A girl confided in me recently about being harassed. She said she never reported it because she was told that "boys will be boys and girls should just accept it". Horrified and sickened, as a man, all I could muster in response was a worthless apology.
Harassment is not a gender-specific issue but what makes sexual harassment against women unique is that it is not seen as a criminal act. It is a tool used systematically to ensure that the patriarchal structure perpetuates itself.
And, it appears that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is not in the least bit concerned with challenging patriarchy.
Recently, the party's women supporters were harassed at multiple public party gatherings in Islamabad, Multan and Lahore. Videos circulating on social media show crowds of unruly men pushing women to the ground and mauling them as they screamed.
It is utterly shameful that the PTI — a self-proclaimed anti-establishment and anti-status quo party in Pakistan — instead of sparking national outrage over these heinous acts, barred its female members and supporters from attending its rally in Peshawar, ironically, on the pretext of preventing harassment.
Make no mistake: the idea that women should be barred from being a part of the political process in order to protect them reeks of patriarchal power structures.
When a woman chooses to challenge them, she is slut-shamed: the harassment is seen as her fault; pointless questions are asked about what was she wearing, where she was and what she doing there to begin with.
Shortly after the incidents, PTI lawmaker Zareen Zia claimed that local stage dancer Annie Khan — one among the several harassed — just wanted some “cheap publicity” when she chose to attend the rally.
How dare a woman tread into a male-dominated space. Does a deer not know the land where lions roam free?
Blaming women for sexual harassment
The biggest lie patriarchy has managed to make people believe is that it is always the woman’s fault.
Remarking on PTI’s rallies, Orya Maqbool Jan said on national television that, “If women come out of the house, then rape is inevitable.”
When Orya was questioned as to how women will participate in democracy and the political process otherwise, he concluded: “What are men for?”
It is considered natural that since men and women have different physiques, they must have different gender roles. Women are expected to repeat these shameful roles over generations, so much so, that people forget that these roles were created and start accepting them as something entirely natural.
In Pakistan, this narrative is sustained by misconceptions about religion and culture.
Also read: Unequal spaces
If women are not seen as being part of the political process, if they are not seen at political rallies, if they are not heading ministries, if they are not handling the law, the judiciary and the executive, then, women will always be perceived as an insignificant part of the country’s democratic process and politics — despite being half the population.
Redefining gender roles
The PTI has descended even further down the slippery slope of earlier barring women from voting to now barring women from attending rallies.
Patriarchy has successfully convinced Pakistanis that women belong inside the house, thus barred from being full citizens.
The problem is not that Annie Khan went to PTI’s jalsa, the problem is that not enough women went.
The history of women’s suffrage is the surest testament to a history of struggle. Our streets and rallies will not be safe when women are not occupying them, but they will be when a lot of women are occupying them.
As a man, I am conscious that I am a benefactor of male privilege, hence I need to ensure that I don't unconsciously perpetuate the same power structures that I oppose, something Imran Khan should be more conscious of as well.
When a woman seeks to redefine her 'prescribed' role, it is an act of remarkable courage — it is time to listen to these women, not shame them.
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