By: Amel Ghani
Walking down the road sounds simple enough. One step in front of the other and you’re on your way. But is it really that simple for everyone? Not if you’re a lone woman on the roads of Lahore. There you are happily walking from Tollington to NCA when a boy, half your age and size casually walks by commenting, “Dupatta toe pehan leti” and then runs off with his friends. They glance back laughing at the sight of you seething with anger.
And then there are those who will ogle. You check yourself, “Has the kajal spread, making me look like a raccoon?” And then you remember, this is all because you’re a woman. When you challenge them with a stare to match their own, their egos are hurt. A woman not backing down? How dare she! At first they casually comment with a “Mashallah”, passing by as close as they can and if you continue, they will come up to you and ask you what your problem is. This is a true story!
You might think once you’re off the footpath and safely cocooned in your car, the discomfort will decrease. After all, they can no longer see you clad in skinny jeans and a sweater. But it doesn’t help. Apparently, just being a woman is enough because our sole purpose for venturing outside the house is to provide them with entertainment.
Being in a car brings its own set of troubles. There is honking so you make way, only for the other car to slow down right in front of you. Or the rather simple-minded phenomenon of parking right in front of your car and refusing to move. Cat-calling, eve-teasing or harassment — whatever you might want to call it — is a menace for women. It is also illegal under Section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code. Despite this and a rather prominent campaign by the Punjab government, attitudes on the street do not change.
As a people, we are still debating whether women need to dress appropriately, more modestly, to prevent being on the receiving end of this kind of behaviour. The burden is still on the woman. Discussions take place over and over again, especially with men refusing to acknowledge that harassment is an intimidation technique.
Men own public spaces in Lahore — the roads, the parks, dhabas, festivals — anything and everything. The presence of women, no matter how frequent, is still an anomaly in their minds. These are not places women should inhabit. Their leers and slurs are telling us very aggressively to stay in our place.
And at the same time, they tell us it is our fault. Our clothes weren’t appropriate, our walk too casual, our stares too challenging.