The reality of harassment

Published: August 7, 2017
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Ayesha Gulalai: SCREEN GRAB

Ayesha Gulalai: SCREEN GRAB

Ayesha Gulalai: SCREEN GRAB The writer is a doctoral candidate at Indiana University and has worked as an associate subeditor for The Express Tribune. She can be contacted at mwaqar@umail.iu.edu

A long time ago, a colleague of mine made a disturbing revelation to me. Her academic adviser had sexually harassed her. She told me the sordid details, how he had walked up behind her and grabbed her forcefully. Shocked and embarrassed, she had squirmed to loosen his grip. But she was gentle in her rejection. In fact, she felt compelled to continue talking to him to avoid any awkwardness. The incident had left her distraught. He was, after all, the man who had recommended her for a scholarship and was critical to her academic success. She wondered what the cost of retaliation would be. Eventually, she filed a formal complaint and was able to get rid of her adviser. But it wasn’t an easy process because she had no incriminating proof.

Real-life stories of harassment at the workplace lack stockpiles of evidence and knee-jerk reactions. They are not as simple as getting pinched in a bazaar, and having the option of slapping the offender and moving on. The power differential between the harasser and the victim complicates things, and makes the business of harassment more insidious. But this point is lost on the Twitteratis and news anchors that have demanded that MNA Ayesha Gulalai furnish proof to substantiate her allegations of harassment against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) chairman Imran Khan, and explain why she did not quit her party immediately after the supposed incident.

The timing of Ayesha Gulalai’s accusations suggests that harassment — if indeed she did face any — is not the proximate factor determining her decision to leave the PTI. This does not, however, mean that her claims are implausible. In a society where men constantly make unwarranted passes at women, is it really so outrageous to believe that some woman may have received inappropriate texts from colleagues? In recent weeks, we have heard politicians spew all sorts of contentious claims and allegations — one politician thinks that Panama Papers scandal is an international conspiracy! But amid this clutter of outrageous statements, why is it that a woman’s claim about being harassed seemed to have angered people the most?

Women’s participation in parliamentary politics has been marred by incidents of sexism and misogyny. So is it really so preposterous to entertain the likelihood that women are mistreated in political parties? In fact, the institutional mechanism through which most women make it to parliament has the potential to make women susceptible to mistreatment. During my conversations with women parliamentarians for my dissertation on women’s participation in legislative politics, the issue of respect came up repeatedly.

Many of them felt like they were seen as second-class citizens in parliament because they were not directly elected. Some were of the view that reserved seats were viewed as largesse distributed by parties, and their recipients were expected to be beholden to party leaders. Several respondents believed that personal rapport with leaders and goodwill of party seniors are critical for reselection on reserved seats. One can imagine how these dynamics might disadvantage women as political players, and also have the potential to make women without male relatives in politics vulnerable to mistreatment.

The PTI members have been quick to refute Ayesha Gulalai’s claims. However, any such rebuttal must also responsibly address the reality of harassment of women in Pakistan because this episode will determine how women in the public eye report harassment in the future.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2017.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Irfan_Sydney
    Aug 7, 2017 - 10:38AM

    Thanks for updating our people about sexual harassment. It really bothers me when educated anchors male and female accused the victim saying that why she waited for 4 years, why she continued to meet him. One of the anchor was saying, “since there was no anger in her attitude means she is not telling the truth etc. Out media doesn’t even know that in the west a sexual accusation file can be opened not 4 but even after 40 years. There are a number of cases in the west where it has happened. Recommend

  • Zubair
    Aug 7, 2017 - 11:14AM

    In this case, she claims she has incriminating evidence (SMS) available with her. It is also strange she is not interesting in taking the matter to the court herself despite having solid proof (it is solid if she can present them in black and white with forensic support) available on her mobile phone. With all this, she is weakening the case not for herself but other genuine victims of harassment. Recommend

  • fahim
    Aug 7, 2017 - 11:18AM

    Do you know that you can send message from any number without using original mobile owner sim ?Recommend

  • SHAFI SHAIKH
    Aug 7, 2017 - 11:34AM

    OUR BELOVED CAPTAIN LOVES TO AVOID PARLIAMENT BY TERMING THAT ALL THUGS ARE SITTING THERE THOUGH HE HIMSELF IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE SAME, HE AVOIDS COURTS OF JUSTICE TOO IF HE HAS TO APPEAR IN HIS OWN CASES. IT IS A BIG YES IF HE HAS TO APPEAR IN HIS OPPONENT’S CASES. THIS IS HIS USUAL BEHAVIOR, NOW IT IS THE TURN OF IN-HOUSE PARLIMENTARY COMMITTEE TO PROBE THE CHARGES OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT LEVELED AGAINST HIM BY AYESH GULAALI. HE HATES TO PRACTISE WHAT HE PREACHES.Recommend

  • Farasat
    Aug 7, 2017 - 12:29PM

    @fahim:
    The App can send one way messages only and not a conversation. The replied message will be received by the real owner of the sim and not the fraudster (who sent the message via app
    ).
    She is claiming to have a conversation and not just a single one-way message. No disinformation please.Recommend

  • pervaiz.
    Aug 7, 2017 - 12:56PM

    @fahim:
    you may be right, but why IK is hesitating for his cell phone fransic audit if he never sent these type message to Ayesh Gull Lai. Easy step to finish this drama by cell phone audit.Recommend

  • Irfan_Sydney
    Aug 7, 2017 - 1:02PM

    @fahim:
    How do you know that ? Are you a member of PTI ? Recommend

  • Proud Pakistani
    Aug 7, 2017 - 2:05PM

    It is a very sensitive matter for a woman to blow whistle against her harasser. Ayesha Gullalai has taken a bold step, which is a source of strength for young women in Pakistan. But the way the media brigade of Banigala has reacted shows their sick mindset.

    While Imran Khan has never denied sending her obscene messages, his courtiers have slandered the sister of Ayesha Gulalali and one of the courtiers, Naeem-ul-Haque, confessed in his past-midnight tweet at 3:17AM that “there is nothing wrong in proposing”, not to mention that other courtiers including former bureaucrat Shafqat Mehmood have subsequently claimed that the account was “hacked”. Mysteriously that tweet has been deleted and the login record on Twiteratti shows that all the tweets sent were from the same IP address. Hence it is not possible to dodge the public.

    Imran Khan rushed to his Pir “Pinki Bibi” to solicit her advice and skipped the election for Prime Minister and failed to cast vote to his own nominee.

    PTI’s old women appearing on TV with former wife of Hamza Sharif is another indication that these people can stoop so low.

    These old men, including Imran Khan Niazi & Naeem-ul-Haque are living in Banigala Palace without wives and therefore have their greedy eyes on the young women aspiring political career.Recommend

  • Saad Khan
    Aug 7, 2017 - 2:18PM

    @Fahim

    Either you are stupid or either you are totally stupid. You should first learn ABC’s of how the sms is routed and how it is not possible to hold conversations. You can fake a number for one-way text but you cannot receive the response because you are not registered on HLR (Home location register). So technically you cannot hold a conversation. Stop spreading fake informatio bro !!!Recommend

  • azmat
    Aug 7, 2017 - 3:45PM

    @pervaiz.:
    IK is not hesitant . rather, he has welcomed it but the others that he is accusing of conspiring and maligning him should also be willing to have their phones checked to investigate the matter completely. If the forensic experts find that the messages were genuine IK’s politics will be over.But at the same time, the champions of morality should put some pressure on the Governor KP. Ameer Muqam, Aysha Gulalai , her father and Mir Shakeel to surrender their phones as well so that the story can be unearthed completely. The author unfortunately has conveniently not touched on the other side of the argument- what if what IK is claiming is right? Will she recommend a jail sentence for Gulalai and the rest of the characters involved for maligning him. Or she thinks that only women have a right to dignity Recommend

  • fahim
    Aug 7, 2017 - 4:10PM

    Dear all, it was just an information that sms can be sent from any number specially about ganday sms and if they were sent and conversed bidirectionally ? Or ganday sms were unidirectional ?Recommend

  • Irfan_Sydney
    Aug 7, 2017 - 4:19PM

    @Farasat:
    good argument, didn’t think about it. PTI supporters have been writing in social media that it was an app that must have been used. Your argument killed their lies. Recommend

  • Siddiqui
    Aug 7, 2017 - 8:58PM

    A forensic audit of IK’s blackberry will reveal many other names of ladies therefore he will not agree to hand over his cell to authorities.Recommend

  • Parvez
    Aug 7, 2017 - 10:34PM

    What has discredited Ayesha Gulalai is her choice of timing…..if she had gone public a year ag, no one would have doubted her. Now, at this time, her accusation appear extremely self serving. Recommend

  • Afzaal Ansari
    Aug 9, 2017 - 9:24AM

    Usually, the victims of sexual harassment become distraught and have not raised their voice vociferously against the harasser. This disease has engulfed the whole society including politics. Besides the aspersion, the victims have to furnish the solid stockpile evidence for proper punishment. Recommend

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