THE stunning performance of Pakistan’s women’s cricket team came to an end on March 27 when they lost the match against England in the World T20 Championship. While the girls may have lost the match in Chennai, they had won the hearts of their country.
On social media, the hashtag #GirlsinGreen allowed fans from across Pakistan and the world to celebrate their wins and cheer them on. As captain Sana Mir said in one interview, the support that the team received was overwhelming, something the girls had not experienced before.
For Pakistani women’s sports, that have long suffered neglect and inattention, it was a moment of victory. Young girls in Pakistan now have a new team of vibrant, brave and skilled sportswomen as role models; nothing defeats sexism more than the public triumph of women.
Because it is so pivotal in transforming an athletic sphere dominated by men, this moment of celebrating the girls in green should not be permitted to fade out, and prove just a short pause in the usual disdain heaped upon women. One way to do this is to consider some of the issues women’s sports and particularly other ‘girls in green’ have faced in recent years.
Three years ago, five cricketers — Seema Javed, Hina Ghafoor, Kiran Irshad, Saba Ghafoor and Halima Rafiq — filed sexual harassment complaints against Maulvi Alam, a former judge who was then serving as the chairman of the Multan Cricket Club. Around the same time as when the complaint was filed, three of the five girls appeared on a television talk show in which they made their complaints public. A firestorm of attention, censure and scrutiny followed; everyone knows what happens when women take on powerful men in Pakistan.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) convened an inquiry into the matter. There is little information available as to how the inquiry was carried out, who exactly was tasked with fact-finding, and most importantly, whether any woman was among those involved in the probe. In the tradition of the frequent but mysterious investigations that are undertaken in Pakistan, its particular stipulations are unknown. There was, however, a decision.
On Oct 25, 2014, the committee issued a press release saying that all the allegations filed against the management of the Multan Cricket Club by the five women cricketers were false. As per the press release, the two-member inquiry committee (unnamed but most likely all male) met three of the five female cricketers who denied the allegations in the interview.
The inquiry committee glibly noted that all five had been facing some penalty linked to their playing. At the end came their decision: while the Multan Cricket Club only received a letter of censure, the five cricketers were banned from playing cricket for a whole year. As if this weren’t enough, they were saddled with the taint of having brought women’s cricket into disrepute by making the allegation in the first place.
To sum up, a public lesson was taught to all sportswomen in Pakistan: if you dare to complain against your male bosses who determine whether and where you get to play, you will face dire and disastrous consequences. Male-dominated boards and inquiry committees, like village jirgas and decrepit tribal councils, will locate the nation or the sport’s honour on their backs and find them wilfully lying.
The tragedy faced by the women (and the veracity of their initial allegations) was further underscored by what happened a few months after the ban was announced. In July 2014, Halima Rafiq, one of the complainants who was just 17 at the time, committed suicide. She had just received a summons in a libel suit filed by Maulvi Alam, suing her for Rs20 million for having made the allegations. Young, maligned and alone, banned from playing the sport that she loved, Halima saw no way out except death.
In this moment of celebrating the girls in green, that lost girl in green must be remembered. As numerous NGOs and human rights organisations have pointed out time and again, sexual harassment is rampant in Pakistan in general, and the sports world with female players managed by male boards is likely to be no different. So burdensome is the weight of making the allegations that few women ever dare to make them at all for precisely the reasons seen in the Halima Rafiq case.
The depth of her despair, and the truth of her allegations, can be seen in what she chose to do. After her death, her distraught family filed a petition with the Multan bench of the Lahore High Court, asking the court to direct the Multan police to register an FIR against Maulvi Alam. Nothing ever seems to have happened in that case; the family, drained, threatened and shocked, would have been an easy target for further intimidation and silencing.
If the girls in green are to be given the chance they deserve, and other girls in green are to be raised and encouraged, the case of Halima Rafiq and the Multan Cricket Club must be revisited. The male-dominated PCB, along with similarly constituted sports governance institutions, cannot be expected to rule over women’s sports in the country.
If a new era in women’s sports is to be heralded in Pakistan, sports governance bodies must include women, or new ones must be created to oversee women’s sports. Furthermore, internal mechanisms must be created through which female sportswomen can safely and confidentially make complaints against any wrongdoing, without facing public disgrace.
At the very least, inquiry committees investigating allegations must include women so that intimidatory tactics that make sexual harassment easy and rampant are not replicated in the guise of due process.
It has been great cheering on the girls in green; it’s time to see that the framework and governance of Pakistani sports is reformed to ensure their future success.