‘Harassment is an issue of human rights, security & economics’

13 Apr 2019


MPA Nusrat Abbasi speaks at the event on Friday.—White Star
MPA Nusrat Abbasi speaks at the event on Friday.—White Star

KARACHI: “I am a victim of sexual harassment. When a legislator like myself, who had a part in the making of the harassment bill, can be verbally abused by the treasury benches in the assembly the way that I was, then what to say about the other women,” said MPA Nusrat Seher Abbasi.

She was speaking as a panellist at a seminar to look at the ‘Credibility, risk and legislative significance of the #MeToo movement in Pakistan’ organised under the Global Neighbourhood for Innovation’s (GNMI) Lab Kushai project in collaboration with Pakistan-US Alumni Network and the US Embassy at a local hotel here on Friday.

“A woman possesses a third eye through which she can sense how one sees them and what someone’s tone suggests. But it is seldom that she will do anything about it. The weaker ones would even choose to ignore, bury a matter completely or sweep it under the rug rather than come out and confront or raise a voice against such wrongs,” she added.

Parents urged to educate and make children aware about different forms of harassment

Producer, director and actor Sahira Kazmi said it was important to educate and make one’s children aware about the different forms of sexual harassment.

“First they should know about it from parents, then schools, too, must explain such things to their pupils along with the media doing its bit about spreading awareness about the issues, people’s rights and also the laws such as the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace bill and other laws,” she said.

“About harassment at the workplace,” Kazmi added, “there are other things too that come into play such as jealousy of women who are excelling at their work. Professional jealousy also exists. So it is important to hammer gender equality in children from the start. Tell them that men and women are equal,” she said.

She also stressed on empowering girls. “We must encourage them to come out and point out the culprits,” she said.

Journalist Uzma AlKarim said that it was important to communicate to the harasser “that what he or she is doing is ‘unwanted’ and ‘unwelcome’ because when you do file a complaint against them, you are also asked whether you told them that what they were doing was undesirable”, she said.

Singer and motivational speaker Ayesha Adil said that women must have the courage to give a shut-up call to whoever is bothering them, which sadly did not always happen as they had not been given that kind of confidence by their parents.

Tasneem Ahmar of the Uks Research Centre said that mindsets which assume things like a girl’s smile meaning ‘yes’ or ‘her no, really meaning her yes’ needed to be changed. “The #MeToo movement is also taken as a joke by some people who say that the victim too must have had a part in what was coming her way in the form of harassment, or that she must have provoked her harasser in some way,” she observed.

Actor and model Sana Fakhar observed that when a woman complained against harassment, she was seen as the one with the problem.

Najia Ashar, journalist and founding president of GNMI, said that work pressure was not really an issue with media people as they were always prepared for anything but she had seen that when there were fresh graduates coming into the media industry, there were many girls and few boys.

“But later, when these girls decide to settle down in their lives they gradually leave their profession. And then those who are still there find the working environment suddenly turning venomous,” she said.

Journalist and activist Quratulain Iqrar said that she had seen girls being given difficult shifts at news channels or being harassed about transport. “Such pressures also hurt their performance at work and with that she also starts losing her confidence,” she pointed out.

Amna Dawood, a lawyer, said that it was a pity that the people here were not aware of the laws that were there to help them. She also said that women could come up to lodge complaints for the crimes committed against them whenever they wanted to as it was not time-bound.

“But they must have documented proofs and evidence,” she said, adding that it was also a fact that investigations were very weak, difficult and painful here unlike in the West.

Acting public affairs officer at the US Consulate in Karachi Stephan Valen said that harassment was not just a women’s issue, it was also an issue of human rights, security, health and economics, which in turn affected the society.

“As half of the planet comprises women, they have the right to be treated equally. Harassing people is not normal and we need to create that awareness that society is not normal with such kind of issues existing within it. When [you] allow women to step up, your entire country steps up because when women succeed, society and nations succeed,” he said.

Mubashir Hashmi and Masood Raza also spoke.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2019