ISLAMABAD: The day she went to get her identity card at NADRA, Anila Ansari found herself doing more than sitting for a camera to get photographed. She felt she was the focus of a thousand stares. And when she finally snapped at the man who had accompanied her to the counter where she paid the fee for the card, it was not just out of unease at being ogled by men at NADRA, but from a frustration borne out of many such experiences before.
“It felt more than ogling; it felt like he would start drooling any minute now,” says Anila Ansari, who works as a programme manager at Power 99, the Islamabad based FM radio. “The man turned red in the face when I asked him why he was staring at me like that. I asked him if I was someone with horns on my head.”
Of late, Anila Ansari has been scolding men a lot: Youth standing in a queue at the Hardees where she had taken out her nephew, at the guard sat outside Standard Chartered where she went to open an account and those in the bazaar. “It appears I can’t go out without rebuking someone for staring at me. It makes me very uncomfortable but I cannot stand being ogled at. It makes me feel like I am not a woman but a spectacle.”
Anila Ansari, who has returned to Pakistan after 20 years in UK, says she was so upset by the rampant habit among men to ogle women that she decided to take up the issue on the radio show she does for Power 99. She talked to her colleagues at the radio station where mostly young women do programming and news and they all expressed dismay at the practice but had grown resigned to it, as most Pakistani women do.
The programme was hugely popular among listeners who called to comment on the subject. However it was the opinion of most male callers, as opposed to women who voiced discomfort with the practice of ogling,that got her thinking deeply about the subject.
““Men called to blame it all on women,” says Ms Ansari. “They said women deserved what they got for turning up all made up in public spaces and for sashaying around like models. I realized that the issue was more deep-rooted than what a radio programme could address – it called for a behavior change campaign.”
Ms Ansari proposed that Power 99 launches an anti-ogling campaign to highlight this serious problem in the Pakistani society as not only it amounts to invasion of a woman’s personal space, it makes her feel uncomfortable and insecure too. She formed a campaign team who were tasked with developing campaign slogans and logos. The campaign team is aware of the sad reality that a lot of people brush the issue of female harassment off by claiming there are more pertinent issues in Pakistan such as terrorism, unemployment, health etc to deal with. Through this campaign they want to ask the society, is the marginalization of half of our population not a serious enough issue?
Ms Ansari says she knows attitudinal change can be a painfully slow process however it’s not impossible. Talking about the objectives of the campaign she says “Our campaign will allow us to bring this issue in the mainstream and get people acknowledge how serious an issue ogling is and how it impacts on a woman’s mental health and well-being as well as her employment and academic opportunities. It will allow us to expose the under reported stories of female harassment and help us tackle the roving eye syndrome. Our campaign will create a public discourse about the issue of ogling, encouraging people to acknowledge that ogling is an unacceptable behavior”.
“As female journalists, we often find ourselves in situations where male ogling and harassment can be a huge obstacle in performing our duties effectively .Therefore we understand the everyday struggles of women in Pakistan who have to face this unacceptable male behavior in public places, educational institutions and work places”.
The campaign has the full support and commitment of Power 99’s CEO, Mr Najib Ahmed. Power 99 takes harassment of women seriously and is one the first institutions to sign the AYSHA code of ethics. Sharing his views about the anti-ogling campaign, Mr Ahmed said “Without the participation of women we cannot produce balanced content for our listeners. For the last 10 years our organization has ensured its work force reflects gender balance. At the moment our female staff outnumber the male staff. And if you ask me the reason I would say it is very simple: they are more committed and responsible provided they are given a safe environment to work. Ogling is a big curse in our society; it can only be cured if the Pakistani print, broadcast and electronic media realize this and make concerted efforts to bring a positive change by addressing these harmful behaviors. Ensuring our women feel safe in the work place, public places and educational institutions will benefit the whole society. Our country will join the list of developed nations and mentally balanced societies”.