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October 22, 2019
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Pakistan South Asia

6 reasons why #MeToo is gaining ground in Pakistan

In a taboo-stricken and tradition-bound society like Pakistan, #MeToo is gaining momentum but very slow. Several victims of sexual harassment have come forward to narrate their ordeals. Such cases have emerged from different sectors including education and showbiz across the country while scores of them still remain in the cold storage.

Women, especially those belonging to the lower middle class who work to support their families, prefer to stay quiet for as long as they can bear it, in order to keep their jobs.

Reason 1 – The shockwaves of #MeToo

In neighbouring India, Alisha Chinai, a pop singer had filed a sexual harassment suit against music composer-director Anu Malik back in the 1990s. Anu Malik was asked to step down as one of the judges on Indian Idol 10, since more women are coming out to accuse him of sexual harassment.

The drive #MeToo began gaining momentum in India with the increasing popularity of the international movement. The movement got momentum in October 2018 in the Bollywood when actress Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment and this led to many women in the news media, films and even within the government organisations to speak out and bring allegations of sexual harassment against their colleagues.

Reason 2 – Women’s Right NGOs

Local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have long been working for the right of  women in Pakistan. These NGOs encouraged women to speak for their rights.

Raising voice against harassment at workplace, karo-kari (Sindhi term used for honour killing), vani (a form of arranged child marriage), violence against women has been the main focus of these rights organisations. Through a series of seminars, workshops, protest rallies and walks, these NGOs are indirectly gathering support for the #MeToo movement.

Reason 3 – Meesha Shafi case

In April 2018, famous actress Meesha Shafi accused her fellow colleague Ali Zafar of sexual harassment on multiple occasions. Both had their own supporters who stood by them. The issue created much hype in the media and at this point, people started talking about casting couch in the showbiz industry. The case is under proceeding with the Lahore High Court.

Reason 4 – Sohail Javed vs Jami

Another incident which gave a boost to the #MeToo campaign emerged in the form of the Rs.1 billion defamation suit filed by Sohail Javed, the famed director, against another film director Jami Mahmood.

A heated debate ensued after Jami read out loud a letter written by a 19-year-old artist at Lahooti Melo in 2018. In her letter, the young artist revealed how she met the famous director who then took her to his apartment and later on, raped her. She went on to share the trauma following the assault and how she coped with it.

Reason 5 – Women empowerment policies

The government, from time to time, has been introducing women empowerment policies and laws. Several amendments were also introduced to strengthen laws meant to protect women’s right and allow them to play their due role in the development of the country.

Scores of bills have passed in the federal as well as provincial legislatures on women’s rights in Pakistan. Though these laws and policies still need to be implemented in their true spirit, a weak deterrence has been seen to some extent due to these laws which encouraged women to raise their voice against sexual harassment.

The fight of Mukhtara Mai after Jirga’s ‘verdict’ of her gang rape was also seen as a challenge to the writ of the government where a ‘parallel justice system’ enforced its verdict even in the presence of law-enforcement agencies and courts.

Though Pakistan’s women development model is very much a work-in-progress where deep-rooted challenges remain, women from different segments of the society chose to speak about harassment.

In 2018, after a two-year investigation, Professor Sahar Ansari, a famed literary figure, was found guilty of harassing his female colleagues at Karachi University.

The last three decades have witnessed a steadily increasing awareness of the need to empower women through measures to increase social, economic and political equity, and broader access to fundamental human rights,

Reason 6 – Protection against Harassment of Women in the Workplace Act 2010

The objective of this Act, as defined by the Punjab Commission on the Status, is to create a safe working environment for women, which is free from harassment, abuse and intimidation. The Act also focuses to facilitate women’s right to work with dignity. The law is not only restricted to workplaces, but it is also applicable to all public spheres.

The punishments under the Act range from censure, stopping promotion, compulsory retirement, removal, dismissal from service and fine payable to the complainant.

The Act also provides for the appointment of an Ombudsman, both at the federal and provincial level to address the appeals filed by a victim of harassment at the workplace. The victim has also been given the opportunity to file an appeal to the President or the Governor if dissatisfied by the decision of the Ombudsman.

Protection Against Harassment of Women in the Workplace Act gave female employees confidence that their pleas and complaints would be taken seriously they would be provided justice.

If you have experienced sexual harassment at your workplace, please write to us at [email protected].