“Safe” public transport for women: He kept whispering his sexual fantasies to me as he masturbated

Published: April 14, 2018
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Be it by staring, groping, catcalling, or touching their genitals, men make it difficult for women to inhabit public spaces. PHOTO: REUTERS

I am a big advocate for public transport, which is not only an environment-friendly and cost-effective way of transportation, but also the best choice if you don’t want the hassle of driving yourself. However, another caveat of being a woman in Pakistan is the lack of security you feel every time you travel alone.  

I happened to travel to Lahore last month for a meeting, and as I usually do, I chose a Daewoo bus for the commute. While I was at the terminal waiting for the bus, I noticed a young man sitting opposite my chair and blatantly staring at me. Feeling unwell that day, I switched my seat instead of confronting him, which is what I usually do in such situations.

As we boarded the bus, I noticed the same guy sitting near my seat, and with the bus being full, I no longer had the option of switching my seat. I was under the impression he would behave this time, and I couldn’t have been more wrong.

As the bus left the terminal and we made our way to Lahore, he picked up his cell phone and started whispering into it, pretending as if talking on the phone. Speaking in another language, he could not have known I happened to be fluent in the language and could understand him perfectly.

In actuality, he was whispering his sexual fantasies the entire time, all of which were addressed directly to me. I felt extremely uncomfortable, and not knowing what to do, I turned around and stared at him angrily, hoping he would take the hint and stop. He didn’t however, and continued to speak of his lust and frustration at seeing a woman in a public space, until his phone actually started to ring.

Once done with his call, he once again started whispering his sexual fantasies as he began to masturbate, at which point I decide to confront him. As I got more attention from the other passengers, he ended up keeping his phone back in his pocket. I was being loud of course, and the bus attendant came forward to enquire what the issue was. As I informed her, she looked clueless on how to respond to the situation, and I couldn’t blame her – as a woman working in this environment, I’m sure she has faced similar harassment many a times.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have experienced harassment, and even though after every incident I confront, make noise and register complaints, there is always a new place, new bus, new terminal and new man.

Just two years ago, I was travelling in a Daewoo from Abbottabad to Islamabad, and as I sat in the front row, I saw one of the guards come closer to the driver’s window and whisper to him about a “great piece” sitting directly in the driver’s view, for his viewing pleasure the entire journey. I heard the entire conversation, got off the bus and called the terminal manager to register my complaint. Though the manager made the guard apologise, I am confident there was no remorse in the action itself, only in getting caught.

Another incident I remember vividly is when I was travelling alone in a regular taxi in Islamabad. It was around 8:00pm, and after dropping a colleague at Dhok Kala Khan in Rawalpindi, I made my way home. Once I was alone in the cab, the driver turned the music up and fixed his rear-view mirror on me. Shocked, I told him to turn off the music; he didn’t. I requested him to shift his mirror; he did not. Instead, he began to masturbate, and told me not to worry; that I’ll be okay. Obviously, this creepy reassurance meant nothing.

We were heading towards T-chowk, and the roads were empty, silent and dark. Panicking at the idea no one would be there to help me if something were to go wrong, I started shouting at the driver and told him to drive faster. With my phone’s battery having died earlier, I tried to think of ways to escape.

Pulling the windows down, I started shouting at the driver to stop the car as I threatened to jump. In my mind, I was thinking of items in my possession I could use to hit him, in case the situation got worse. Luckily, we came across a police van patrolling the area, and as I waved my hand out and signalled for help, a police man asked the car to stop.

This was one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever had, and I just wanted to go home. I got out of the car, narrated what happened to the police, and asked them to get me another cab, since I was afraid of sitting in a police van as well. Sensing my fear, the police officer assured me of my safety and proceeded to drop me home.

The entire time we were stopped, the cab driver kept asking for mercy, promising this behaviour would never occur again. I told the police to not let him go, and also filed a formal complaint so he would be taken to the station and hopefully learn a lesson or two.

The fear such a situation brings has occurred many times before, and unfortunately, I’m sure will happen many times in the future as well. What concerns me, however, is that no matter how independent or empowered I get, I am still just a ‘woman’ for society, which loosely translates to being easy prey.

I am also not alone in experiencing such traumatic incidents while using public transport. A young girl from my village had to quit her studies because she was continuously harassed on her way to school, and her parents could not afford any safe means of transportation. Similarly, a transgender colleague of mine once told me that while she was travelling to Islamabad in a public van, she was continuously touched by an older man sitting behind her, and she had no choice but to get off the van to feel safe again.

One may argue that one way to make public transport safer for women could be to have female drivers, or have transport exclusive for female passengers. There have been a few initiatives to do so, such as the pink rikshaw, pink taxi, and even female Careem captains. These, however, come with limitations.

I once had a female Careem captain pick me up in Lahore at around 9:00pm, accompanied by her female cousin, because this is the only way she felt safe driving around at night. A friend of mine once booked a ride where the female captain refused to take her to her destination, suggesting the route was not safe. As for the pink rickshaws and taxis, they too are limited in number, not easily available, and of course, do not provide any assurances for women’s safety. The only thing an all-female vehicle does is make both the passenger and the driver feel unsafe and uncertain of getting home safely.

After all, be it by staring, groping, catcalling, or touching their genitals, men make it difficult for women to inhabit public spaces. We are living in a time where men do not want women to leave the house, and if we do, they do their best to make us uncomfortable enough to not want to go outside. By ensuring women are never safe, not even during the basic necessity of traveling, the men in our country try to ensure we simply do not go anywhere. However, despite the endless harassment, millions of women are brave enough to step out of their houses every day, and every day we refuse to stay inside is another battle women fight to achieve empowerment.

Uzma Yaqoob

Uzma Yaqoob

The author is a human rights activist and founder of Forum for Dignity Initiatives (FDI). For her tireless, ground breaking work she received the National Human Rights Award in 2016 by the President of Pakistan. She tweets at @fdipakistan (twitter.com/FDIPakistan)

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

  • BOZDAR Mustafa

    Actually its a story of every working woman…we are still far away from mannerism and offering respect to women…Recommend

  • Sultan Mehmood Ghaznavi

    Though the projection in the article is true to the some extent level but it also seems exaggeration. It is true that there are some problems for women in public transport but it does not mean all men stare women and bother them. It is also untrue that all men want their women to remain in their homes. There are many women in Pakistan whose families support them for their education and jobs. So, please project the facts and truth rather than projecting a terrible situation. Perception should not be given that Pakistan is a hell for women.Recommend

  • M. Anwar Qureshi

    Excellent piece of article; heart throbbing and close to reality all females are facing in their everyday life. Its their destiny and nature which bring them back from their schools and offices, wherever they are working. Your article so much interesting and attracting I could not help it to read it work by word. Thank you Madam.Recommend

  • shahid

    Very disturbing experiences, salute to you and all women who have to face these perverts everyday, the stares, eve teasing can be very traumatic. I wish mothers start educating their children from an early age to respect all women and not just their own family. You have highlighted the ugly face of the society and I admire your courage to come out in open and write about it. Please know that all men are not like that and there are some who admire you, envious of you and deep down wish their own sisters and daughters could be like you when they grow old. For men, please stop objectifying women.Recommend

  • Arbab

    I do agree women face such like problems in our society and we all condemn such creepy behaviors of these sick people.Recommend

  • zoro

    At least someone is speaking out …. Bravo …Recommend

  • Syed Arsalan Ali

    We being men are also ashamed by the behavior of those few, they are disgrace to mankind. But I’d not set aside the reasons behind it too, we should try to curtail them at the same time we complain.Recommend

  • sterry

    Everyone should start to record the behavior of men who do this and let the business operator or authorities know. If we don’t stop it and keep getting more influence from India via their movies, it won’t just stop at leering, bad looks and this stuff. Recommend

  • Hamza Khan

    These Fanatics are very common in our Continent
    probably our up bringing is not good.

    Those men are married and still do that kind of creepy acts. There should be a strict punishment. (baa mushaqat jail)

    Recommend

  • ali

    This could only happen in Punjab!Recommend

  • Waqas Khan

    they are nothing but animals and should not be treated by any sort of civil rights and laws.Recommend

  • Ravian

    Well done Uzma ! Most girls do not respond to the approaches of these perverts. The result is that they feel free to hit upon any girl. If there were more brave girls like Uzma, these jerks would be not that much open.Recommend

  • Saeed Ulhaq

    Agreed. while admitting that this has now become a global issue irrespective of location, gender & religion still i believe there is a lot of exaggeration in this article & seems to be the extended version of metoo movement. Recommend

  • akif

    Many years ago I was traveling on the Karakorum Highway. When our bus stopped at a small town, we saw a small crowd gathered on the road side. As curiosity was about to take us towards the circle, two Western women came out wrestling their way through the crowd. I will never forget their shouting “Have you never seen a woman before?”Recommend

  • Taimoor Shafique

    Everyone who commented including the writer doesn’t have the solution to this problem.
    I appreciate the writer and feel her pain. But don’t just talk talk…….find the solution.
    Pakistani men are highly deprived of women that’s y they do these kind of things and married men who are getting sex daily from their wives, still do these horrible things because they are deprived of women also.
    Didn’t get it?
    I already knew.
    Very rare can anyone understand this point.

    MEN ARE MADE FOR POLYGAMY.

    This is the reason behind all the perverted things we men do.
    One wife for whole life is not enough.
    We should marry 4 girls at a time and it should not be made a big fuss if a man divorces his wife for not being desirable to him anymore because it is man’s nature that he gets bored of the same woman (whether she is still beautiful ).
    In this way the woman can marry any other guy and she will become desirable to the new husband once again and on the other hand the man should marry a new woman.

    If you find this solution more westernized then mind it, in west female harassment is far less than in Pakistan.Recommend

  • WomenFront

    I literally do not find any exaggeration in the article. Infact I am disappointed at some of the comments that deem it to be exaggerated. if some men do not catcall, grope or harass they should not come out saying; as we do not do it so this is all a fabricated lie. If your women do not stress you with the ordeal they face on streets ;does not mean they don’t go through it. Everytime I was harassed I didn’t tell my folks and normally women do not do as they fear they will be confined in the house which definitely is not a solution.Recommend

  • Sam

    I am sorry we won’t know the situation what women face everyday if we decide to close our eyes and decide not to see or hide it under the carpet. To solve a problem, you first need to accept that there is a problem. And I assure you YES there is a problem.
    and she did not say all the men in the bus were staring at her but she is narrating how one man in the bus has harassed her and others decided to ignore the harassment. Why are our men so insensitive to other women until the issue reach their own daughters and sisters.Recommend

  • Aqib Ali Shah

    I’m so sorry to hear about your adversaries, you have my respect for being tough and upfront in dealing such perverts. Please teach other women to do the same, I’m pretty sure that by reporting such incidents 80% of the culprits shall back down.

    Keep making us proud, miss uzma. Don’t lose heart. You still got a long way to go.Recommend

  • Abdul Moid

    Absolutely revolting behaviour. Honestly makes my heart weep to known the state of these animals in our society. What’s more is that they stop at girls, young boys and teenage boys are harassed in public vans.
    Culprits who are caught should be lashed publicly so that no one ever dares disrespect a woman, or any human.
    Men shouldn’t take this article lightly as exaggeration. Instead us men should actually act like men and stay vigilant for the females whenever travelling publicly, and never hesitate to speak up if you see an injustice.Recommend

  • Abdul Moid

    What’s wrong with you. The most ill-thoughtout and immature response I’ve seen.
    Men should have control over themselves whether they’re unmarried, have one wive or four. If there’s a man who can’t then don’t let that animal roam free ever.
    Instead of talking about catching and punishing these freaks publicly to set an example this is ur “solution”?
    Don’t make a joke out of women’s issues. Actually have some empathy and intellect in your responses.
    Men should be afraid to even think about doing such an act, whether they’re deprived or not. That’s the solution. We need such strict and merciless action against these crimes that no one dares look at a women the wrong way.Recommend