Few things bint-e-hawwa has to bear

Posted on October 23, 2007
Filed Under >JayJay, Society
99 Comments
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by JayJay

The life of a Pakistani woman is not easy. It is not a hidden fact that she is subjected to discrimination and harassment, within and without the so-called sanctuary of her home. However, harassment and bullying becomes more intense and blatant when she steps out of her home for work or education. From catcalls to verbal innuendo to physical harassment, she has to endure it all, mostly at the hands of strangers, on the streets and on public transport. This harassment does not stop, or rather become more palpable in many cases, at her place of work. The act of harassing women, with sexual tones and motives, by fellow employees or supervisors/managers is referred to sexual harassment. Wikipedia defines sexual harassment as:

Harassment or unwelcome attention of a sexual nature. It includes a range of behavior from mild transgressions and annoyances to serious abuses, which can even involve forced sexual activity. Sexual harassment is considered a form of illegal discrimination in many countries, and is a form of abuse (sexual and psychological) and bullying.

An editorial from The News on October 1 has summed up the issue well, by pointing out to the absence of appropriate legislation to deal with this growing phenomenon. Offering some the broad suggestions, the editorial reads:

As a first step, the government and the private sector should join hands to start a campaign in which sexual harassment in the workplace is defined. This will make working women understand what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behavior in a workplace. The second step in this national exercise would be to ask employers to put into place a proper policy that defines sexual harassment and clearly spells out what action is to be taken against someone found guilty of it. In addition to this, employers need to have a mechanism which enables any employee subjected to such harassment to approach an appropriate forum for filing a complaint. The complaint should be treated confidentially and investigated, and if guilty the offender should be punished according to the employer’s code of ethics for employees. Of course, given that many companies have an environment which is more or less male-dominated and where men are in most decision-making senior roles, it may be a bit much to expect that things will change overnight. However, to do nothing would also be a sign that we as a nation are not willing to evolve and provide justice to those who are victims of this menace.

The menace of sexual harassment at the place of work has been comprehensively and effectively addressed by the West where workplaces are no longer the sole domain of men. Pakistan has a lot to catch up on this matter, and quickly so, as more and more women are entering workforce. It makes economic sense both for employers and the government to have an effective and clear legislation and corporate policies to protect women against harassment. Not only skills and talent of education women can be brought to use more effectively by attracting them in a safe workplace but it has been seen worldwide that presence of women in offices helps boost productivity, besides infusing fresh ideas and way of thinking.

While enacting a piece of legislation and formulating policies is most critical step, a concerted awareness campaign is necessary to influence general attitudes and social behaviors. Without bringing about change to prevalent perception of working women in Pakistan, there is little chance of success in overcoming the problem of sexual harassment. The fact of matter is that most women in Pakistan brave into men-dominated workplaces out of economic necessity, rather than to fulfill career aspirations. The position of women in workplace in Europe, North American and even South East Asia has become entrenched, still it is not odd to come across a public service announcement to press the message on the issue. Such public service announcements are even more necessary in a society like Pakistan where we leg behind even comparable countries in accepting the role of women at work.

99 responses to “Few things bint-e-hawwa has to bear”

  1. Aneeza says:

    Human, Thinker, Sultan

    I was just casually going through the comments on the article with no intention of joining in but towards the end I could not help to get in my little bit. I have long been an ardent supporter of “feminism” until one day I realized that what was essentially wrong and flawed in the typical feminism logic. However, I would like to point out that it is the opinion of people like you which instigates an “equal and opposite reaction” which sometimes goes beyond reason. My thoughts are as follows:

    – West is not an ideal of women liberation. Period. There are many flaws, many exploitations which are not visible to an inexperienced eye. Having said that, we are no better. We have our own demons, West has its own.”
    – “Equality” of men and women is a wrong statement. They are not in competition with each other but in fact complement each other. However, a woman, is a woman to her husband, father, son, brother, to the rest of the world she is a person. It is this status that you refuse her. You have no right over an unrelated woman to try to control her and to criticise her. This is one fundamental wrong in our society. Our men think they are the owners and moral leaders of all women in general.
    – The concept of modesty is of paramount importance in my eyes in Islam. However, have you ever noticed that Quran talks about modesty for man (guarding their chastity, lowering their gaze, dress code) before it talks about modesty for a woman? Why is it then ALWAYS the woman who is at fault when something goes wrong? Where are the men’s morals? And please do not give me this crap that morals are more for women than for men. This is one thing where there is absolute equality among men and women in the eyes of Allah.
    – What amazes me the msot is that whereas Islam is the most liberal religion towards women rights, Muslims countries are the worst tyrants for women. Do you know in Islamic days there were even women surgeons who used to treat men even? My definition of feminism is not based on one to one equality pf men and women. It recognizes the natural role of a woman in bearing a child and it is but natural for her to be compensated for this heavy duty by absolving her from some other duties like for example bread earning. But this is a decision that a woman has to take along with her husband. Who are you decide for a woman that she should stay at home? If she is competent enough to handle many things, who are you to deny her the right ot work (be it outside or inside the home)? How she goes out, however, is a different discussion. In fact, this is where Islam liberalizes a woman, by giving her the gift of hijab that brings her to an equal level and enables sexists like you guys to see her beyond her gender. However, there are still people who have a maniacal obsession towards woman. And even then if still she is attacked and harrassed whose fault is that? I would even venture out and say that even if a woman is supposedly immodestly dressed, is it a license for men to harrass her? What about the concept of hijab for men? And don’t give me the crap about men by nature being able to control themselves less because if this is true then they would not have been given the status of “qawwam” which by the way is not the ruler over women. A place of authority is a place of responsibility, not a place from where you can exploit to yuor hearts’content.

    So, my friends, before giving judgements over women first look at your own conduct, check your own gaze, hold your own tongues, mind your own businesses. Whatever wrong the women are doing, let them take care of their faults and let them be responsibile for them themselves. Hence, I agree with the idea of having rules and regulations in place to keep disgusting members of male species in check.

  2. T.Shabbir says:

    Harrassment of women is more common in Pakistani society then in any other part of the world, and I can say that with surity because I have travelled a great deal. I live in the USA and travel to Pakistan once a year to visit my parents. As soon as we exit the plane at Karachi airport we (my daughter and myself) pull out our chaddars and wrap it around ourselves. That still doesn’t stop men from ogling at us, in a rather rude kind of way. There is definitely a difference between the western and eastern society. You could walk in any mall or street in USA (or any where in Europe) with jeans and shirt or even a skirt and top and nobody would give you a second look, but here in my own country a huge chaddar is not enough to stop the ogling. Shopping is a pain too, most men refrain from simple courtesy, they elbow, push, and block the way in the most disrepectful manner. Women in Pakistan are used to this kind of degrading behaviour, and have learnt to live with it, those of us who live abroad and come home once in awhile feel the difference immediately.

    The segregation of men and women, second class status of women in muslim societies coupled up with lack of education is perhaps the cause of this ‘bizarre and uncivilized’ behaviour. Harrassment of women exists in the west too but not as openly as in Pakistan. In the western countries women have fought for their rights and gained it the hard way, and harrassment is considered illegal at work place or any where else. The women of Pakistan have a difficult and long path to tread, feminist movements are rare in Islamic countries, because of mullah opposition, a perfect example of blatant cruelty and discrimination against women is the ‘hudood law’, need I say any more???

  3. chief sahib says:

    I think this argument has sufficiently been side tracked by random postings of unrelated US crimes etc, which have nothing to do with the post. I hate the attitude that to justify something bad you use the, look the other person is doing something bad too so why are you calling what we do bad.
    All I am saying is harassment of women EXISTS in Pakistan, and if you have any argument relating to the fact that it doesn’t then please provide PROOF that it doesn’t happen. I can provide you endless articles (and have provided many in my previous posts to prove that it does). I recommend that people reading this talk their their Mothers, wives and sisters and ask if they have ever experienced or noticed harrassment during their how ever many years of living in Pakistan as a woman. I am not saying oh it doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world, that is neither the premise of the article nor the subject of my debate. The debate is about the existance of harrassment and how it is a social evil and how to tackle it, if you are on the opposing side of the debate then you are condoning harrassment or refusing its existance. This article is not about feminism, but humanism. Please if you can prove to me that harrassment is non existant in Pakistan you will make me the happiest Pakistani, as that is what I want.

  4. Rafay Kashmiri says:

    JayJay,

    Debate is completely deviated from the main topic,

    “Few things women have to bear”, very normal, like men.

    The impressions given by leftists, a false pretender of
    women’s lib, or religious defenders, saying no, there is
    nothing wrong, morals to be looked after, etc.etc.!!
    and in the middle the “nasty permisive secular ”
    profiteering the situations wanting a ” free hand” on
    women.
    (femme lib

  5. Qandeel says:

    So I’ve been thinking. Human, Thinker, Sultan, etc, my initial reactions to some of your comments ranged from shock and exasperation to just outright guffaw. At the end the disappointment I felt just turned to numbness. But for the sake of our “Pakistaniat”, whatever that may be, I can’t stay mute. We have to try and strengthen the bridges between us instead of burning every last one we might have.

    If I am expecting you to reach out to women and understand them better, to engage in dialogue with them, then I should lend you the same respect I demand for myself.

    We have to stop seeing everything/everyone in black and white. There are a million shades of grey in between that we need to acknowledge and respect. Because a woman is voicing a need to address the sexual harassment issue prevalent in Pakistan does NOT mean she is a bra-burning femi-Nazi. It does not by default insinuate that she worhships all the ideals of the West. Similarly, if you express the need for a more stringent code of Islam wrt women in Pakistan, I should not assume you are a Taliban militant with a penchant for beheading women.

    There are many Western “values” that I dislike and refuse to espouse. By the same token, there are many social evils in Pakistan I dislike. But because they are being inflicted in Pakistan (my home), and because they’re pulsating through the very veins of Pakistan, I am more critical about them and would like to see them exorcised. According to me, one of these social evils is the lack of rights given to women.

    Human, some of the things you said appealed to me. For example, introducing social ethics in school. Sultan, the article you pasted was very interesting. I’m not too fond of Neolocalism and think its the reason so many in the West feel isolated, alone, suicidal even. But the point is… if someone (girl, guy, couple) WANTS to live in a particular way, they should have the RIGHT to do so. The society should be tolerent of a woman in a bikini as well as a woman in a burqa.

    I think we’re very far away from tackling the issue of sexual harassment in Pakistan. That’s mainly because we do not listen to one another. As soon as we hear someone say something even remotely disagreeable to us, we quickly generalize what they’re all about and it instantly becomes an “us versus them” debacle. This is what I meant when I said “multiple heads bopping against each other”.

    Do not taint me black because of a single remark. There may be lots we agree on. Try to see where I (or women in general) are coming from. Ask questions, perhaps. There are ways to reconcile our differences if we just listen to one another.

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