THIS is with reference to the report “Man arrested for ‘murdering’ Canadian national wife in Islamabad’ (Sept 24). Every time such a heinous incident takes place, our society wakes up — mostly on social media — before receding into its beloved slumber till the next one crosses what should have long ago become the social redline, but is not.

Such an extreme, life-taking behaviour is surely not a one off incident. In every case there is a history of unacceptable behaviour on the part of the boys, and an incomprehensible acceptance of such behaviour by society. Recently, while commuting to work, I happened to see a girl sweeping a footpath. She was in rags and appeared to be a flood victim trying to clean up part of the pavement for her family to drop anchor for a while. Three men on a motorcycle came and touched the girl rather inappropriately, which is an utterly immodest yet common practice in our society. If we can’t even leave the flood victims aside, what can we do to have some chance of becoming a sane society at some point in time even in the distant future?

Witnessing such a shameful act compelled me to think about thousands of disadvantaged women and children who are staying in flood relief camps under open skies. Torrential rains and floods of biblical proportions have created havoc across the country, sweeping away vast swathes of land, destroying lives and livelihoods, and leaving millions homeless, destitute and vulnerable to diseases of all sorts. As if all this is not enough, harassment and sexual violence are not possibilities that should be ruled out in a hurry. We should remember what happened during the floods that hit the country back in 2010 when multifarious crimes and sexual harassment was found to be a common happening in relief camps and temporary shelters.

The 2010 floods laid bare the ineptness of the disaster management authorities in protecting women and children. According to a survey, sexual harassment during the 2010 floods increased manifold with a large number of women and children getting raped across the country.

When will this sexual harassment stop? When will we learn to act with modesty and decency … some semblance of decency? Should not each of us be the role model for the others by protecting our women and children who are already living on the edge with multiple vulnerabilities?

Pakistan is widely branded as one of the worst countries for women. Sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination in the country are pervasive and deeply entrenched, going mostly unreported and ignored.

Many women and children are being harassed, abducted, raped and even slaughtered for one reason or the other. Given the alarming situation, one must be wondering what the unprecedented climatic catastrophe has to bring for the displaced.

Aqsa Shaikh
Hyderabad

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2022

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