The first time I ‘met’ Qandeel Baloch was when she came to one of the programmes I was producing at Geo News in Lahore. She was in Karachi, connected to us via studio link.
I remember how I got three, four calls from male colleagues that day. They had heard Qandeel was coming to the office and wanted to meet her. It was the day she had accused Mufti Qavi of sexual harassment and we had taken the Mufti and her on the show together, hoping for good television.
I remember feeling admiration for this girl who sat in her chair and faced her harasser – thinking: more power to her. But she didn’t need it. She was so certain about who she was and she just didn’t care what anyone said. A few days later, she was dead.
Coming to the MeToo movement in Pakistan, I feel there is one major problem with it: we feel the need to explain to men why this movement deserves respect and support – and why it is downright barbaric if they don’t. The fact is that no matter how much explanation goes into this, at times it feels like all attempts at explanations are futile.
Since I have already lost half of the (male) readership of this column, let me just address the women. We all support the MeToo movement and the rights of women. We also, at the same time, recognise the sort of complications that can arise in many cases. For example, I really wanted to stand with Ayesha Gulalai. Here was a young woman, commanding a position in a political party, directly accusing the now most powerful man in Pakistan. And she had evidence. And we all waited – and it didn’t come.
Whatever the reasons for Gulalai not providing the evidence she claimed she had, the blowback of her claims directly affected her – and greatly affected other women in Pakistan as well.
As someone who stands for women’s rights, I also feel that if we want these rights rooted in a foundation that can stand the tests of time, we must make sure that we are fair. Fair to the women and fair to the men. If we do not allow the law to take its course, we will allow these all-too-common incidents to happen over and over again; and with each instance, we will allow men to gain more space. Emotion cannot lead the day – facts, logic and the law must.
Never before, in the history of womankind, has something snapped like this. Women have now started speaking out openly. Also – importantly – never before have men, in strong positions, come out and supported women like they are now. It would be downright stupid if women lost this chance. A chance to finally let men know that making women uncomfortable through a lingering touch or sexual innuendos in meetings is not okay. If we manage to take advantage of MeToo and create something tangible out of an intangible movement, we will have succeeded in making life just a little bit easierfor women.
I didn’t know Qandeel Baloch but I would like to believe that she, in an ideal world, would’ve taken Mufti Qavi to court, sat in the witness stand with her legs crossed, an indifferent defiance in her air. She would have laid out detail after detail, provided evidence, if any, and swatted away any dirt that was thrown her way. She was confident and sure. And that’s what scared harassers the most. A woman who is comfortable, sure, and true.