Women’s Action Forum, Lahore condemns the attacks on Ayesha Gulalai from various quarters for alleging sexual harassment by PTI party leader Imran Khan. Gulalai resigned from the PTI claiming that she had been receiving inappropriate text messages from Khan without her consenting to receiving such messages. The unfortunate reality is that many women in Pakistan face such unwanted sexual harassment, especially on social media but are expected to remain silent about this.

When women do speak up, there is a resort to character assassination of the woman in question resulting in impunity for the harassment. This practice is reflected in Gulalai’s case too where her moral character and family is being subjected to scrutiny. While her motives may be questioned, this character assassination is unacceptable. Not only is Gulalai being subjected to mass public shaming on social media and news channels, her sister, too, who is an internationally renowned squash player, is being shamed for wearing shorts in tournaments.

Unfortunately, character assassinations and attempts to shame women in the political arena is far too common and women from every party have been subjected to such attacks. For example, the daughters of PTI’s Shireen Mazari, who has condemned Gulalai for her statements, have faced the same level of public shaming because of their attire. Politicians routinely shame women. Mazari was part of a live television show where Firdous Ashiq Awan attacked Kashmala Tariq as a “prostitute” in 2009. WAF condemns all such of attacks on women and believes that the reaction to Gulalai’s statements is yet another example of actions designed to intimidate women from entering the public arena and speaking up about sexual harassment. The threat of subjecting Gulalai to a jirga unless she withdraws her statements is preposterous. This is vicious mindset which women need to unite against.

Women’s Action Forum strongly believes that all allegations of sexual harassment must be taken seriously and victims should be provided support.

WAF demands that the elected official and party workers start to ensure safer spaces for women to be able to speak up against harassment. The common woman cannot hope for much unless those in power model behaviour that can be admirably replicated.