Let’s Create a Harassment Free Pakistan
For the past five years Pakistan has ranked second last in the global gender equality survey. A country where gender based violence takes myriads of ugly forms from honour killings to rape, forced marriages to sexual assault/harassment criminalising these is helpful but not enough. Effective, permanent change requires behavioural change interventions. A behavioural change intervention is what I was going to try. Having decided I was going to use the airwaves to engage and educate people, the next task was to find a radio station that was willing to support my idea. And I found one in Islamabad. I designed a radio campaign and with the support from the Islamabad based FM radio station launched the campaign in July last year. The main objectives of the campaign are to bring an attitudinal change as well as give women the confidence to challenge unacceptable male behaviours that amount to harassment. The intervention seeks to create a public discourse on how harassment in public places, educational institutions, public transport and offices impact on a woman’s mental health and wellbeing and academic and employment opportunities. In addition to this, the campaign aims to engage opinion makers, analysts, gender specialists, men and women in a constructive dialogue and build a consensus that ogling amounts to female harassment and is a negative behaviour that men need to unlearn. A two hour radio show once a month, 16 public service messages that go on air every hour, road shows and presentations at colleges and universities are the main activities of the campaign.
While in Pakistan I spoke with thousands of women from different walks of life – journalists, managing directors, students, maids, academics, doctors, nurses, shop assistants, home makers – asking their views on the issue of ogling. Unanimous consensus was that ogling blights the lives of all women in Pakistan, is an unacceptable behaviour and is embedded in the Pakistani male psyche. Many women I spoke with had resigned to this unacceptable male behaviour saying it annoys them to death but they ignore it to maintain their sanity. A few were in favour of challenging such behaviour but realised challenging such behaviours in a male dominant society itself was fraught with many challenges. A woman who has to face male harassment on a daily basis, imagine how adversely it impacts on her mental health and wellbeing as well as her academic and career opportunities. The perpetrators probably don’t have the capacity and capability to even imagine that. It’s so frustrating and at times heart breaking when in discussions on gender equality in Pakistan one hears depressing but true to reality comments like the one I share here made by a friend: “Most women are really second class citizens in Pakistan and have a huge battle on their hands daily fighting misogyny and sexual harassment”. A number of women rights activists and students I spoke with seemed disillusioned with the gender equality efforts on part of the stakeholders which they thought were mere tick box exercises. They bemoaned Pakistani government’s lack of commitment for real, authentic gender equality. Many, who were critical of the government’s lack of will, believed that in order to elevate women’s status successive governments made some cosmetic efforts mainly to please the international community. To prove their point they drew my attention to the fact that Pakistan ranked second last in the global gender equality survey last year. Therefore they are right in saying that no meaningful measures are being taken by the government and other stakeholders to make gender equality a reality in Pakistan. Despite all the doom and gloom, many women and some men are tirelessly working towards creating a gender equal society. Their belief in a positive change gave me further strength to carry on with my radio campaign. So I continue to speak up because as I said before speaking up about harassment is the first step to stopping it. So let’s speak and the more the merrier!