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The reckoning

Updated October 12, 2018


OVER the last few days, the #MeToo movement, which largely swept through the Western media industry in recent months, has witnessed a dramatic surge in neighbouring India.

The litany of allegations against powerful men in journalism and Bollywood — of sexual impropriety, harassment and outright assault — is overwhelming in scope.

The allegations share an almost universal DNA: the perpetrator was shielded by enablers, complaints were ignored by bystanders, and the victim was herself ostracised.

To break this implicit code of silence is a tremendous act of courage and, in such a toxic milieu of victim blaming, a profound personal sacrifice to make in service of this cause.

To these women we owe our unmitigated support.

But such platitudes are empty in the absence of a commitment to take stock of work cultures here in Pakistan that — it is no secret — are rife with abusive men.

The obvious existence of whisper networks is proof of a system that is failing women.

Despite the passage of anti-harassment legislation increasing the onus on employers to ensure a safe and equitable work environment, the burden of demanding accountability is still almost exclusively for survivors to bear and, even then, there is no guarantee that their complaints will be addressed appropriately.

The same misogyny and classism that permeates every strata of society is inherent in our workplaces and in our legal system — designed by and almost exclusively for privileged men.

Divesting institutions of anti-women and anti-poor biases is a long and painstaking process, but an endeavour we should affirmatively undertake all the same.

Due process requires that victims are believed, without censure or stigma.

In our role as watchdogs, holding the powerful to account, journalists too must address whether we have failed to check abuses of power within our industry.

While many are quick to prejudge the movement as a witch hunt, a gender war or a means of settling old scores, and though there is a genuine threat of sexual harassment allegations being weaponised to call for increased gender segregation and the withdrawal of women from public life, neither should deflect from the legitimate need to redress structural oppression through a framework of restorative justice.

Will this country finally see its own #MeToo moment?

Pakistani women have and are speaking up. The dam will one day break, but which side of the deluge we chose to stand on is a decision we must make now.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2018