Corruption, robbery, terrorism, cheating, vandalism, discrimination, lies, rape, dishonesty- name a problem and you will find ample examples of it in Pakistan. On the top of it, one of the gravest issues we are facing is harassment, especially sexual harassment, that goes mostly unnoticed unless a post or video of the victim goes viral, thanks to social media. Under the wake of recent cases stemming out, be that the case of Noor Muqaddam which sparked a lot of protests and voice across the country or the Lahore incident of Ayesha Akram, it’s imperative to shed light on this issue, discuss its solutions, alternatives, and to raise awareness about it in order to eradicate or put it to an end once and for all.
Harassment is principally of three types; verbal/written, physical, and visual. It is further divided into countless categories, for example, harassment based on gender, race, religion, caste, disability, political affiliation, age, and so on. When we specifically talk about sexual harassment, it constitutes a kind of unwelcome sexist behavior, or remarks and overtones which are explicit or implicit in any way, and is usually directed towards the opposite gender. It hones in the cultures and societies worldwide and is so deeply embedded that we tend to accept it as a norm, more often than not. The tendency is not different in Pakistan either and what makes it discussion-worthy that women being the majority of population suffer from it the most. It is evident through the cases ranging from leering at women to pass indecent comments or gestures in both private and public places and can take the form of sexual assault leading to rape, honor killing, domestic violence, and gender discrimination, etc.
One of the repercussions of being harassed is that its memories never really leave the oppressed. These haunt and torment them throughout their lives. Its damaging effects include, but are not limited to, lower self-esteem, shaky confidence, anxiousness, and fear, not to mention physical indicators such as shivers, headache, disturbed sleeping patterns, acute silence, or even aggression.
Talking about the aftermath of sexual harassment clubs with a need to look into a few reasons why this kind of behavior occurs in the first place. A couple of chief reasons include the excessive need to demonstrate power play, weak laws, and legislations, low accountability, childhood trauma, or a culture that’s ready to accept hostile sexism and misogyny. The list does not end here, but to the very least it touches upon the most important factors.
In order to look for the solutions, we can start off with the concept of power play or what closely can be called vulnerable victim hypothesis that suggests that people in lower position, at work or in private life, or the ones with lesser sociocultural powers are more likely to be susceptible to harassment by the ones who are superior. This reason along with the traditional gender role dictated by the society is the root why men are the offenders mostly. If we want a positive, consistent and complete change, the whole narrative of the society needs to be addressed. The first step towards this is to redefine the gender roles, boundaries and acceptance of others’ unique individuality by providing enough education and awareness among the masses.
Education and awareness can take place in both, conventional institutes and online. In order to bring the desired change in all strata of society, we have to spread enough cognizance about it first which is easier said than done, however, it is not impossible. Such awareness can start from the early learning institution of a child – home. Such awareness is not only limited to the upbringing of children, rather learning about it and implementing these in one’s life is also part of the learning process. Parents, and initial or extended family need to be trained far and wide throughout the country about the concept of an inclusive society where a child is nurtured in a fashion that the teaching tolerance towards other gender, religion, beliefs and so on is of paramount importance. With the advancement and easy access to smart phones and technology, such knowledge can easily be shared across.
Another way is to generate a culture that equates the fundamental rights of men and women. If the perpetrators are often excused, not punished accordingly or somehow avail a free pass to move away from the consequences; instead, only the victims are blamed, it only leads to more injustice and fear-mongering. Such is the culture that needs a change. Starting the awareness from homes, a chain can be created whose ripple effects can benefit generations culturally.
Another responsibility lies heavily on the shoulders of our Islamic scholars. A majority of people religiously follow the teachings and preaching of our Saints, Sufis, and Ulamas. The need to revive the true identity of Islam, its principles and teachings precisely in terms of Huqooq ul Ibaad is more important now than ever before. The clear message of peace, tolerance, and love of God and for humanity that Islam teaches us has to be revived. A renaissance can be instilled in our people only when our scholars step up and stand in the front lines.
The government also can play a pivotal role by strengthening the existing laws and also by introducing new ones that declare harassment as an unforgiveable and inescapable crime. The ratio of low accountability should be worked on and minimized. TV, news channels, radio, print and social media campaigns can be run against the ills of harassment, how to report it and to make people aware of their basic human rights. A watch force can also be created whose precise focus is on the repression of harassment taking place, especially in public places. Although there are laws already in practice, the trying times demand drastic and extreme measures to counter the tribulations.
Last but not the least, we are also responsible for the change. We have to be the harbingers of peace and stability in our society. One of our duties is to be the whistle blowers. In case of detecting potential harassment, we have to step up and speak. In case of harassment taking place in front of us, we have to immediately report and intervene. We can also create safe spaces for people to come out and share their experiences without being judged or criticized. If someone needs help, we can be the ones available for intervention. The concept of ‘the other’ needs to be accepted, and the notion of ‘live and let live’ has to be spread. If we don’t take charge, no one will.
Harassment is a punishable crime by law. No one deserves to be harassed in any possible manner as it erodes people’s sense of safety and can result in making them the wrongdoers one day. Hence, no one can fathom the effects. There are countless solutions to it and the best solutions are the ones that we practice. The kind of change we need right now might seem like a long shot and take generations, but there is always hope at the end of the tunnel. We must not forget that. Only together with slow and steady efforts, we can reach a point where the idea of harassment will be foreign.