This blog is part of the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender Based Violence, which runs from November 25th through December 10th, 2014. The 16 Days of Activism are an international campaign that highlights violence against women as a human rights issues and calls for the elimination of all forms of violence against women. Throughout the 16 Days, Amplify will be featuring one blog each day from youth activists who sit on our International Youth Leadership Council and Girl Engagement Advisory Boards.
by Hamna, member of the Girl Engagement Advisory Board
I hesitantly looked down the street towards my car parked near the busy and bustling market. It was a Sunday and I had just left my friend’s place. Due to the traffic caused by the excessive crowd swarming the market, my mother couldn’t drive the car further up the road. I was frightened to walk that half mile. Not in fear of the icy cold weather but because of the harassment I’d face in that minute. My skinny jeans clung to my thighs and I cursed myself for not wearing the shalwar kameez my mother had ordered me to wear. I slowly took a step towards my car parked faraway when I felt the scathing stares perking at me from each and every corner. Suddenly, I felt a touch on my back and I turned around in horror to find myself staring at a grinning 10 year old. I could run but I couldn’t hide. This behavior and constant sexual harassment of girls wouldn’t stop. I thought about the devastated poverty stricken girls who had to deal with this kind of oppression and molestation every single day.
I felt unsafe and continuously persecuted by the men in our society. The basic right to leave the house to visit the neighbors wasn’t granted to the girls here. The increasing gender inequality angered me and I decided to work for this pertinent cause. I determined to visit my maid’s household to initiate my work from the grass root level. I found her three daughters clad in burkas, busy in laborious household chores. They covered their faces as soon as a man entered the small brick house and looked down in respect. I noticed the savage look in the eyes of the man, the girls’ cousin, who looked at all three of them from top to bottom similar to when a predator examined his prey. The discomfort of the girls was apparent by their constant shuffling and nervous gawking towards the floor.
I left the house in disgust, wandering what to do about this grave situation where a girl was not granted basic freedom and was considered subordinate to men. A thorough research on the constitution and protection against sexual harassment laws in Pakistan led me to the conclusion that there should be strong and adequate resourced child protection systems and laws should be formulated against these molesters. As a second step, I decided to educate the financially deprived adolescent girls about their rights and how they need to stand up against this oppression. This task was harder than I had thought. Several public schools did not allow me to preach these fundamental rights to girls as it could apparently ‘pollute’ their minds. The adolescent girls who I was allowed access to had convoluted questions, self pitying personalities and a tendency towards being told what to do. They were used to being demeaned and harassed by this patriarchal society, they hadn’t ever experienced complete freedom and thus they could not relate to it.
I was just about to give up on my efforts when 8 year old Sakina stood on her chair, her innocent face transforming into a grim serious one. ‘Don’t educate us about our rights and safety measures we could take; educate the boys to stop mistreating us’. Right then and there I had an epiphany and I scrambled through the worn public school, rushing home to develop the third step of my plan. My brother helped me in my gimmick as I knew a girl preaching against sexual harassment of adolescent girls wasn’t going to be appreciated or allowed in most public schools for boys throughout Pakistan. I started to accompany my brother to these expeditions where he would show slideshows on the importance of women and how not only the religion but the basic ideas and values tell us that they should be respected and treated as equals. I don’t know if my efforts will bear fruit or not but I sure hope they have enlightened some young minds and hopefully would help women have a greater degree of freedom in our society.