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Women’s Harassment in a Male-Chauvinist Society ‘Woman, thy name is frailty’

Women in a society like ours are especially likely to be blamed for whatever happens to them if they dress up ‘provocatively’ or ‘mix-up easily’ with their male counterparts at their workplaces. Why our society turns indifferent towards this crime is a matter of concern for most sociologists and philanthropists.

In Pakistan, women constitute half of the population but their role in national development does not match their number. This is because they suffer a lot of problems when they step out of their homes. Harassment of women at workplaces is one such problem which becomes a hurdle in their due role in society’s economic and social development. Although the government has taken some measures to provide a safer environment for women to work but our social attitude towards them in our male chauvinist society is the biggest obstacle in their active part in the social development.

You would not be blamed if you fall victim to some terror incident in market or a mosque because such incidents would be considered as a crime of violence. Yet women in our society are frequently blamed ‘in fact more often than not’ when they are harassed or even raped despite the fact that sexual harassment also falls in the ‘crime of violence’ category. So harassment is a really serious problem and may even prove traumatic to the victims.

Women in a society like ours are especially likely to be blamed for whatever happens to them if they dress up ‘provocatively’ or ‘mix-up easily’ with their male counterparts at their workplaces. Why our society turns indifferent towards this crime is a matter of concern for most sociologists and philanthropists.

Sexual harassment, in fact, involves deliberate or repeated unwanted comments, gestures, or physical contact of sexual nature. It occurs frequently on college campuses, in the business world, markets, in public transport, offices and at some other places. In most cases it is the harsh social climate that makes them prone to such episodes of sexual harassment or coercion.

It is often very difficult to report and prove incidents of harassment. People accused of harassment often claim that the charges levelled against them were simply exaggerated, saying that ‘the lady overreacted to normal male-female interaction’ or ‘I was just being friendly and she took me wrong’. However, most harassers know very well what they do.

Ironically, harassment victims are often blamed for being provocative. The harassers usually argue that why veiled women do not report such incidents. Many people in our society believe in stereotype myths about harassment’ myths that hold the victims responsible and have the effect of supporting such acts. Such people, unfortunately, include those from whom the victim might seek support.

‘This has become a money-making concern. A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or the citizenship and be a millionaire, then get raped.’ Incredibly, and sadly, one would remember these words which came out of the mouth of none other than a former president of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, who is known as a ‘moderate and enlightened’ leader.

General Musharraf’s comments represent the belief held by many in baseless notions about assaults on women. Elders in our society, for instance, commonly believe that women are partly responsible for harassment or rape if they are ‘friendly’ with their colleagues. Such ideas are reflected in decisions made by a Panchayat or by ‘elders’ which sometimes get space in our ‘vibrant’ media. Paradoxically, some others come out with similar myths such as ‘men are driven crazy by the arousal of their libido by women’s boldness or provocative attitude, or ‘deep inside, women like getting seduced’. That is all very ridiculous, anyway.

 Sexual harassment, in fact, involves deliberate or repeated unwanted comments, gestures, or physical contact of sexual nature. It occurs frequently on college campuses, in the business world, markets, in public transport, offices and at some other places.
 Nevertheless, such myths foster social climate that encourages harassment in a way. These notions deny the impact of the assault and shift blame onto the victim. Men including the fundamentalist clergy, who support traditional and rigidly-defined gender roles, are most likely to blame only the sexual coercion victims. They quote such incidents in favour of their notion of confining women within chadar and chardewari.

Many people believe that Islam prohibits women from working outside of their homes. Thus working with strangers is often considered a bold step, which is entirely alien even to the most fundamentalist tribal version. So, such women are considered by their male colleagues as ‘bold’ and ‘secular’. It would be interesting to know as to how many people believe in notions such as:

A woman who is ‘too friendly’ with her male colleagues or dresses up provocatively is asking for ‘trouble, or, more severely, deserves to be taught a lesson.’ In majority of harassment cases, the victim is promiscuous or has a bad reputation.

‘If a woman is friendly with some of her colleagues, others too have a right to have a try on her.’ Because of this tendency to blame the victim and the social attitude towards victims, most women prefer not to report such incidents to police or any other authority. This silence on their part, in turn, encourages an aggressive attitude of men.

Many social scientists and behavioural psychologists try to explain this aggressive attitude of males towards their female counterparts as a natural phenomenon or instinct. But they do agree that men may choose not to be aggressive and that such incidents of coercion are unacceptable in the modern civilized world. Sexual coercion, therefore, is considered a crime of violence and hence is offendable.

The Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2010, which is aimed at providing safe working environment for women as part of a social policy to bring them at par with their male counterparts in society. Yet it is sorry to note that many considered it as part of the ‘western agenda’.

A change in people’s attitude is what is required to prevent harassment at workplaces. They must understand the aftermath of sexual coercion which may range from physical harm, psychosis, anxiety, and depression. Viewed in a social perspective, prevention of harassment or coercion involves challenging the widely-held cultural attitudes and ideals that contribute to such coercion. The traditions of male dominance and rewards for male aggressiveness take a daily toll on women at workplaces, offices, markets and other places.

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