LAHORE-Women’s Action Forum has condemned the abuse being hurled at Meesha Shafi and the character assassination she is being subjected to in the media and on social media as a result of her decision to step forward and speak about harassment.

WAF is deeply concerned about the vicious backlash against women survivors speaking out about their experiences of intimidation, harassment and violence in the workplace, home, social settings or public places. We welcome Meesha Shafi’s decision to take legal action and trust the courts will adjudicate quickly, effectively and justly so that women are not discouraged by the delays and secondary harassment that is faced by those who have the courage to speak out and take legal action.

We urge the courts to note the abuse being propagated in the media and the petty prejudices of those who try to bully the less powerful by focusing on women’s choice of clothing, profession and social behavior. These have nothing to do with sexual violence and are attempts to distract from the core issue.

WAF recognizes the importance of Pakistan’s Protection against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Law as a corrective in gender relations in this male dominated society. This law is critical for ensuring that women’s constitutional rights to safety and dignity are observed everywhere. Since this law and its committees are in place, WAF highlights the importance of using these as the sites of recourse for any complaints of sexual harassment.

At the same time, we are cognizant that the committees are often infected by the prevalent power dynamics, power relations, misogynist mindset and behavior we see in society, which deters survivors from stepping forward and exhausts those who do, ultimately driving them towards silence and despair. This must be addressed so recourse through available legal remedies is not erased as an option in the minds of survivors.

WAF believes the responsibility of observers is to steer the course of justice – not to become judges and experts and decide guilt or innocence. Those who wish to support survivors should attend the hearings and meet with other survivors in order to learn about the dynamics of sexual violence and its effects. While breaking the silence and contributing to discourse is important, simply tweeting sympathy, or abusive doubt, or remaining silent is not going to end this systemic form of violence against women.

It is not time to just issue opinions, it is time to become active and ensure our social and work culture is addressed to create safe and respectful spaces, evidentiary requirements for harassment are reformed to bring them in line with nature of the offence, workplace committees are functional, misuse is not taking place and the legal mechanisms are strengthened and not malfunctioning out of delays, neglect or bias. Let’s not be silent; let’s not convict or exonerate on social media; let’s go beyond the keyboard and be involved in strengthening procedure, structures and the will of the survivor, as well as be invested in changing the behavior of perpetrators.