Liberated? What about the roadside harassment that Pakistani women suffer on a daily basis?

She faces quite a bit of harassment while she walks along the road and men stop their cars and ask her to hop in. She gets harassed when the men passing them by call them names, blow whistles or even tailgate them. I’m sorry, but where exactly is the liberation in this?

I, despite my continuous resistance towards being a feminist and my persistent efforts for being equally fair towards men, have once again failed to succeed. I do not feel proud or pleased when writing this because this is yet another horrible aspect of our society that no Pakistani would ever like to highlight because it would not earn a good name for our country. Still I have to, because maybe, this would spread some awareness, at least in those who give my piece of writing some time and importance and will understand my point of view.

I’ve heard from some “liberators” of our society and warriors of Facebook that our society has improved a lot, with the most important improvement being that our women are now getting more independence and respect day by day. Such perpetrators of change think that Pakistani women have a lot more freedom than ever before and that they can champion any walk of life. Well, this indeed is true. Women truly are succeeding in every area of life, whether at work or at home, from being professionals to being housewives – many of them playing both the parts with equal justice. Women are certainly equal contributors in our society and economy as well. But my question is when and where exactly does our patriarchal society give them the respect that they deserve? Because this respect (that we claim to give to our women) in fact varies from place to place.

Yes it varies, and it even changes. Several men of our society have designed their own boundaries and limitations while respecting women. For example, let us take their home first: their own daughters, sisters, and mothers. The respect they give to them is of a greatest intensity because, of course, they are THEIR mothers and sisters, not someone else’s because if they are someone else’s they don’t need to respect them.

I know saying this would cause a great outrage in several men of our society and they will of course curse the blogger for being a blind feminist. But this, my dears, is the reality. The reality which every second woman comes across almost every day when she steps out of her home whether to university, college, work, travel or anywhere. She doesn’t get the same level of respect everywhere and she certainly does get harassed to some extent every now and then. She faces quite a bit of harassment while she walks along the road and men stop their cars and ask her to hop in. She gets harassed when the men passing them by call them names, blow whistles or even tailgate them. I’m sorry, but where exactly is the liberation in this? Spectators passively enjoy the trauma women go through every day while pretending to be busy in their own work.

There are a huge number of incidents of roadside abuse and harassment happening on a daily basis in Pakistan but I’m stunned that none of them actually gets reported. Female pedestrians even get physically harassed by the men passing by, but no one ever notices, and the victims obviously shut themselves up thinking that this will cause a bad name for their family if they disclose or report it and many let it go because of course they don’t know every person by name. But is this the real solution to this problem? Should we all let it go? Just like we underreport rape and sexual harassment in our society? Yes we do that. Rape, sexual harassment, sexual abuse are increasing day by day in our country, primarily because we feel too ashamed to report them, or simply teach our daughters that in case they get sexually harassed, they are not supposed to disclose it or fight against it because that will make their character questionable. We have made it a custom of our society that we cannot protect our daughters from manly beasts. All that they can do to protect themselves is to hide themselves from them or cover themselves.
But, again, I’m sorry to say that men’s attitude does not change even with women who are covered from head to toe in a gown. In fact, they harass them more by guessing their size and passing comments on their eyes. Can even fully covered women escape this treatment? Because people mostly say that girls who do not cover themselves up get insulted and harassed in public and that they should cover themselves while going out so they would be respected. When I was a child I thought there might be a link between respect and covering oneself up, but upon growing up I saw that that link was just an illusion. I concluded that respect does not have a direct relationship with how one dresses up – respect happens to be in the mind and in the eyes.

The one major thing we Pakistanis need to change about ourselves is our thinking and behavior. Just the way we expect our women to abide by the rules of our society, we should make suitable rules for men too. Men should also be liable to specific rules while going out. Men should also treat others’ daughters, sisters, mothers and wives with respect. And we have to make these rules ourselves. This is the only way we can turn into a respectful nation. Where there are evil people, we cannot deny that there are good ones too. It is the good people who have to become the saviors of our society.
All we need to do is to start a campaign against such public harassers, bullies and abusers. If you see any man teasing a woman in public you should report it, if you see any man stopping a car in front of female pedestrians and forcing her to take a seat in his car, you should take notice. And, if possible, you should call the police for her help but do something other than just watching. This is the only way Pakistan can be a safe place for our coming generations. As Kofi Annan, the 7th UN Secretary-General, said:
"Gender equality is critical to the development and peace of every nation."

We are a developing nation indeed but we will be a developed nation when we will develop our thinking and that will happen when we won’t link clothing with respect, thinking with class, education with the name of the institution, skills with degree, jobs with reference, women with objectification, money with happiness, and materialism with success. We just need to change our mentality, and our behavior would change automatically.

The writer is a Media Graduate and a Broadcast Journalist by profession. She has a keen interest in reading, storytelling, writing and possesses a critical view of the various dilemmas of Pakistani society, especially those concerned with the oppression of women. Follow her on Twitter.

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