KARACHI: What amounts to fun for some men who tease their female colleagues at work in an inappropriate manner, is in fact an ordeal for the women. Journalist Sabine Agha, who battles with this “parasite” every day, says that she takes it as an “untold insult”.
In Agha’s opinion, “At a workplace bosses, supervisors and colleagues [think of] working women as available, a commodity God made for the fulfillment of man’s ‘evil’ desires.”
Thousands of women in Pakistan battle sexual harassment at their workplaces as well as on the streets on a day-to-day basis. NJ, who also faced sexual harassment at her workplace, said that her boss’s advances had become so distasteful that she had to quit her job. “My boss asked me for sexual favours. He started touching me and one day he tried to rape me,” she said.
While NJ decided to stay at home after the incident, Mahin, another victim of sexual harassment, said that while she may change jobs, she will not quit working altogether. “My boss asked me to get in touch with another man who would pay Rs100,000 for every insurance policy I sold. But this man had other plans. He offered me a million rupees for sexual favours,” she said.
Workplaces are not the only areas where women have to deal with sexual harassment. While travelling in buses, RB said that she has had to face taunts from leering men despite being seated in the women’s compartment.
“Men pass indecent remarks at women. They even touch us through the dividing grille. If we complain to the driver, they ask these men to get off the bus. Sometimes men throw the blame [back] on the women themselves,” she said,
Even though the government has passed a law against sexual harassment at workplaces, many women claimed that they knew nothing about it. “I don’t know about any law,” said NJ. “If we go to the police, they too harass us.”
Men should keep in mind that if their sisters, daughters and wives work, they too may face harassment, said Sarem Burney of the Ansar Burney Trust, which was set up to help victimised women. Sexual harassment victims felt that the government should treat the issue in a manner similar to how they treat threats of attack on the country as both “threaten the state by chewing up the country’s economy and keeping its people poor”.
(Names of the women have been changed)
Published in The Express Tribune, November 26th, 2010.