Lately, the women’s protection law has been causing outrage amongst many who claim that women are safe and do not require protection and that this law will only create problems for women and families as a whole. When someone tries to explain to me how women are safe in this country, I can’t help but be fascinated by their ignorance. I cannot even begin to talk about the rural areas where atrocities that one can’t even fathom happen with women. What I can do is talk about the daily struggles of an independent, working class woman in big cities like Lahore through this open letter.
Dear man on the motorcycle,
You called out to me and I thought something was wrong with my car. Since I am foolish enough to believe that the world is full of nice, helpful people, I initially thought of you as a nice man who was perhaps pointing out a flat tyre, or a door not properly closed. You weren’t. Dear man on the motorcycle, you don’t realize that I have two jobs, that that was a day I got free from work early and so was excited to be going home early. I thought I’d make a quick stop at one of the malls on the way and go shopping. Your constant zig-zagging around my car, your disgusting laugh when it scared me, your pathetic attempts to signal that you wanted my number and your half an hour of chasing me, trying to force a conversation made me rush straight home. Your ‘harmless’ behavior got me to panic. I felt unsafe throughout my way home, inside my own car which I was driving in my hometown in a country I have spent 23 years in. Dear man on the motorcycle, because of people like you, many women lose their chance of being independent. It is the fear of people like you that drives many women into not pursuing their careers. It is because of people like you that certain families forbid their daughters from getting good education. It is because of people like you women feel unsafe in a country that is their own.
Why is it that a woman needs to have a male guardian in order for your harassment to stop? Why is it that if a family comprises only of women, you feel free to threaten and harass them? Why is it that independent women are worthy of your aggression and anger, simply because you know that these women are strong enough to deal with you on their own? Why does it threaten your ego so much that you resort to raising your voice to ensure that the women are ‘afraid’ of you? It is because of people like you that women continue facing domestic violence instead of walking way from an abusive marriage. Pakistan is no place fit for women to live alone. It is because of people like you that women end up dying at the hands of their husbands but refuse to leave the home and live independently; for many women that would be walking out of the frying pan into the fire.
Dear helper at the shop,
You have hundreds of people coming to your store every day, many of whom treat you with no respect at all. It saddens me to see that you have gotten so used to that treatment that if a woman thanks you for your help and smiles at you, you feel that it is okay to harass her with your cheeky grin every time she walks into the store. You think it is okay for you to slip in your number for her-it most definitely is her fault for showing kindness to you, isn’t it? The fact that she smiled at a complete stranger is good enough for you to believe that she is not a woman of character and therefore deserves to be harassed.
Dear mechanic at the workshop,
If I drive a car, why do you expect my brother to bring it to the workshop to get it fixed? Why is it a strange sight for you to see a woman tell you what needs fixing in her car? You think it is easy to fool a woman by taking more time to do a small task just to make more money. It is because of people like you that many women refrain from driving and miss out on a lot of opportunities in life.
It’s fun, isn’t it, when we hang out at restaurants till late at night? What offended me was when you told that your sisters have a curfew and never stay out late at night. That trip to the northern areas you kept asking me and our other friends to go on would have been great, dear friend, but why is it that your sisters aren’t allowed to even stay out at night in the same city yet you expect your friends to accompany you on a trip to another city? I can’t help but think about what you say behind my back. It is because of your double standards that girls aren’t allowed to enjoy their lives like boys are. Your sisters have curfews to protect them from people like you, dear friend. Doesn’t that make you feel bad?
Dear man from the bank,
I hear your wife is not allowed to work. Pakistan is a ruthless place for working women, with men waiting like vultures for their prey. You would never let your wife face such degrading conditions. Why is it then, that you keep messaging me at odd hours just to ask how I am? Dear man from the bank, giving you my number in no way entitled you to start messaging me in the middle of the night. I feel sorry for your children who will grow up seeing you as their hero. I feel sorry for your young boy, who will grow up to be a man like you and your young girl, who will be caged with her wings clipped from a very young age. You will justify it by telling her you’re only protecting her from the evils of the world. Deep down inside, doesn’t it kill you to know you just want to protect her from men like you?
Dear man in the elevator,
I wear jeans, I wear western attire. Pakistan has an unforgiving summer so I do wear the occasional sleeveless shirt. While I understand that this is not a dress code you would allow at your home, you need to respect what people wear outside. By wearing clothes that I am comfortable in, I in no way am implying that I do not mind when you deliberately push yourself onto me in an elevator that is not at all crowded. Does it not embarrass you that other men have to tell you to move forward because they can see I am uncomfortable at your shameless advances towards me? How do you look at yourself in the mirror when you know that it is because of men like you that your daughters have to wear abayas?
Dear Pakistani men,
Your double standards, your shameless advances, your ‘harmless’ behavior is costing the women of your country severely. You are destroying lives, you are destroying futures. You are creating children who will grow up in this bizarre world and think of it as something perfectly normal. Your sons will grow up believing that nice, righteous women are the ones who stay at home and sacrifice their dreams for their families’ honours and that any girl who steps out of the house is just another characterless woman asking for it. Teach them that that is not the case.