KARACHI, Dec 23: Well-known artists, rights activists and people from a cross-section of society on Friday advised working women to stand up for themselves and speak out against harassment they face to bring about a social change.
They were speaking at the launch of a book, Working with Sharks, by Dr Fauzia Saeed, the author of Taboo , held at a local hotel on the Working Women's Day.
Dr Saeed was one of the complainants in the sexual harassment case of 11 women working in the UN office in Pakistan that was filed on Dec 22, 1997. It sparked a movement in Pakistan, Aasha , which brought a change in the UN offices.
The proceedings were concluded in 1999 and the case culminated in this day being declared Working Women's Day by Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani.
Speaking at the launch, TV artist Sahira Kazmi said that women's harassment was a major issue which needed to be addressed aggressively and that men should come out and support the issue.
“When I did a serial on PTV called Zebunissa on harassment of women, in which a woman was treated badly by her husband and society at large, and didn't have any support from anywhere, and ultimately left him and began a new life, the message was that a woman should stand up for herself.”
Tina Sani, a renowned singer and a strong upholder of women's rights, stressed that the media could play a major role in highlighting women's plight here.
Citing an example of her maid, who walked to work and was harassed by the men on the street nearly every day, coming in tears to her house, she said: “When you follow a case, pursue the matter right to the end so that you get results.”
Sharmila Faruqui, former information minister of Sindh, recalled the case of Uzma Ayub, who was kidnapped and raped and her brother was shot dead more than a year ago allegedly by policemen, said that such cases were shameful. Quoting from Dr Saeed's book “By fighting a case I must fight and respect myself,” Ms Faruqui said she could relate with the author as she, too, had gone through harassment at her workplace.
“We need to stand up to the atrocities and raise our voice and not be told to be quiet when something happens, and civil society should support us.”
Speaking at the book launch, Dr Saeed, who has also worked for development organisations and is currently a director at a human rights institute, Mehergarh, said that she had been an activist since her college days but dreams could be very different from the realities of life.
“I spoke about the harassment I went through so that other women got courage to speak about their problems too, even though one becomes vulnerable. My colleagues and I, after the report we gave to the UN office, suffered more afterwards as everyone's attitude at the workplace changed towards us. But in the end we succeeded as there was a change in the UN law after our case.”
Dr Saeed, who focuses on women's issues and social justice, has also written Taboo — a book on the plight of prostitutes.
In her latest book, she wrote down what she and her female colleagues went through.
She said it was unfortunate that mothers never taught their daughters about the world outside.
She regretted that people tend to make sexual harassment a joke, which was wrong because it had bad repercussions on one's life.
The programme was conducted by Adnan Malik who said Dr Saeed was a role model who took action to bring about change in society.