Sexually harassed in Pakistan, with or without a hijab

Published: November 3, 2012

For those who argue that hijab — and not any other form of modest clothing — would help in warding off roving gazes, they are mistaken. PHOTO: REUTERS

I have spent two years in Boston, a city that comes close to Karachi in terms of being, what is called, a metropolis. It may not be as large or chaotic as Karachi, but the comparison qualifies for the purpose of this piece.

While in Boston, I often found myself walking home from college at ungodly hours because I had to put in a lot of time studying at the library. In the time I spent there, I received around six or seven emails from the Boston University Police reporting crimes at or near the campus, much of them involving knife-wielding mugging. Hence, while walking home, I would be alert about who was around me. Never did I encounter a single incident where I felt unsafe or agitated by the roving eyes of men.

Now I would like to express how it feels to be back home. Right from the time I landed at the airport, I got a rude awakening when I witnessed the utter lack of respect for women on Karachi’s streets. For too long, the narrative of sexual harassment in Pakistan has blamed the woman for being dressed immodestly. However, women in the West often dress, what many here will consider immodest and yet, the men there do not ogle at them like they do here. Many will now be quick to point out that the US has the highest number of statistics on incidence of rape. But the US, compared with Pakistan, also has much higher crime-reporting statistics too.

For those who argue that hijab — and not any other form of modest clothing — would help in warding off roving gazes, they are mistaken. It riles me when men ascribe to this reasoning, for they have never been in the shoes of a woman, with or without hijab. There are plenty of women who observe hijab and still face sexual harassment in public.

If covering up from head to toe is the answer to warding off lecherous gazes, then how does the West manage to prevent men from ogling at liberally dressed women?

The answer;

They have laws in place for sexual harassment in public places, which even includes visually-conducted harassment. Men in Pakistan have never been punished when they resort to this sin, thereby, limiting women’s freedom and unfairly making them scapegoats for actions of men.

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Mifrah Haq

Mifrah Haq

Sub-editor at the The Express Tribune Magazine, Mifrah is a Boston University Alumnus, having graduated in International Relations and International Communication.

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