If you’re a Pakistani woman who has never been groped, harassed, eve teased, flashed, inappropriately touched or joked with, Congratulations! You’re almost as rare as the dodo bird.
In my 30 years of existence, I have been flashed by a stranger, groped in a public gathering, inappropriately hugged by a male relative, eve-teased, assaulted by a male teacher, suffered workplace harassment and have been told I cannot survive corporate males, and let me make it clear that I am amongst the privileged few of the female population that has supposedly grown up in a ‘safe’ environment.
Being sexually harassed in our society is so commonplace that young girls are told never to stop and stare at the perpetrators. “Move on, remove yourself, move away” is the advice you’ll get from most people who care. Those who clearly don’t will often ask you ‘Why’ you were at a particular place at a particular time, ‘Why’ you couldn’t have worn something more “appropriate”, ‘Why’ you couldn’t have spoken earlier, ‘Why’ you’re being such a baby about it. Most words of consolation, including the ones I offer to myself and to others is, “It happens”. Other times, women will share their stories time and again, vent out with each other and brush it under the carpet, as has been taught to us since time immemorial.
We are either told to get over it, move on, get away from it, let it be, change the way we dress, the people we meet, the places we go and the things we do. WE must be the change if WE are to feel safe, WE must think twice, WE must have proof because otherwise, WE will suffer.
Why, I ask?
Why must the injured, the wounded, the aching, the ailing bear the onus of the crime? Why must our girls carry this huge burden in their chests and walk away from all of this thinking, “It happens”. Why does ‘it’ happen? Why are we so often harassed?
Think of the sleazy clerk whose office you had to visit countless times as a professional, each time knowing full well what part of you he was staring at, why you have been called unnecessarily and why you have had to make the trip.
When we send our children to educational institutions so learning can take place. Imagine the learning taking place when a young woman is told to man up, be brave, let go, carry themselves differently in the face of sexual predatory..think of the message you send out to these young women.
In most workplaces, predatory behaviour is a widely known secret. Corridors are filled with the echoes of the many women who have suffered at the hands of a few, well-known predators so it rarely comes as a surprise when one of them is named (unless you were living under a rock).
We all know their flimsy ways, their remarks, their unfitting behaviour and their general inappropriateness, yet we whisper these stories away.
Sexual predators have played in educational institutions for too long. For decades, students, too young to understand the nature of their harassment have blamed themselves, second-guessed themselves, played the scenarios over and over again, changed sections, stopped responding to classroom discussions, led common room discussions and in some cases, stopped going to school altogether.
Not anymore though. Not anymore.
The children of this generation will not be silenced. They will stand up for themselves, hold each others hands, help each other and bring shame to those it rightfully belongs to and that my friends, is the future.
If we so much as teach our children to stand up and speak up, we can change the world our kids walk into every day.
Let’s teach our children to stand up for themselves, let’s teach them to speak, to yell, to scream when this happens when they are harassed. Let’s teach our girls to name and shame, let’s teach our children to bring these men down instead of letting go. Let’s not silence our victims.
Let’s teach our children that it is their right to be heard, to be listened to, to be acknowledged and lets teach the world that It is not okay to let these things slide by.
It is not okay to dismiss one or two or fifty harassment complaints. It is not okay to have these perpetrators lurking around school corridors for decades, it is not okay to ask our girls to change themselves. It is NOT okay for you to provide a playing field for sick beasts of prey. It is not okay.
Let’s have these conversations and let’s not say, “It happens…”.