Eyes of judgment

Harassment can be direct, aimed at individuals, or ambient, creating a ubiquitous atmosphere


Saira Samo March 18, 2024
The writer is an educationist based in Larkana. She can be reached at sairasamo88@gmail.com

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In our conservative society entrenched in a patriarchal mindset, women endure a miserable existence. When they contribute to the socio-economic sector, intrusive gazes from head to toe create an uncomfortable atmosphere, victimising them at every stage. This offensive scrutiny, from leaving home to going to work, discourages them from working freely.

The lack of security and protection in the face of unwanted stares leads to moral degradation and a loss of self-confidence, hampering their contribution to societal improvement. This ‘taboo glance’ mirrors the rigidity of our society, creating barriers for women.

It is crucial to create a viable environment where women can thrive and contribute without the burden of judgmental gazes.

Not only the government, but also a good civil society must actively discourage individuals with judgmental attitudes, creating moral and ethical barriers for women in the socio-political sector.

Numerous examples from European countries demonstrate a different reality where women confidently participate in all spheres of life without facing intrusive gazes. In these nations, women are not scrutinised from head to toe when heading to work, whether accompanied by a male companion or alone.

Civilised societies prioritise respecting personal boundaries, and individuals mind their own business, avoiding trivial scrutiny of women. For a viable environment, our government needs to play a proactive role in discouraging such judgmental behaviour, ensuring that women can contribute to the socio-political sector without unnecessary scrutiny and moral barriers, promoting a more progressive and equitable society.

With women constituting 49% of Pakistan’s population, they merely account for 24% of the labour force, emphasising a significant gender disparity. According to ILO data, the Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) for men stands at 82.5%, surpassing that for women by more than three times, placing Pakistan among countries with the world’s highest gender gap in LFPR, comparable to Arab states and North African nations.

Even when women express a desire to enter the labour force, employment opportunities remain elusive, accentuating the conspicuous gender gap in the unemployment rate. Male unemployment is 5%, while female unemployment is notably higher at 9%.

In urban areas, the gender gap widens further, with the female unemployment rate skyrocketing to 20%, in contrast to the lower 6% for males.

This behaviour has a negative impact on women. It is reported that women are often harassed physically to discourage them from working in the social sector. Certain research exists on this undesirable behaviour meted out to women in our society.

Sexual harassment manifests in three forms: gender harassment, involving verbal or nonverbal expressions of hostility, objectification, exclusion, or second-class status; unwanted sexual attention, including unwelcome verbal or physical advances that may escalate to assault; and sexual coercion, tying favorable professional or educational treatment to engagement in sexual activity.

Harassment can be direct, aimed at individuals, or ambient, creating a ubiquitous atmosphere. Most women hold informal sector roles, working as domestic workers, home-based workers, or piece-rate workers in manufacturing.

While policies exist in Punjab and Sindh for domestic and home-based workers, their implementation lacks both in letter and spirit, leaving many women without legal protection in their workplaces. In contrast, the implementation of these policies remains deficient.

The government must ensure strict enforcement of laws safeguarding women’s rights and protection. The inappropriate stares women often face lead to harassment and moral decline. Due to this unacceptable behaviour, parents tend to discourage their daughters from working in the socio-economic sector.

Women find it difficult to work in an environment where they are constantly stared at offensively. This practice is characteristic of an uncivilised society, so it needs moral teaching and education to refrain. If we don’t tackle and change this taboo practice, we won’t be able to progress.

It’s crucial to create a more respectful environment for women to contribute without facing such challenges.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2024
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