Being one of the few women who travel solo in Lahore and beyond I’m often asked how I can feel secure doing this. There aren’t many people visiting Pakistan most of who are men. Like women everywhere in the world, I’ve encountered street harassment from time to time.
Unfortunately, society has conditioned us to accept and deal with these ourselves. However, this is where we really need to examine the problem – when we don’t acknowledge the psychological, physical, cyber, and workplace forms of abuse women endure as evils being perpetrated by not just men but also female enablers then we won’t ever be able to find real solutions.
Lahore is the cultural capital of Pakistan and is known around the world for being one of the safer cities in the country. I’m a strong advocate for women’s independence and urge female travelers to take advantage of all that Pakistan has to offer. Becoming independent can be an immensely empowering experience, but unfortunately, it only takes one event to make someone feel unsafe and too reluctant to leave their home. There’s no denying that the gender divide in Pakistan is amplified by its conservative culture and long-standing patriarchal values.
The Women’s Safety Audit in Public Transport in Lahore by the United Nations uncovered factors that may increase the risk of violence against women and girls at bus stops and on buses. Data showed a worrying environment regarding safety, hindering their freedom to travel or pursue an economic activity, education, and other lifestyle options. Poor infrastructure and security protocols, inequality in handling male and female passengers, negative views about women, and lack of understanding about the repercussions of sexual harassment are key reasons for this maltreatment. It is noteworthy that harassment in public places continues to rise, without attention being paid to it and victims remain silent about even minor incidents such as inappropriate staring.
It is a sorrowful reality that, despite existing laws to safeguard women, they are suffering at the hands of violence such as being constrained, maimed, stabbed, and thrashed. Pakistan is unfortunately steeped in misogynistic and patriarchal tendencies which means it is unable to protect its female population.
An example of this brutality occurred just a few months ago in Lahore when a UK-based Pakistani was viciously killed by her husband. Her young children witnessed their mother’s violent demise and were left alone with her corpse afterward. According to one daughter, she used music in an attempt to drown out her mother’s cries but was still able to hear the final moments of her death. It is deeply traumatic cases such as this which underline the failure of our society to properly safeguard women.
This week, Advocate Saira Malik experienced a narrow escape from an attempted kidnapping in the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) area. She found herself being held hostage by two men armed with guns, who blindfolded her and made away with her car and valuables after she got into the driving seat. Despite this horrific encounter Malik managed to break free under cover of traffic congestion shortly afterward. Consequently, the assailants fled with her laptop, cash, and other possessions. After the incident was publicized on social media, the case was registered that same day against those responsible.
Although street harassment is nothing new for me, a recent incident prompted me to write this article after I was followed from my workplace to my house in such a creepy and ominous way. The perpetrator did not even try to be subtle about it and gave me a sense of anxiety for some time. I am still a bit shocked about the incident and will be extra careful going out in the future.
It saddens me immensely that I cannot even breathe freely merely because I am a woman. Before leaving my house, I have to bear in mind a variety of considerations. While men can just go out and bask in the joys of life at any hour, we can only imagine what it would be like to live in such a society. But who is going to bring about these positive changes? No one will appear with the promise of a safe environment for us where women are revered and venerated.
Even though there are numerous ways for us to evade all harms, that won’t alter the conditions in society. It is now time for us to work together and build an environment where upcoming generations of females won’t have to worry about surmounting the issues of today’s world.
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