Independence only for men?


While hundreds of people from all walks of life came out of their houses to celebrate the 71st Independence Day of Pakistan, women seemed to be persona non grata in every nook and corner of the country.

A few women came out to vent their frustration on social media, narrating incidents that took place in broad daylight as celebrations were underway.

“I was commuting at noon when a car pulled up next to me at a signal. The boys in it were sitting in the windows. They started hooting and throwing rose petals on my car the moment they saw me inside the vehicle,” complained Maloney Javed.

Another woman Sana Gillani while speaking to Pakistan Today shared her account, adding that the group of harassers happened to be teenage schoolboys from seemingly elite families.

“A group of teenage schoolboys who were in their uniforms kept driving their Landcruiser next to my car as I was commuting in Y-block Defence. They then proceeded to block my way in a bid to tease me. I rolled down my window to ask them what their problem was as I was in the middle of getting daily chores done and already running late. I saw a traffic police warden, stopped my car near them and just as I pointed towards them, the children who were probably driving without a license rolled up all their windows and fled,” she said.

On the same date in 2015, a video showing a man dressed in the country’s national colours, sexually harassing a burqa-clad woman as part of his August 14 celebrations went viral. The abuser attacked the woman sitting on a bike from behind and gyrated against her for as long as he liked, with not a single person on the jam-packed streets coming up to intervene. Why would they? They were free men celebrating their freedom after all. This was a statement of power; the power of their freedom.

The 39-second-long video had sparked short-lived rage on social media. Therefore, soon after the incident, the Sindh police had released a statement on their social media page assuring that the harasser had been caught and put behind bars; however, they mentioned that they could not share his picture as it would become a “security issue for him”.

Without a doubt, there have been more incidents of harassment on August 14 than the ones reported on social media. It is appalling that the abusers happen to be boys and men of all ages, hailing from every socio-economic class. Anyone who went out on our national day would bear witness to the fact that there was no distinction between those from so-called educated backgrounds and those whose vocabulary does not include the word ‘street harassment’.

Even more despicable is the fact that there is widespread acceptability of this pervasive behaviour. Which implies that due to non-action of authorities looking after security on the day and zero debate on the subject, whole families and a large number of women have been forced to ‘be safe rather than sorry’.

“A few of my female friends cancelled plans for the day to avoid any mishap,” added Sana.

The manifestation of street harassment can clearly be seen in the use of and access to public spaces by women. They consistently express how they limit their movements in public spaces in order to avoid being harassed. The ratio of men versus women out on Independence Day is also a clear-cut indicator of this reality.

From what was seen on Independence Day, if given the chance to act like hooligans for more than one day in a year, we can be sure that whistles, x-ray stares, unwanted comments, touching, gyrating and being followed will be actions carried out with similar bravado. Because independence is for men only, isn’t it?



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