Despite being democratic & free, we avoid discussing deep-rooted hollowing issues

By Farhad Malik

Harassment covers a wide range of offensive or unwanted behavior in order to make another person uncomfortable. Most often women are the victims of harassment and the offenders are male. Harassment is a form of illegal and discrimination and all the human rights laws prohibit this act but ratio of the harassment is continuously increasing although laws are present in our society.

There are many factors of harassment which vary from situation to situation. The most significant factors are our culture, values and the relative power and status of the men and women in our society. The way women and men are brought up in our society influences their behavior. Women usually lack the confidence because since childhood their behavior is customized to suffer, stay silent and make compromises. On the other hand, men are brought up exactly opposite to women. Such patriarchal view creates an atmosphere that allows men the freedom of sexual harassment in the workplace.

In recent years, social and political changes have brought the power game. Advancement of women in career, their independence at work threatened the men. So in the tough times, men try to insist on sexual favors in exchange for benefits he can give out due to his position.

Harassment is a worldwide growing problem in every sector whether its government sector, the private sector, schools or institutes. Harassment hinders with people’s educational path and career and productivity. The effects of harassment can be physical, emotional, and psychological. Harassment at a workplace is deepening its roots which cause adverse effects to the growth of the economy which leads to lower morale and low productivity, increase in absenteeism and employee turnover that cost a lot to any organization.

Our society is complex. We claim to be democratic and free; however, we never talk about myriad deep-rooted issues that have injured our society. We declare to be an Islamic state, then why our women feel safer in Europe and America than this Islamic Islam who claims to give women rights. Our state and people are diplomatic actually, we fight for Aafia Siddiqui who had been tortured and assaulted by American soldiers, but we forget the countless of our Aafias who are assaulted, murdered in the name of honor, sexually harassed, tortured, raped and harassed daily within our beloved country. Many of our women kept themselves quiet over this injustice because they do not want to embarrass their families or to become the gossip of the town in doing so they don’t help to stop the harassment. A few months ago, Human Rights regulator reported that 68% women are sexually harassed in Pakistan. If we look at the definition of sexual harassment, you would surely find those behaviors and gestures that are quite familiar in our society. In fact, constant staring, deliberately touching someone’s body, making sexually explicit comments, are all so common that many of us now don’t consider that harassment. Now we consider it daily routine matter.

Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination. Men may be subjected to harassment but a majority of the victims are women. In addition to the growing awareness about the adverse impact of sexual harassment, there have been increasing efforts are taking place around the world to break the silence and also taking proactive steps in addressing it. Many sexually harassed persons put up with damaging physical and psychological effects because taking action can be frightening especially in the environment that does not provide practical and moral support. Most sufferers are ashamed and embarrassed and worry that they will be labeled as characterless women or otherwise a mistaken behavior and therefore women prefer to keep quiet about it.

Unfortunately, our society is a male dominated society. A working woman finds herself being harassed by its male colleagues in different ways such as staring, trying to touch her in a way that it doesn’t look awkward, standing too close to them, making them uncomfortable or just make her life miserable in order to show the power of being male. Whether a woman is working in a media channel or in a newspaper, a multinational organization, a fashion industry or in a university as a teacher or a student, women are usually the topic of their jokes. The problem is innate and nearly every third man in our country considers it a form of recreation instead of crime. In fact, when a victim who is most often a woman does speak out against the unwelcome behavior, the focus falls on her demeanor, her appearance and how she carried herself rather than on the assailant, and his shameless behavior. There are many causes but the most common fact is that male colleagues see their female counterpart is working because she is needy and needs money for her family and don’t accept them as their competitor. That’s a misconception because women not only have been stealing the top positions from men in almost every field, but they have also been found more stable under pressure and hardworking than men who tend to lose temperament when pressurized. They take female perspective to matters which give an added advantage to the employers and making the environment more competitive.

So why doesn’t anyone put an end to this menace? Harassment is an entrenched issue in the Pakistan that needs continuous attention and demands secrecy. Although legal and institutional systems are present but implementing the laws is still remains a challenge in our country. It will take more effort than just passing a law to save the women because until the necessary steps are not taken, women will continue to feel unsafe in our male-dominated society.

The incident of the Karachi-based Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) doctor who was reportedly fired/suspended after sending filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s sister a Facebook friend request has ignited our very own mini Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Ever since Chinoy tweeted about the incident on Oct 23, people have been debating whether the doctor should have faced such action, whether Chinoy abused her star power in order to protect her sister, and whether what he did genuinely constitutes sexual harassment.

People may claim that a Facebook friend request is an innocent attempt at social connection, but an emergency room doctor has no business sending a Facebook friend request to a woman he’s treated in the ER.

Not only does this violate medical ethics and codes of conduct, but it violates the patient’s personal information and goes against the recommendations of many medical boards on social media and doctors. The British Medical Association, for example, states very clearly that doctors should not be Facebook friends with their patients.

Strangely, while discussing this on Twitter and Facebook with friends and colleagues, I encountered dozens of men and women defending the doctor, insisting that what he did was not harassment and that Chinoy was defaming the country by having spoken out about the doctor’s misconduct.

Even after it emerged that he was under warning from the administration for previous episodes of misconduct and that AKUH had come to its own decision about firing/suspending him, these men and women continued to defend the doctor and slur Chinoy and her family.

But this kind of defensive behavior is no surprise to anyone; People who defend harassing behavior do so because they have engaged in such behavior themselves. Or they defend individuals accused of this behavior because they believe them to be generally ‘good people’. Or, as a rule, they just don’t believe women.