We don’t need to segregate men and women at rallies!

Published: March 26, 2013
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Segregation aggravates the problem by exacerbating people’s ignorance of the opposite sex. PHOTO: CREATIVE COMMONS

It was thoroughly mortifying to read about the harassment faced by women at the PTI rally on March 23, even more so with the realisation that it is not an isolated incident, but an illness our nation struggles with.

I concede there is very little Imran Khan could have done to avoid this lamentable situation. Regulating vast crowds is always tricky business, let alone doing it in a rainstorm.

I was, however, disturbed by the voting results at the end calling for separate arrangements for women at rallies.

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It’s a perturbing proposition that the key to preventing harassment is enforcing gender segregation. This notion has remained popular in the country for long enough to become an almost unchallengeable axiom. At the risk of a volley of eggs to my forehead, I state my disagreement.

It begins with an all-boys school; the oddly comical image of a young lad staring out the classroom window, thinking about this “lar-kee” creature the fellows keep talking about. Having interacted minimally with girls outside the family, the mystery endures.

It endures, as do the barricades in public places and private events; in buses and trains; workplaces and restaurants; weddings and conferences. New barricades are constantly being added in the forms of special buses for women, or female-only parks.

This is all wrong. The rules of social propriety are best learned through social interactions, not theoretical lessons from books.

A generation of males raised to perceive women as having no other role besides being potential brides for them to choose from will treat these women exactly as that.

This ignorance is far less prevalent among those who, throughout the course of their lives, have had enough female classmates, co-workers, business partners and friends. Men, who get to witness women playing non-spousal roles in the society with regularity tend to anthropomorphise them and treat them as regular people.

We’re a country that has decided that the solution to save women from harassment is to cut them out of the mainstream entirely. Gender apartheid is not a solution, but a temporary evasion. If anything, it aggravates the problem by exacerbating people’s ignorance of the opposite sex.

This nation cannot exist indefinitely as two loosely-jointed spheres of Mardana Pakistan (Male Pakistan) and Zanana Pakistan (Female Pakistan), housed in two separate shaamianas (tents).

There are physical limitations to the level of segregation we can afford. Eventually, men and women would have to mingle at a bazaar, or a parking lot, a carnival, a protest, and yes, a political rally.

Mars and Venus would inevitably collide, and when that happens, it should serve us well being accustomed to dealing with the opposite gender in a dignified manner.

Fighting sexual harassment would require gradual social change. Not a quick-fix tsunami, but a series of waves grinding the rock to sand.

Gender segregation would only slow this progress.

Read more by Faraz here, or follow him on Twitter @FarazTalat

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat

A medical doctor and bubble-wrap enthusiast from Rawalpindi, who writes mostly about science and social politics (and bubble-wrap). He tweets @FarazTalat (twitter.com/FarazTalat)

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