Sexual harassment: Stop whining and do something about it!

Published: November 7, 2012
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Do not be silent if you disapprove of inappropriate jokes or sentences with dual connotations. DESIGN: IMAAN SHEIKH

“Where are you, ‘baby’? I am waiting.”

No, this is not an SMS from someone’s fiancé, husband or boyfriend. This was sent by a colleague to another colleague of mine. After a few minutes of disbelief, she was engulfed by anger and replied,

“Are you in your senses? What kind of an SMS is that?”

To her utter astonishment his reply was:

“Err.. Is mein kia tha?”

(What was wrong in that SMS?)

The reply indicated how casually men take their behaviour towards the fairer sex. No, I do not want to re-emphasise here how often we have to face difficult workplace situations. No, I do not want to quote the various incidences of sexual harassment that all of us working women face in one capacity or the other. And no, I do not want to discuss how dressing modestly or covering your head can prevent sexual harassment; this is all said and done.

Let’s discuss the solution rather than the problem for a change.

After having spent a considerable time in the corporate world, here are a few strategies that might help us in dealing with sexual harassment/ inappropriate behaviour at the work place.

1. Be vocal about your dislikes:

Do not be silent if you disapprove of inappropriate jokes or sentences with dual connotations. Be clear with your male colleagues about your dislikes when they try to cross boundaries. This does not necessarily mean being very rude. You can tackle the situation by trying to change the topic or saying clearly:

“Woah woh, this topic is clearly getting out of hand!”

Accompany this sentence with a sarcastic smile. This often does the trick. If not, try a simple “excuse me?” and make sure it is dripping with contempt.

Men are generally intelligent enough to get the signal; they are usually just trying to act foolish so that they can get away with anything.

2. Don’t be embarrassed; it’s the culprit who should be:

Just like in cases of rape, incest, child molestation and others, women usually choose to remain silent about sexual harassment at the work place out of the fear that speaking up will cause further embarrassment to them and there will be no use in escalating the matter.

This is wrong; silence is not the solution. Speak up so that your daughters and grand-daughters do not suffer the same fate as you!

Unfortunately, it is a part of our Pakistani culture to create difficulties for the victim rather than the culprit. But, hey, don’t lose heart. We have to change the culture and bringing about a good change is never easy.

3. Formulate a support group:

As we spend maximum time at our workplace, it is imperative to have a support group on which one can rely. Find like-minded people, discuss your problems with them, and when in a serious situation like this, ask for their help. Our mind doesn’t work so well when we are caught up in a difficult situation, but others can give valuable suggestions for the solution.

4. Don’t sympathise with the offender:

Almost all organisations now have sexual harassment policies in place in line with the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill in Pakistan. Don’t think about the consequences for the offender before discussing what he did to you with your human resource department. The culprit truly deserves the punishment. If he does not care about his job, so shouldn’t you!

5. Know that you are not weak:

Due to our upbringing and culture, we women sometimes develop a very dangerous mindset in which we think that we have to bear what life hands to us. Think differently. We have the power and the ability to handle any situation in life. Everybody gets their strength from different sources ─ friends, family, God, religion and so on. Understand what gives you your strength and be determined. You do not deserve to be harassed and you must speak up!

PS: I do know that all fingers are not equal and by the same strain, all men are not alike. I would, thus, like to thank all those men who have been a big support to women at their workplaces.

Stay cool!

Read more by Erum here.

Erum Fatima

Erum Fatima

The author is a banker turned into a freelancer, who is trying to juggle motherhood with work, and squeezing some random writing in between. She tweets as @erum_fatimaa (twitter.com/erum_fatimaa)

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