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No more `eve-teasing`

January 28, 2011


HARASSMENT is a common problem women across the world have to face. In the South Asian context the archaic term 'eve-teasing' is employed to describe such harassment. However as Bangladesh's high court recently ruled, the term downplays the seriousness of such crimes. The court said this in response to a class action lawsuit filed by legal activists after a number of teenaged women committed suicide, reportedly due to stalking and harassment. Police would often dismiss such crimes as innocent mischief caused by young men. The court ordered that incidents of harassment should not be referred to as eve-teasing anymore and should be termed sexual harassment. The court has taken a wise step because the euphemism hides the severity of the crime by attaching a romantic label to it. The fact is that harassment is harassment. Of course we in Pakistan are no strangers to the harassment of women, especially in public places such as markets, offices and public transport. Such behaviour can range from constant unwanted ogling to much worse. Because of such negative male attitudes — despite Pakistanis' overt religio- sity — women are not comfortable in public places in this country and hence barely visible in some areas.

There has been progressive legislation in Pakistan to protect women's rights, such as the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010. Yet like all other laws in this country implementation remains an issue. What is needed along with enforcement of the law is a serious change in society's attitudes, namely the patriarchal and misogynistic male mind-set that considers women little more than objects. Perhaps measures like the one taken in Bangladesh will help change attitudes and sensitise the public — read men — about the fact that sexual harassment and violation of women's rights will not be tolerated.