A session titled ‘#MeToo – Victim or Fighter?’ was held on the second day of Afkar-e-Taza ThinkFest at Alhamra Arts Council on Sunday. Speakers included UN Women Country Representative of Jamshed Kazi, news anchor Maarvia Malik and Shaista Aziz from the Labour Party. The panel was moderated by Aisha Sarwari from the Women Advancement Hub.
Opening the debate, Aisha Sarwari stated that when the facts were scrutinised, very few victims of #MeToo were found to be lying. Adding to the thought, Maarvia Malik said the situations and challenges faced by the transgender community were worse than those faced by women.
Speaking from personal experience, she recounted a conversation where a man asked her about the exact moment when she came to know that she was a transgender person. In response to his query, she asked him exactly how and when he came to know that he was a male.
She questioned why men do not choose to dress up as a woman and go and stand in markets. She highlighted that the society naturally rewards males instead of females.
Speaking about the perpetrators of sexual harassment, Shaista Aziz stated that power lies at the heart of the #MeToo movement. There exists a perception that women living in the West do not face sexual harassment. But many have come forward to highlight how their rights have been infringed upon.
Speaking about Meesha Shafi and Ali Zafar, Sarwari pointed out that the former hails from a privileged background while the latter is a self-made man. If Shafi’s allegations were questioned then who will believe victims from less privileged background, she mused.
On the other hand, Jamshed Kazi stated that the #MeToo movement was here to stay. He maintained that if you harass women, there is not solidarity. The whole issue revolves around power dynamics, he said.
Sarwari added that speaking up had detrimental effects on Shafi’s career. There is a need to judge the effects of speaking up against sexual harassment on minority groups, she said. Meanwhile, Malik stated that the case had been deliberately highlighted and Shafi has since removed herself from the public eye.
She maintained that people were quick to judge in today’s society. When a transgender person goes to work, they are routinely harassed but they are forced to laugh it off. People never bother to look at the reason why they have to react in this manner, she said.
Sarwari said there was not a single woman in society who has not experienced being stared at. Harassment is so rampant in our society, she said. Aziz recounted an incident where a man screamed at her to ‘go back to where she belongs’ because she chose to wear a Hijab. He also tried to physically assault me, she said.
Malik added that many cases of sexual harassment are buried because they are thought to bring shame upon the victim and their family. The Zainab murder case was highlighted and splashed across every headline. However, so many girls suffer the same fate as Zainab on a daily basis and these cases go unreported, she concluded.