By: Nashmia Butt
Recently, some Parisian women decided to take a stand against the sexual harassment they face when using the public transport service. They launched the ‘Take Back the Metro’ campaign and the aim behind this initiative is to be able to use the public space without the fear of falling victim of sexual harassment or assault.
Posters have been put up all over the Metro in Paris, discouraging men from sitting with their legs far apart, encouraging women to speak up when they are being harassed and also warning men not to touch women or else face action. It is important to let those sleazy men know that women exist and yes, we have equal rights to use the public domain without being humiliated for our gender.
Toronto is my second home, and using the local transit is a part of my life when I’m there. There is a yellow wire that goes through the buses and subway trains. This wire is to be pulled in case of an emergency. There, they continuously advertise that sexual harassment and assault is, in fact, an emergency and the wire should be pulled the minute anyone feels unsafe — a man, woman or a child. Moreover, women and children are given an option of getting dropped in between stops if they desire or closer to their destination. That’s all very good. But why is it that a woman travelling alone needs all those extra precautions? Why can’t she feel safe without having to go the extra mile? How hard is it to understand that women share the public space too? They are not aliens who must be stared down and ogled at whenever they are spotted.
Shouldn’t there be a ‘Take Back Pakistan’ campaign too? The country where many women are unnerved to take the local transportation — but have to since it is an affordable option?
Public transport is prominent in the rural areas and the problem is that women do not know the rights that they have and so, if they are harassed — by catcalling, unwanted touching and lewd gestures — they probably just blame themselves or consider all this as a normal part of being a woman. We must spread awareness regarding sexual harassment and put the word out there. Hang on … How will we put up posters similar to those put up in Paris? And get the word around? Urdu does not have a popular word that translates the term ‘sexual harassment’. Such terms are not part of any of the local provincial languages. So, how exactly are we supposed to spread the word? How will women, who only speak these languages, explain the trauma they go through?