Instead of only focusing on the #Metoo campaign about sexual harassment and some other areas of political, business and work cultures, as I had planned to do, I shall begin my article with positive issues related to politics and politicians. A few days ago, a former Norwegian Prime Minister, Odvar Nordli, passed away at the age of 90. He was PM in the 1970s – at the time when many Pakistanis immigrated to Norway – and he was considered a particularly decent politician and a kind person, liked not only by his Labour Party colleagues, but also by the opposition politicians. Now, at his passing, he is praised for all this, with three principles mentioned; first, that we must always stand up for those who need support; second, never forget our roots and where we come from; and third, that it is those with the broadest shoulders that must carry the heaviest burden. I also remember that when Nordli had resigned from his post as PM, and later became a provincial governor, he once said that often there is a cold wind the blows at the top, or maybe he said mountain tops, since Norway has abundance of mountains.
For Pakistanis, Odvar Nordli may not be important as a person, but the principles that he stood for, and his folksy and decent style, have universal importance, not least in our time, with self-serving talk and action. For example, we have few inhibitions in criticising current and former political opponent, even partners if that is in own interest. A lot of the time, we focus on negative aspects of what former leaders rather than their achievements. Shouldn’t we also honour other leaders than the founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah? We should also realise that politicians are part of their time, operating within the local and international conditions and zeitgeist.
Too easily, we seem to accept what is already there and what is the going opinion in social and other situations, not reflecting on alternatives, in spite of the old ways not just be far from optimal, they may be outright wrong and destructive. We may just go on operating within the traditions and cultures we are a part of. The way we relate to each other at work, men and women, bosses and subordinates, old and young, is indeed like this. Young people and newcomers are socialised into following how the old work, think and behave both professionally and socially.
The #Metoo campaign about sexual harassment, mainly in work places, became a watershed issue, at least in the media, in the second half of 2017, especially in USA and Europe, and to some extent elsewhere. We have probably just seen the beginning of the public debate and deeper analysis of the issues. The focus is sexual harassment and gender inequality. We should focus on that until we reach some results and establish new standards. But the issues are much broader; they have to do with how we exercise power, how we control others and how they control us. It is about setting equal standards for good and bad behaviour, what is acceptable and what is not – all within the environment, culture and sub-culture we live in. Yet, the issues are global. If they haven’t quite reached us in Pakistan, they are under the surface and will come out in the open soon.
Earlier, I have written about the harm of tax heavens. In recent years, we has begun criticising them, and we have singled out very rich individuals who make use of the tax heavens in Panama, Cyprus, Jersey and a myriad of other locations – they are many and it has been within the business culture of the very rich worldwide to use them when in their interest; they have not wanted to see much ethically wrong about it. It is a bit parallel to taking advantage in own interest of opportunities when being in a high post, just being ‘a little bit corrupt’, if everyone else in the same culture, do the same. But then, we have now, in Pakistan and in Norway, started to express outrage about Panama registered companies. We must now change the rules and regulations; it is not right to change the rules after the fact. One good thing about new media is that we cannot quite as easily live in parallel worlds, those with silver spoons and golden plates, and the vast majority who just have plastic bowls, maybe not even that.
It is puzzling that the tax haven and sex harassment cultures, and the nasty talks in politics, too, could exist till this very day with little concrete debate. Now, we have just begun talking about the issues. We say we demand change real fast, especially as regards sexual abuse and misconduct. I believe change will come, and that 2017 will be a ‘before-and-after’ year in what is acceptable behaviour for men and women at work, in political life and other public (and private) situations. Yet, we still have to develop the new culture with its norms and practices. Also, we must not go over the top and push the positive aspects out and away from daily interaction. Part of what makes life interesting and energising, isn’t that exactly the little tension that exist between men and women, the personal aspects of diverse interaction and communication?
In Scandinavia, we have had a number of reports about harassment from women – in spite of the advanced gender equality in general. In Sweden, the entertainment sector had hundreds of women telling about incidents, sometimes even naming and shaming men in public. In Norway, the fifty year old deputy chairman of the Labour Party had to resign recently after a number of much younger women had reported to the party headquarters what was termed ‘inappropriate behaviour of sexual nature’. The other chairwoman, Hadia Tajik, said she was shocked about much of it. It is important that all such cases be taken seriously, but it is not always given that the reports’ versions are right. This is a weak point in the #Metoo campaign.
In today’s article, I have just drawn attention to a few aspects related to political, business and social cultures. I have hardly scratched the surface of the many problematic issues. It remains to be seen how we can improve situations and find ways of working and living together in respect for each other – yes, the way I started my article, with reference to the former Norwegian PM Odvar Nordli and his decent values and attitudes. If we have the right foundations, we will be able to behave better. The rich and powerful will not exploit others; men will not exploit women, young not old, and so on. But in many fields, we also need new legal rules and regulations, and we need agreement about everyday behaviour so that we neither talk nor act in ways that are wrong and feel abusive to others. Openness is essential. That means that sub-cultures, groups, organisations, companies, and so on, must not operate without outside control and participation. When we see something which is wrong, we must talk about it. For example, as regards the Panama business practices, and earlier the Swiss bank accounts, people knew that those things were wrong, but didn’t act. Or, at social level, if there harassment of women at work, even just bad language or the way men look at women, or talk about women when they are not in the room, we know when we overstep good and decent behaviour. It is not only in schools that mobbing exists; it is in work places too, in neighbourhoods and organizations.
The cost of inappropriate political, business and social behaviour, including harassment and mobbing, is harmful and costly to those directly affected but also to the society at large. If the rich steel from the poor, we know that is wrong. We must sound the alarm. If a woman cannot take part in the work place and feel safe, she may stay at home, and we are all deprived of the inputs from women.