The conversation on sexual harassment is finally open. After being caught for sexually harassing a series of women Harvey Weinstein tried to deny all allegations but more and more women kept coming out and sharing their stories. There was massive outcry in favor of the doctor who broke doctor-patient confidentiality and sent a friend request to Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s sister.
In light of recent issues it is important to understand what harassment is and what different types of harassment women tend to face
When it comes to public spaces and streets, women aren’t safe from the non-consensual gaze and touch of men. Why is it okay that women are accustomed to facing and tolerating this invasion of personal and private space?
This is exactly what motivated a study on the issue of street harassment against women in Pakistan. Shafaq Javed is a Sociology student at Forman Christian college and she interviewed 200 women and her research helps us understand the prevalence and severity of the problem.
“I have been alive for 20 years and at least 10 of those I have been harassed by men. My first experience with harassment happened when I just 14 years old. A man on a bike followed me and my mother home and he jerked off right in front of our house. ”
Women from all walks of life are harassed and it gets worse if they try not to get harassed
Shafaq interviewed women in areas like Gilani park, Ichra bazaar, metro stations and liberty market. The women were asked if they had ever been followed home, touched without consent or catcalled. Most of them confessed to having gone through all of some of the above.
According to her findings the more women are afraid of being harassed the more steps they take to avoid it; some wrap chaadars around them, some wear lose clothes, others try to travel in groups or are always accompanied by men and some try to not put on make up.
Almost 12% of the interviewed women have admitted to carrying a mace or a knife with them
Almost every woman mentioned that they’re afraid of being harassed and took one or the other precaution. Women being interviewed shared their personal experiences with Shafaq that show the severity of the problem.
“I went to do my Masters from an all girls school and boys harassed and catcalled me to the extent that I was forced to drop out and get married instead. Now I make my daughters wear the burka so they don’t go through the same thing”, said one.
Older women, above the age of 45 were too jaded to care and felt that there was no point in fearing something that’s bound to happen
Younger women complained about how fed up they are of being constantly afraid or being touch, grazed, stared at and followed whenever they step out of the house but older said they were aware of the gravity of the harassment that can happen.
“Humein har koi cherta hai. Aap ki study buhat achi. Ham tang aagaye hain.”
Even independent working women who drive their own cars tend to face some sort of harassment on the street
Shafaq shared a personal experience which serves as a good example of everyday harassment that men consider to be just good fun.
“Just yesterday I was driving and three men on a bike started following me so I stopped the car next to a police check post and stayed there till they were gone”, said one person.
She also told us about the harassment she faced while doing research on street harassment! The IRONY! Men would come to her and offer to fill her questionnaires when she was only speaking to other women. In Liberty Market a rickshaw driver parked next to me and said, “Aankhein neechi rakho gi tou achi reh jao gi!”
There are ways of deterring this kind of behavior in people by calling it out. However, that often puts the safety of women at risk and hence we as a society need to keep everyone in check.
Harassment is not a joke! It is time that we talked about it, so we see more women around us in public spaces walking without fear.
Cover image via: aboutislam.net