The tragedy of being a woman in Pakistan

Published: May 4, 2012

I feel jealous when I see women from neighbouring countries riding their scooters or bicycles to get to work or school. PHOTO: REUTERS

Gazing out of my office window in Islamabad, I see trees dancing in the wind and heavy clouds hovering over the ground, ready to shower rain. I feel like going out for a walk to cherish the weather but I cannot.  It is not because of my work, my boss or my family but rather due to the fear of strangers on the road.

I know this might sound funny coming from a journalist, but it is the reality!

When I go out, I hear cheap comments made by strange men, cars follow me and old uncles shamelessly stop their vehicles and offer to give me a lift.

And it is most embarrassing when I have to stand at the roadside to catch a cab. The act of men staring makes me feel like I am a showpiece and that it is okay for them to gawk at me. What a pity on this country and its people!

I feel jealous when I see women from neighbouring countries riding their scooters or bicycles to get to work or school. In my country, I cannot even think of doing this.

If, one day, I dare to be confident enough to do this, I will be made to feel so uncomfortable that I would not dare to do it again. My family will receive calls from people asking them to keep an eye on my activities because I am trying to break social taboos or because I am crossing cultural limits. And instead of supporting me, my family will ask me to stay at home rather than encourage me to face the world.

I once had an interview with an executive at Polyclinic hospital, who also happened to be a woman and she said to me,

It is very important for women to walk for at least an hour in fresh air. This is good for health and is medically proven to increase life expectancy. But women are reluctant because they feel insecure on the roads, thereby confining themselves to staying indoors and not exercising.

We call Pakistan an independent state but, sorry to say, I do not experience any freedom.

Read more by Sehrish here.

Do you think Pakistani women can ride a motorbike without fear of harassment?

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Sehrish Wasif

Sehrish Wasif

A reporter on the Islamabad pages of The Express Tribune.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Kevin Fernandes

    On a lighter note, are Indian scooters like TVS Wego, Honda Activa, Mahindra Duro etc available in the market to be bought? If yes, is it legally or illegally available??Recommend

  • HZ

    @Uzair:
    I wish u rebirth as a woman in Pakistan! Enough Said.Recommend

  • Anila Weldon

    Dear Ali S
    Since you “assumed” I ride my bicycle in Karachi’s Defence area, I have no choice but to feel even more empowered since my route is PECHS, Tipu Sultan, Jail Chowrangi, Bahadurabad, KDA, II Chundrigar Road, and Saddar.Oh and if roads are anything to judge my character by, please note I do Shahrah-e-Faisal daily ;-) -Anila WeldonRecommend

  • sadaf

    As media people, we go thru the same……….and many unpleasant things in Pakistan…….A book can be written on it……….agar likhne pe aayein……..Recommend

  • Saad Raees

    Just look these at Indians! Seriously man I’m impressed by the way they deal with their problems! Hardly hear any Indian newspaper or anyone for that matter bashing their country for every problem that exists in their country! Hardly hear anyone whining about how bad India is for women! Instead they put things into action! They work to make a better India! Why don’t our Pakistani feminists learn anything useful from their Indian counterparts rather than just being amused by riding scooties? I’m all for women freedom but not for some women just bashing their country while doing nothing about it! A very inspirational story from India, which should inspire their Pakistani counterparts!
    http://m.timesofindia.com/city/delhi/Dont-tell-me-how-to-dress-tell-them-not-to-rape/articleshow/13008664.cms?utmsource=twitter&utmmedium=tweetsRecommend

  • BRUISED INDIAN

    @Zeeshan Arif: Uff mirchi!!!!!Recommend

  • luqman

    @toobahatif:
    I agreed with the Tooba. Please forgive my beloved country and already we are facing many thing. You are sending a wrong message of what we have and what our culture is.Recommend

  • Junaidy

    these things are more common in other coutries too.. specially in india n USA.. infatc rape rat ein america is much higher than other countries… in fact what i see anf feed is that women in Pakistan are more respected than any other.. when u go somewher and thers a hug que usyally gents repect women and they allow them to submit frst.. but i thnk u hv limited ur mind… open ur eyes n see what is actually happening in other countries..!!Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli

    Every civilization in the world called it self champion of women rights but in reallty every one lack of it.Recommend

  • http://tribune;com.pk p r sharma

    Author has pointed on lewd male behavior of the society which naturally makes the female very uncomfortable. .Such behavior from majority of the male causes more irritation. Had it been from small faction of male then the problem would have been different like lack of manners, lack of values. In Pakistani societies women walking without veil are probably few and are an obvious
    attraction for male. In other countries hundreds of women are passing by continuously and therefore paying attention is generally lost. ( something which is forbidden is more attractive). Men;s lust is universal which is reduced through education/ imparting manners.Recommend

  • honey

    I very well agree with the author,Its true, i have recently shifted from Oman, and have three daughters. There i never felt my daughters insecure but here in Pakistan. I have been strictly asked by my friends to better pick and drop your daughters yourself instead of hiring a cab or a van wala. I also donot allow them to go alone anywhere. My responsibility has been doubled now as i have to look after my newly set business.also. Earler the situation was different in Pak, We used to live in Pindi and i remember my sisters used to go alone to the school in rakshaw or in tanga. BUt nowi cannot even imagine this. Recommend

  • http://Lahore GlobalNomad

    @toobahatif: you fare severely wrong and overly obsessed with a false self developed good social image of the men in this country. It happens only and mostly in Pakistan. I have travelled extensively around the world and NO it happened no where , if anywhere I ever experienced the staring syndrome it is one of the Muslim countries but not as much as it is in Pakistan.Recommend

  • http://Lahore GlobalNomad

    @Junaidy: rape rate appears more in US because it is highly populated and cases does get registered and offenders punished online our country where a rape victim looses faith and all right to live respectly in the society. Most rape cases does not get registered and offenders walk loose. Just google search ‘white corolla case of Karachi” and you will know how girls and families of rape victims suffered in silence. Recommend

  • ayesha_khan

    @Anoop: “North India, where the sex ratio is skewed has a higher rate of crime levels against women. It has to do with the skewed sex ratio, I think.”

    Lower women’s empowerment leads to adverse sex ratio rather than the otehr way around. So I think you reversed cause and effect I have lived in Mumbai, Banlaore and Ahmedabad and never had any trouble going out any time. However the 3 ears I lived in Delhi were problematic.Recommend

  • Nirvanika

    Dear Blog Writer and fellow comment-makers

    I am an Indian girl. I have lived in Delhi and later for another ten years in the UK. What you face while walking on the road is called "eve-teasing" in India. It is quite common place in most of the Indian cities; It is more frequent in the North of India. If you goto South India and Gujrat or even Bombay, eve-teasing is not that high. Females feel safer. It is UP, Punjab and Bihar states where girls are harrassed more. Indian girls normally wear whatever they want and ignore the rude comments. If one starts paying attention to every dog barking on the street then you would never reach your destination.

    Eve teasing happens in the UK as well but mostly done by males who are either drunk or belong to less educated classes.Truth remains that we can not forget that India and Pakistan are just political entities. As people and cultural attitudes we are the same. Indian women have a bit more freedom because of wide-spreading education (not of females but more males being educated and learning how to respect a female, how to see beyond her gender).

    Why should males look and stare even if a female is dressed a bit less covered? This is a lazy attitude shared by males all over the world. It is nothing but passing the buck. It is equal to not taking responsibility for one’s own depraved mind-set.I think that when a man makes an insulting remark for a women they are insulting themselves.South Asian men need to be educated more for being gender neutral. The responsibility lies on mothers and sisters to teach and show their sons and brothers right from the start. On both sides of the border we have males who are degree holders but not educated in a real sense. It will be good if males can learn to see themselves as a PERSON and a female as a fellow human-being rather than focusing on the anatomy only. And finally since when finding faults with a neighbour has improved matters at home? Indians and Pakistani societies suffer from some common social ills and the Pot calling the Kettle black does not change the colour of the pot :).Recommend

  • http://www.wedosindh.org Rubab Jafri

    Dear Author,

    You are so obsessed with Idea of that women can not do such things like you mentioned here but yes we can do as I wanted to coat my personal experience here I am Human Rights activist in rural areas of Sindh where women considered as a property and very restricted but in my opinion it all because we let them to do so. I did courage and I use to solve mainly serious quarrels on main roads between males or vehicle accidents with my courage and confident though here women is restricted to speak any male person at roads or in city but I do courage so I must say get freedom from fears and do courage to ride cycle and see u can even from now. Recommend

  • NirvanikasFriend

    Hiya Nirvanoo, this is alice!!! So trueeeee! Men everywhere are the sameee! I have lived 7 years in Saudi Arabia, and then five years in Canada. I can’t see any differeeeeence! Every pot is a pot and black looks the same. People just don’t have the intelligence to the same colour. So sad that people think anything is different anywhere.

    Nirvanoooooo, you are the best.Recommend

  • Abdur Rehman

    Stupit article.writer is showing the negative image of Pakistan.This article is far away from the facts.once again she should visit different markets to see whether women are treating like as she mentioned in her articleRecommend

  • Rehman

    Can some one tell the writer what happens during new year eve in our beloved neighboring countries? How many sexual harassment cases had registered last year in those countries during New Year eve i.e 31 December? Yea I agree more freedom should be given to women.Recommend

  • Benish

    I really appreciate the author for highlighting such miseries of Pakistani women. People who donot agree with this i will ask them to just one day make ur sis, wives, stand on a road and see how they will feel and or ask them to travel in a local transport. one feels vey ashmed when someone follows u on road and ask u for a lift or stare u from tip to toe. There are many women like me who due to financial problems have to walk on a road or travel in a local transposrt and have to face all such harassment. but unfortunatley woman like me has no courage to give them a shut up call to these ……Recommend

  • leila rage

    @Junaidy: But the point is that while cases might be higher in places like the USA (because they actually get REPORTED) there is ALSO a hope of justice. If a woman brings someone to trial, something might actually get done about it, whereas in Pakistan rapists always GO FREE. Recommend

  • JATIN MALIK

    It is real pity. On a recent visit to Lucknow,( India. ) I found 10 % of all scooterists to be female s and majority of them Muslims. Recommend

  • Salman Sheikh

    @omair shahid:
    I don’t discourage anybody.. it was a joke…. If sehrish isn’t brave enough she might not blame Pakistan for it..Recommend

  • Salman Sheikh

    So Why “Ladies First” .. Even if you have traveling in other countries women and men sit together in buses they didn’t have any separate portions for ladies and ladies travel standing while man are sitting.. I travel from bus daily there are some serious shortage of transport here… in Karachi working man are more than working ladies there are no comparison in that ratio its a fact.. Even in buses if man are less than women, men empty there seats in their portion for ladies.. yes there are some shameless people also who are ignorant.. but girl this is not a war of ladies vs men.. its life and you have to suffer through.. Recommend

  • Salman Sheikh

    @Aisha:
    Girl get a new life and reborn in some other part of the world (What if you born in amazon?)..then I’ll question you…It was a joke nothing discriminatory about it.. Recommend

  • Salman Sheikh

    @asma:
    Why is everyone girl after me,,, Hahaha :)Recommend

  • leila rage

    @Salman sheikh: So basically you think that the ‘ladies first’ etiquette is a JUSTIFICATION for rape, acid crimes, murder, honour killings and perverted panchayat judgements?

    I’d happily have to stand in buses, wait in long queues and have NO ‘ladies first’ if that meant that pakistan was a safer place for women.Recommend

  • Xara

    @shahbaz lodhi
    if u think that covering urself is the way to escap;e from these ‘Men’ then u r wrong….. no matter wot u wear if they have this habit of staring, then they will stareRecommend

  • xyz

    @Anoop:

    I am a bangalorean. if you think women do not face harassment in blore, you are wrong. It is not as much as delhi/north india but it is there. Go to places like Electronic city or Kengeri/uttarahalli or even bus stops in banashankari,malleshwaram or domlur and you will know the reality. Recommend

  • Salman Sheikh

    @leila rage:
    Why girls keep saying and thinks that all man here are against women and their liberty..It was an example.. If I argue you in the wake of Quran than you and liberals call me mullah or whatever.. It is hard to satisfy women any where in the world I guess. :)Recommend

  • Salman Sheikh

    @Xara:
    You might be right in some extent…Your father brother or other men around..can any girl say these things directly to their father or brother??? anyone??? Recommend

  • Salman Sheikh

    @leila rage:
    leila… its the law that makes those bas* escape. so its not Pakistan’s fault. Its a pity that this happens i want harsher punishments for those culprits. Even beheaded them than what than human rights violation coming in.. get my point..???Recommend

  • leila rage

    @Salman Sheikh: Well, your example of ‘ladies first vs crimes against women’ was a poor example to say the least. I would not dub you a mullah for quoting the Quran or hadith, but if you tried to show that Islam favours men then i WOULD happily dub you as a crazy person.

    Yes, its the LAW that allows these people to escape, but its the PAKISTANI LAW/ justice system. That’s the problem. I’m not blaming Pakistan. I’m blaming the people who are too scared to change the laws, lawyers and judges and incompetent police, the strange thinking of our people who would ratehr have women suffer in silence than have criminals caught and punished so that no one has to suffer.Recommend

  • Salman Sheikh

    @leila rage:
    Thats what i want to say.. you misunderstood me.. and i misunderstood you. Its not for favoring men I also have sisters and cousins and i don’t want anyone dare to hurt them or treated them substandard.Recommend

  • Salman Sheikh

    @leila rage:
    It was not ladies first vs crimes against women..Recommend

  • leila rage

    salman sheikh: thank you for clearing up the misunderstanding.Recommend

  • Salman Sheikh

    @leila rage:
    But it ends up that i don’t like sehrish’s pieces it confront me with 4 ladies :)Recommend

  • Sara

    Very one-sided article…. And it actually seems as if the writer’s family and upbringing has a lot to do with her feeling this way. She writes that her family would get phone calls and she would be told to stay inside. So basically you come from a very conservative family that would not support you, on something as simple as riding a bike, which is why you think this way. Whereas I can say with confidence that my family would support any decision I take and wouldn’t care less about any phone calls received! Heck, the only phone calls they would receive would be ones of encouragement from all my relatives. So it seems that this issue is more about your upbringing and family culture, rather than what is true for all Pakistani women. And look at this story of Pakistan’s female taxi driver! http://goodnews.pk/2011/03/18/pakistans-ground-breaking-female-cabbie-womens-week-special/Recommend

  • http://uptonogood.tumblr.com/ Red

    @Saad Raees: “Miss I live in US, and the way women are harrased here is worse than Pakistan!”

    I have traveled extensively in the US and the only two areas I experienced harassment was in a Pakistani neighborhood (commercial area and this happened again and again over multiple visits) and in Harlem’s residential area (their commercial area is safe, I got a comment in a residential only once and I have been there a lot since I live right next to it). Please note that I walk on the streets here on a daily basis. If I take out my handful of visits to the Pakistani neighborhood, my experience with harassment is 0%. Perhaps you live in a particular neighborhood where the people are different from most of the country.

    The reverse is true in Pakistan. In the vast majority of the country, women are harassed. The women giving examples of a life free from harassment likely live in the rare good areas, bubbles if you will. Doing the reverse, given how many times I have had to walk on the streets in Pakistan over the course of my entire life (which is certainly not daily ONLY BECAUSE of the harassment and how much I despise it), I can say that the harassment rate is almost a 100%. No walk is devoid of stares, cat-calls, cars slowing down, numbers being thrown at me, men passing comments, groping in crowded areas, being followed, etc.

    It is of no use to deny that a problem exists. The author knows what she is talking about.Recommend

  • mehek

    what the hell do you want by RIDING A MOTORCYCLE??? i dont think that its Pakistan only where men stares at women. doesnt it happen in so called CIVILIZED America that the men put dirty comments to women?Why Pakistan only??? why dont we understand its the propaganda and media war against our beloved Pakistan and Pakistani nation..Recommend

  • mehek

    inspide of the anti-pakistan prapoganda I am happy and proud to be a Pakistani Recommend

  • Jawad

    Pakistani men are very cheap and mean. They will never accept that they have any flaws in thier character. I hate Pakistan men. These stupid, men, who claim to be Muslim, think if they are physically stronger than women, it is thier quality and they should use it to harrass and torture who are weak. Also, they think that they are free from all laws prescribed by God and it is on women who would be answerable in front of Allah. Recommend

  • Jawadi

    I live abroad and and if I can compare Mulim men with men from other cultures and religions, I can say that Muslim men at this time are the worst human being. They have degraded to such an extent that we should not call them human being. Recommend