A few days ago vlogger/journalist Cynthia D Richie made some grave allegations. Was I shocked to hear these? Yes and No!
Yes, because she dared to say what probably many women in Pakistan want to say and no, because what she said is so prevalent in our society that it is believable.
In Pakistan making such allegations openly is not easy even if you are an American woman. This lady has been brave and its an opportunity for the Women’s Rights activists and organizations to do something concrete about this issue. No Pakistani lady would have dared to do this in public for the fear of family shaming and threats of Hadood ordinance.
We know the topic of sex is a taboo subject in Pakistan. Women often refrain from reporting their experience of rape or sexual harassment. A study carried out by Human Rights Watch says, there is a rape once every two hours and a gang rape every hour in Pakistan. Women's studies Professor Shahla Haeri reported that rape in Pakistan is “often institutionalized and has at times the explicit approval of the state". Also reported by Women's Action Forum that up to 72% of women in custody in Pakistan are physically or sexually abused. At times when cases come up before inquiry committees which don’t function to protect and serve.
We have many laws in addition to the constitution of Pakistan section 8 to 28 deals with the fundamental rights of citizens which refer to equal opportunities in all facets without any discrimination, ethnic diversity, and gender. Laws such as “Women Protection Bill” (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act 2006 was passed and later Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill 2009 was signed. All these pro-women laws grant and protect women's rights theoretically not practically.
The situation of women in Pakistan is lamentable because of non-implementation of pro-women legislation. Unfortunately, sexual harassment and exploitation of women members, co-workers, particularly of junior members still exists in every segment of our society including political parties. Women politicians are vulnerable and it is a daily battle for them. Cases of sexual harassment are serious issues faced by women across parties and they need to be addressed. Even senior women members seemed to have toed their party line for their own personal interests.
With these changing times and the growing impact of social media that has given freedom of expression to many, people have access to such incidents in no time. Its not just about Cynthia's case or Chamba house mystery, which is still a mystery of 2016, its about all the women of Pakistan. Sexual harassment is a serious issue and it needs swift action plan from our government.
“Small men in big offices would never be able to undo the cracks Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto made in the walls of patriarchy. Every woman now knows that she too can be Benazir and Pakistani women would not be cowed by intimidation and threats from “agents of patriarchy and misogyny”. This is the quote of Mr. Bilawal Zardari, Chairman of the party embroiled in this scandal. Lets see if his actions match his words?
Since Pakistan was elected to the Human Rights Council in 2017, it has generally failed to take a strong stance on serious human rights situations. Now we expect this situation to change as we have big expectations from Tehreek-e-Insaf’s government and Prime Minister Imran Khan, because he is a strong supporter of Human rights, women’s empowerment and women participation in the development of Pakistan.
If we brush Cynthia’s allegations under the carpet; many women who play a key role in our country’s educational institutions, banks, multinationals, armed forces, development sector, the health sector, political parties and many other areas, will be discouraged. Pakistan will lose women’s support and participation in future. My only request from the government which came in power on the premise of “Justice” is to properly investigate Cynthia’s case and set an example for Pakistan’s future. Pakistan’s progress and image is at stake!
Thank you all.