Pakistan’s #MeToo movement is being jeopardised by hypocrisy from within. The victims or the survivors of sexual harassment now have to be on the ‘right’ side of the media to be heard.
Following false sexual harassment allegations by a student, MAO college lecturer Muhammad Afzal committed suicide under extreme duress. In his suicide note, Afzal wrote that he “leave[s] this matter in the court of Allah”. For months, the college management denied him a clearance certificate after an inquiry declared him innocent. However, a day after his wife left him, Afzal killed himself.
Protect your own
The suicide resulted in a debate on false accusations and the plight of the accused. But what happened after that was more telling of how much Pakistan cares about #MeToo.
Coming forward in support of the #MeToo movement, video director and filmmaker Jami Moor shared his own ordeal of being raped by a “media giant” 13 years ago. In a series of tweets, Moor wrote that he was talking about it now because the #MeToo movement is under attack. He tweeted: “It’s all true what the victims say and how they say or hide…So one wrongful death doesn’t mean all victims r fake and liars. Im pissed that they r attacking the movement and victims so I’m coming here today after 13 or so years to say 99.99% survivors are telling the truth always. No doubt ever!”
But the reaction of the leading media houses to Jami’s allegations were bizarre and hypocritical.
A report on his story was taken down from Dawn, and was later edited and reposted. Similarly, Geo TV, which mentioned Jami was raped by a media tycoon, supposedly removed the reference to the media tycoon. Ever since the revelation, there has hardly been any coverage of his story in regional media. It only goes to show that the Pakistani media protects its own.
So story taken down by almost all channels at same time! Thats no error. Thats the power i was talking about. Where r the truth hunters? #metoo
— jami (@jamiazaad) 21 October 2019
Jami has been a vocal advocate of the #MeToo movement and had also protested Ali Zafar’s nomination at the Lux Style Awards this year.
Last month, reporting on the defamation suit of Meesha Shafi, Sunday Times in an article titled ‘Meesha Shafi’s Own Manager Says He Witnessed No Harassment’ claimed that Shafi’s manager, who was present during the jamming session “where Meesha Shafi claims the harassment took place”, did not see “any such harassment taking place”.
This claim was rubbished by digital rights activist and Shafi’s lawyer Nighat Dad, who in a series of tweets explained that manager Farhan Ali testified in court that he didn’t see an act of harassment because he was focusing on his musical instrument instead of on Ali Zafar and Meesha Shafi during the jamming session. “It is not possible for the instrument players to focus on a particular person during such sessions,” the manager had also said in his statement. Details that were easily left out by the magazine, while trying to establish “a hot new twist” absolving one party.
Shut up or leave
Pakistan sees #MeToo as a product of the West that will harm Pakistani society. Some call it a ‘fraud’ aimed at exploiting women and being run ‘by the mafias working on foreign agenda’. Others consider it an Israeli agenda that will destroy our great family values.
But then there are people like director Khalilur Rehman Qamar who think #MeToo is not about consent but women asking for equality to rape men: “If you wish to strive for equality then kidnap men as well. Rob a bus, gang rape a man, so that I can understand what you [women] mean by equality. Get someone to try me under #MeToo, I won’t care about that either,” he said in an interview.
#MeToo or not, victims of sexual harassment have long suffered in silence in Pakistan, where shame and blame is for the victim and not the offender. Most cases go unreported and those who do come forward are humiliated, with their character and morality put on trial.
In 2014, Halima Rafiq, a 17-year-old woman cricketer, committed suicide after opening up about sexual harassment by Multan Cricket Club officials.
Rafiq, along with four other cricketers, had alleged that the officials demanded sexual favours in return for a spot on the state team. The Pakistan Cricket Board had formed an inquiry committee, which exonerated the officials of any wrongdoing and banned the five women from playing for six months. The official then sued her for $20,000 for pursuing a sexual harassment case against him, a pressure that the teenager couldn’t take.
In 2017, Ayesha Gulalai, a lawmaker from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, accused her party leader Imran Khan of sexual harassment and sending her lewd text messages. She suffered backlash online and from within her party. Her political career suffered.
Legally, women who come forward with official complaints are either forced to resign from their jobs or are slapped with defamation suits. In 2017, anchors Tanzeela Mazhar and Yashfeen Jamal had accused former PTV director Agha Masood Shorish of sexual harassment and misuse of authority. He was later sacked, while both women resigned from their jobs.
Damned if you speak, damned if you don’t.
While the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act exists in Pakistan, its implementation is lacking and does not cover a lot of situations that women find themselves in daily in the course of their professional and social lives.
Women as vocal victims of sexual violence will always be looked down upon by patriarchy. Pervez Musharraf once said women cry rape to go abroad: “If you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.”
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.