Harassing Women Won’t Make You a Man
By Aysh Khan in Pakistan
"I will keep resisting this culture, one that binds a girl to sit behind closed doors while boys dominate everywhere."
My name is Aysh, I am a 26-year-old middle-class girl from Pakistan. I would like to share with you two incidents that happened to me. One was some time ago, the other happened just last month.
For nine years, I have been commuting on my own, first to school then to my work as a Human Resources Manager in a private firm. I live in a city called Gujranwala in the north of Punjab. To move around my city, I have always used local vans and rickshaws. The two times I have been harassed were two different events, yet, they have had the same impact on my life.
Last year, I was stalked by a man who used an unknown mobile number. He drove me crazy by following my office routine, my personal life, and my online activity—he hacked my official email login information, as well as my Facebook account. He used 15 different numbers to try and contact me. I blocked them all, but he kept changing them. This man disturbed me in every possible way until I finally made an official complaint using the helpline for cyber crimes of the Federal Investigation Agency Pakistan. It took me a long time to go to the police because I was scared. My stalker knew so much about me. I worried that if my mother found out what was happening, she would worry about my safety and wouldn’t allow me to go to work. I am the breadwinner in my family since my father passed away and I am the eldest child. But one day, I got fed up and made the decision to confront him whatever the consequences. The Agency made a warning call to him, he apologized and never contacted me again. Filing that complaint was the best thing I have ever done.
But now, I am still shivering from the harassment I experienced last month. It was about four in the afternoon, and I was leaving the office. It took almost 10 minutes to reach the rickshaw stand, due to construction work. As I was walking, a man in a grey coloured car passed very near me. He was so close indeed that he splattered mud on my shawl. Still, I ignored him and kept walking. Then, I took a rickshaw. As I was sitting in the back seat, the same man waved his right hand at me and began to throw flying kisses. I kept ignoring him, and he kept following me.
There was a lady sitting beside me in the rickshaw. She looked at me with skepticism: she assumed I was the man’s girlfriend. She started lecturing me about so-called “cultural values.” She said that she had been working in a hospital since she was thirteen years old, and she had never done anything to break the trust in her family implying that I was to blame for the man’s behaviour.
I was hurt by her comments, but I didn’t reply or defend myself. Instead, I kicked the car away with my right leg. The woman was shocked and fell silent. I wasn’t trying to irritate the man further - I merely wanted to send a signal to the woman sitting beside me.
The man felt insulted, and he started to follow me in his car with increasing speed. Then the rickshaw stopped at a petrol station that happened to be near the university where I studied.
While we were waiting for fuel, the man sent me a warning sign by raising his finger. With this small gesture, he was conveying to me that I had insulted him, and that he would take revenge. The first thing that came to my mind was that this could result in rape, as it is a serious offense in my culture to challenge a man’s ego.
I was very scared, and I decided to leave the rickshaw. I screamed, “Stop in front of the university. Stop right now!” I paid the fare and started running across two different roads.
By the time I entered the university compound, I was shivering and crying, sweat was dripping on the floor. I went to the security guard and explained that someone was following me. I went to my university because I felt it was a safe place. The guard gave me water, and went to look for the man but couldn’t find him. He gave me a chair and lend me his phone so I could call home and ask my cousin to come fetch me.
Even when safely at home, I couldn’t shake the fear. I still can’t. I feel helpless, like a young girl. When I saw the warning sign from him, all my bravery went away in a second. I’m still traumatized, and I am still thinking about what could have occurred if I hadn’t left the rickshaw. I thought about my responsibility towards my family, what would happen if I were hurt. I pay my bills; I don’t harm anybody; I spread peace and love and work hard for a successful career. I want a normal life. But these incidents scare me and leave me depressed and truly discouraged.
But I will not sit idle at home even after facing harassment. I believe that after some time, I will escape this mental pain and be stronger. And I will keep learning.
I will not leave my job, and I will not hire a private van. I will keep doing things the way I always have. I will keep resisting this culture that wants to bind a girl to sit behind closed doors and allows boys to dominate everywhere.
But there are two burning questions on my mind.
As women, why don’t we support each other when these incidents happen? I waved the shoe at the man to let the woman next to me know that this guy was not my boyfriend. The whole incident would have been different if she had shown support while I was being harassed. I would have felt encouraged, supported, and safe.
Secondly, what kind of satisfaction does a man feel when he harasses a girl? Why is his ego so big that he feels that he can get away with harassing women? And when she rejects him, why does he feel that he must take revenge to prove he is a man?
We must start teaching our girls to support each other.
And we must teach our boys to behave. Harassing girls will not make them more of a man.