Eve teasing: The power game

Published: July 8, 2013

Despite the jocular connotations the term carries, eve-teasing is a serious issue.

Our chivalrous Pakistani bhais would have us believe that they are too shareef to be guilty of sexual misconduct, but the Pakistani behns would beg to differ.

Take an average trip to the bazaar. The smooching sound, the brush past, and the outright poking are complemented by a high dose of gawking. While the rest of the world calls it sexual harassment, in our ‘virtuous’ part of the world it is euphemistically referred to as ‘eve-teasing’. This term stands for public or sexual harassment on the street that encompasses any act or words by which a man makes a woman feel uncomfortable and anxious.

There is considerable overlap between sexual harassment and eve-teasing, with the main difference lying in the intensity of the acts, eve-teasing being milder. While sexual harassment can be preceded by a history of interaction and usually involves a known target, eve-teasers zone in on their target on the spot and look for random opportunities. In a majority, but not all cases, sexual harassment tends to take place in closed spaces and the identity of the culprit is usually known; eve-teasing is generally experienced outdoors, usually in the marketplace or on the streets, and the teaser is an unknown male. In sexual harassment the harasser usually takes advantage of a higher rank, powerful position or physical strength. On the other hand, eve-teasing is almost a recreational activity. It is ‘fun’ for the boys. It is a difficult crime to prove and the eve-teaser takes advantage of his gender. Finally, in sexual harassment, the harasser and the victim tend to have an established contact, for example boss and employee, uncle and niece, whereas in eve-teasing, it is often their first and only encounter.

You know you’re being eve-teased when you hear those wolf whistles behind you when you go out shopping or are jabbed while getting on a bus. There are hundreds of ways to do it: whistling, ogling, making kissing sounds, sexist and sexual comments, vulgar gestures, stalking, inappropriate touching. In extreme cases, there can be outright flashing, assault or extremely inappropriate acts in public.

The target can be any age and of any social background, as can be the culprit.

Given the short time span in which it can be experienced, eve-teasing is not taken as seriously as it should by women. Actually, it has far-reaching consequences. After all, something that has been labeled ‘little rape’ by certain feminist writers cannot be mere pestering. In Bangladesh, the non-profit organisation The Hunger Project found that eve-teasing not only harms women, it actually has a negative effect on human and social development. According to their findings, eve-teased girls often drop out of school to avoid their tormentors, and because parents fear for their ‘honour’. These girls are then forced into early marriages, which has a deep impact on maternal nutrition and health. These girls become mothers at a younger age and give birth to babies with lower birth weights. So, this form of harassment contributes to maintaining the low status of women. In the book Sexual Harassment: Contemporary Feminist Perspectives, Barbara Bagilhole, who has researched and published extensively on gender, diversity and equal opportunities, says that eve-teasing in India reflects a gender bias in society, proving that males are dominant while females are helpless. In eve-teasing, a man, knowing that he is stronger than the opposite sex, uses his power to bully women. It is a power game in which the man is the predator and the woman is preyed upon. Perhaps the most alarming thing about eve-teasing is that it is the first rung on the ladder of sex crimes.

An eve-teased female feels weak and frustrated and may experience depression and low self-esteem. Being harassed on the streets can prompt her to withdraw or become constantly anxious. Dozens of girls have committed suicide in India and Bangladesh on account of eve-teasing. These findings were corroborated by the telecommunications company in Pakistan when it asked a research firm to explore the common problems faced by Pakistani youth, which were then addressed in its ad campaigns. The company discovered that eve-teasing was the most serious and widespread issue faced by young women in Pakistan and that it hinders their chances of progress by limiting them to their homes.

At the same time, the seriousness of the issue is downplayed by the ‘playful’ connotations associated with the term ‘eve-teasing’. By referring to the victim as ‘Eve’, it is almost as if women were temptresses bent on inciting innocent men into improper conduct. This appears to be a chronic problem in harassment cases — the victim is often made out to be culpable. When I started talking to women — and men — about eve-teasing, I found that women change their attire in response to being harassed. However, despite the generally modest attire that is observed on the streets, there doesn’t appear to be any decline in harassment. “Any woman who reports harassment always mentions what she was wearing,” says Ambreen Ajaib, who is a psychologist at the NGO Bedari. Bedari handles the issue of sexual harassment but only about 50 to 70 women contact them per year.

In Pakistan, no proper research studies have been carried out on this topic. It is hard to even estimate figures for sexual harassment cases. “It’s difficult to get exact figures because few women have access to us and because many women believe that the fault lies with them — that a woman normally lures the man and that if she is dressed a certain way she will be harassed,” says Ajaib.

In India, organisations such as the Blank Noise Project, an anti-street-harassment initiative, and anti-eve-teasing laws in Bangladesh are successfully playing their part in curbing this menace. An ‘Anti Eve Teasing Day’ is celebrated in Bangladesh every year to highlight the issue. In Pakistan, there’s a ‘Protection against Harassment at the Workplace Act 2009’ and Dr Fouzia Saeed, a founding member of the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (Aasha), is hopeful that this law will help fight sexual harassment.

Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, July 7th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • huzaifa
    Jul 8, 2013 - 6:02PM

    tehniya@
    There are very few who will try to find out points of interest in modestly covered women, still some are there i agree with you. The point is that if some behnn is scantly clad then what she wants to show off, the people will see. some are silent admirers and some get out of line which is bad but again that show off is not supported by either our culture nor our religion. This is what some of our behnns don’t want to listen nor understand.
    It has become a trend that certain enlightened classes don’t want to listen to above remarks and in west these are branded anti- women. Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Jul 8, 2013 - 6:34PM

    The US president who was a Rhodes scholar to Oxford university, married, with kids, above 50 had an affair with an internee. This my friends is known as slavery of your desires. A thing which education cannot solve. What can solve this? Islam.

    Only if Islam is followed and IMPLEMENTED . The social norms of Islam followed, will this and all the other flaws be corrected. But who would listen?

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  • B.Kumar
    Jul 8, 2013 - 6:36PM

    In India its worse. Too many rapes. Young girls and tourists not safe any more.

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  • Stranger
    Jul 8, 2013 - 7:27PM

    The worse part is that eve teasing is a slow consistent way of victimizing . Regular group of boys go after regular familiar group of girls each single day at regular places like colleges etc., Even to this day when I go and visit my college campus and near by areas I shudder thinking of what happened to me some decades back.

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  • Mj
    Jul 8, 2013 - 7:56PM

    @huzaifa:

    In Egypt, the women wearing niqab get harrassed the most. So the argument that supposedly ‘modest’ dress will reduce or prevent harrassment is wrong.

    Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19440656

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  • Mj
    Jul 8, 2013 - 7:58PM

    @Ahmed:

    “Only if Islam is followed and IMPLEMENTED . The social norms of Islam followed, will this and all the other flaws be corrected. But who would listen?”

    You should see how women are treated in Saudi Arabia when they go out in public.

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  • S
    Jul 8, 2013 - 8:01PM

    Well it is an issue. It is absolutely unIslamic and should be dealt severely.

    Having said that, does not mean, women should not be dressed modestly (not that men should avoid punishment because of that).

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  • Mystic
    Jul 8, 2013 - 8:28PM

    What guys do in markets and streets is terrible … terrible terrible terrible. Really wonder if they ever imagine their own sister being treated like that.

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  • Shahryar
    Jul 8, 2013 - 8:45PM

    @Ahmed – Alright then, lets all lock the women indoors, IMPLEMENT Islam but not look within ourself.. Its a shame for me to know, me and you share same belief, probably hold same passport and speak the same language!

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  • Mj
    Jul 8, 2013 - 9:15PM

    @ET mods:

    The censorship of non-conservative opinions is becoming unbearable.

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  • Parvez
    Jul 9, 2013 - 12:33AM

    This was good, I liked the way you differentiated between sexual harassment and eve-teasing.
    What boggles the mind is when comments drag religion into stuff like this as an answer and that to applied to women………….the men go free.

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  • Shah
    Jul 9, 2013 - 1:17AM

    What about those Handsome/sexy looking guys who get sexually harassed by women ? I am a good looking guy and often get hit by these stupid girls .. we all know you girls are not shareef either. :)

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  • sana
    Jul 9, 2013 - 1:23AM

    Oh what did u remind me of? The whistles, the gawks, the MAASHHAAA-ALLAAAHHH!!
    The conductor on a public bus pressing his bottom against your knee and the brushing against the back in public. The random finger that comes frm under the seat on a public bus and oh yes, the moving of the male genitals. Its all part of the game. PATHETIC!

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  • Parvez
    Jul 11, 2013 - 11:02PM

    This comment has nothing to do with this article but whats happened to Hiba Masood ? She used to write delightful articles on children, family and life in general with a style that was not only fun to read but worth reading as well………ET get her back on your site, she was very good.

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  • SH
    Jul 13, 2013 - 4:55PM

    i say if we would have followed islam in its truest form (which unfortunately none of us do) then none of this would happen.
    Islam doesn’t only tells women to dress modestly and cover their faces but it also tells men to lower their gaze, deny evil thoughts constantly, to remember God and ask for his forgiveness. it forbids men and women both from following evil and doing evil. Remember that HADITH stated as; “A perfect Muslim is one from whose tongue and hands mankind is safe, and a true emigrant [muhajir] is one who flees from what God has forbidden”. so clearly if muslim men have been following their religion none of this would happen. as for men around the world, tell me which code of ethics religious or moral tells to humiliate and harass women? i am sorry but men like those have degraded themselves from human kind.

    Islam is a complete code of life for the mankind! there is just so much more to it then we know.

    @shahryar app jaisey parhay likhay loug aisi baatein karen gy tou baqiyon ka kya hoga? seriously man when does islam tells women to be confined in their homes? muslim women have fought in the battles and have rendered their services for islam. i would appreciate it if you would first thoroughly research on the matter and then share. afsos hai wese ye halaat deykh ky. yaani apny he religion ky baarey main itni negativity? waow quite an impression you are creating!!!
    @mj then again they only follow what they want to follow. surely you don’t think islam has permitted this?

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  • SHAGY
    Jul 14, 2013 - 12:05PM

    Great Article Tehniya! A topic which every female can relate to and every male is in denial of…..cause every male in our society is a culprit and every female is a victim regardless of the fact whether she dresses up modestly or not…I have even heard guys saying that the women want this attention that is why they dress up as what they consider immodest! But I wonder why only Asian Men do this…I have been to other countries, even Africa…this doesn’t happen anywhere else…and even if it does its by our Asian men!

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