or to quietly tolerate the harassment. Instead of getting a tainted mark on their honor they prefer to stay quite on this taboo subject.

In February 2011, the HEC circulated Policy Guidelines against Sexual Harassment in Institutions of Higher Learning, a policy related to sexual harassment, to 158 universities all over Pakistan. But we have infinite cases coming from all the sides. Admin members harass them in offices, woman of Pakistani cricket team commit suicide due to sexual harassment, male teachers ask them out for dinners, and government institutes have members who try to disgrace female employees, co workers make it difficult for women to work in the same offices, even the floor of the House in National Assembly and Senate Sessions has witnessed such an extrovert harassment cases that it very well explains the treatment women face in the country.

The laws started taking place from the year 2010. Mr. Asif Zardari signed the bill “Harassment of Women Is Now a Crime”. But the post scenario of the bill was even more disturbing. The law was there and people were tearing its clauses apart by ignoring every single pointer that was to be followed afterwards. In 2011, UN endorsed ‘Protection against Sexual Harassment at Work’ Act. Upcoming years saw some more paper work. Protection of Women against Harassment at Workplace Bill 2012 and number of drafts and Committee meetings of National Assembly and Senate took place against sexual harassment cases.

One might consider the shadow of laws. Women might think that we do not live in a lawless time. We do not live in the time periods where there were no courts of justice. They might think that no one will dare to stalk them from their annoying gazes. But if they’re thinking like that then they are definitely fooling themselves. Yes! Men still enjoy complete authority to tease the women from their unwelcoming sexual initiatives, they still have the right to stare at them as much times as they want to. This right will not cease to act unless and until the laws become practical and unless and until the society changes its mindset. This right of the men to make it impossible for women to leave the houses will not come to an end unless and until attitude of policy makers is not changed.  The correction needs to take place from the micro to the macro level otherwise girls will keep on screaming against this harassment and these screams will go unheard as always.

There is a need to make people aware about the bill that got passed regarding women rights, more seminars and workshops need to be conducted, implementation on the laws that are already present there, banners and short messages placed on public places, messages in form of signs and symbols for illiterates must be there on bus stops, police officers and security members should be there to provide security to women, curriculum at all levels should include lessons on sexual harassment, and all the public and private institutes must have monthly meetings for the purpose. This wave against sexual harassment should never become stagnant otherwise this independent nation will never see its women as independent.

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