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The book of harassment and resignation

Karachi: In 1997 Fouzia Saeed, along with 10 other women, resigned from a well-paid job in Islamabad as a result of incessant harassment from their boss. Thirteen years later, Saeed launched ‘Working with Sharks’, a long-in-the-making book about the incident and more, at The Second Floor (T2F) on Thursday.

But the session was more than being about the book; Saeed was asked more questions that linked with the topic that she chose to write about.

Mohsin Saeed, a fashion journalist, read an excerpt from the book which speaks about how those who harass are incidentally very close to the boss or people powerful enough to have a say in important matters.

The book talks about the way Saeed fought her case and she says the retaliation of the management after she made the harassment public was “worse than the act itself”.

A smiling Saeed did mention that not all men harassed, and it was the same office where she met her husband. “I am not saying that men and women should not interact. What this book speaks about is the bias regarding women and the trivialisation of issues which they often raise.”

Raising an issue and then writing about it was tough, she said, during her talk, “as it shows your vulnerability. But the moment got on and I thought of writing everything.”

Twelve years down the line there was acceptance of women- related issues but, she said, the patterns and dynamics of dealing with sexual harassment were still the same.

The myths were still there, she pointed out. “Which is why, the other 10 women who resigned with me are not standing here. And that is my question through this book, that are we ready to create space for women to speak up or not?”

She answered her question by saying that the space was being created. She gave the example of a professor at Punjab University in Lahore who was forced to quit after 80 complaints of sexual harassment were filed against him.

While speaking of coming out and blaming a person for harassment, Saeed was asked why women sided with those who harassed

The reason was to not get a bad image and to be on the safe side precisely, she said, as “there is a vicious spiral that takes both the victim and the sympathiser down with it.”

Getting down to the nitty-gritty of how things worked in our society, Saeed said that girls were raised with a “romanticised version” of everything. Training, she added, should start from childhood.

Speaking about the book, Saeed said: “It is an easy read. And not everything written in it is dry. There are humorous aspects as well.”

When she was asked how different writing ‘Taboo’, her earlier book, was from the latest one, she said both were completely different experiences as she used to be depressed while writing ‘Working with Sharks’, which, she thought, was a closer look at her life.

Speaking of the laws, she said that so far she had witnessed Scandinavian countries follow and implement laws regarding women. About Pakistan, she said the laws were within the parameters of society. And the steps that women could take to file complaints of sexual harassment were formal reporting, going to the ombudsman, police and then court. “This is close to our cultural sensitivity and one that women need to practise more. They do have a choice.”

Nuzhat Kidvai, a senior member of the Women Action Forum, was also present at the launch. Giving her opinion about harassment, she said that it was a stereotypical portrayal of women in the media that exacerbated such incidents. She gave the example of Begum Nawazish Ali that used to air on a TV channel, and said that it catered to a particular male fantasy which was not how women spoke in real life. “People do agree behind closed doors, but when it comes to point it out openly, not many dare.” The book is being translated into Urdu.

Source: The News

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