NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 11

How to make our society a safer place for women

More than 80% of Pakistan’s population feels women are not safe in the country, according to the Quarterly Performance Evaluation Survey (QPES) report, released by the Pulse Consultant. It is a matter of great concern for all, indeed. But unsafe from whom, must be a natural question. From men, who have expressed their concern about women’s safety? If all of them, both men and women, are concerned about the safety of women in society, that means they want women to stay safe. If such a huge part of society wants the safety of women, then why are they still unsafe?

Before the findings are analysed further, let’s have a look at more details of the report. The consultant firm says on its official website that the survey was conducted through CATI (Computer Assisted Telephonic Interviews), a state-of-the-art technology in which all calls are recorded. The website explains that the Quarterly Performance Evaluation Survey (QPES) is an indigenous tracking tool, through which data has been collected on a quarterly basis with the help of unbiased, well-structured, non-leading questions and instrument since Nov 2018, on public perceptions and opinions about the government’s performance and the current political situation.

According to it, the survey findings were based on 1,809 respondents’ opinions, who were interviewed by telephone. It showed that most Pakistanis, who see women safe to some extent in the country, are from Balochistan, where 74% of people vouched for it. The highest perception of “unsafety” was reported from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which was 46%, and Punjab was second, reporting 35% perception of “unsafety”. The ratio of people who consider women unsafe in Pakistan from Sindh, was 26% in the survey.

There might be some other reasons for people’s perception about the unsafety of women in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, like militant groups, who have openly been opposing education for women and the provision of basic human rights to them, but in Punjab and Sindh provinces, the reasons are obvious. The major reason for the respondents from the two provinces, expressing their concern about the safety of women, is violent incidents taking place in a large number in the near past. The electronic and print media have been rife with reports on almost a daily basis of rape, gang-rape, sexual assaults during robberies and even on highways.

It is a common perception in society that poor and helpless women are more vulnerable to criminal, violent and sexual attacks. The highest feeling (45%) of “unsafety” was reported by the “lowest socio-economic class” and “somewhat safe” was mainly reported by respondents belonging to the “middle class” (57%). However, almost half (51%) of the female respondents from the “upper class” and one third (38%) from the “lowest class” expressed concern about their safety while going outside the home. Interestingly, males consider females less safe (22%) in Pakistan, compared to female respondents (29%).

Prof. Dr. Rubeena Zakar, director of the Institute of Social and Cultural Studies, University of the Punjab, Lahore, wonders what is the respondents’ concept and perception about women safety? Who are those people, men and women, who pose a threat to the safety of women in society, she asks. “If such a large majority of people, i.e. over 80%, are concerned about the safety of women in society, why don’t we see its impact practically,” she asks. “Do they believe in the safety of only their own women?”

Prof. Dr. Raana Malik, chairperson of the Department of Gender Studies at University of the Punjab, says that dozens of men misbehaved with a TikToker at the Minar-e-Pakistan that embarrassed every sensible Pakistani. “On the social media, there had been a campaign against the victim. According to them, she had staged the drama herself for gaining “cheap” publicity. If we accept their version for a moment, does that mean she should be subjected to torture? She was tossed into the air, groped, slapped, her clothes were torn off, and what not. Alas! No one was there to stop them,” Prof. Raana adds.

Prof. Rubeena Zakar says approval of such treatment of women is found in our society at every level: in our homes, at workplaces, in shopping malls, on roads and streets, everywhere. “You must have heard the appreciative words uttered by someone for a goon, who had kissed an unidentified girl sitting in a motorcycle-rickshaw on a Lahore road. Its video went viral on the social media,” recalls the sociologist. She believes the safety perception about Pakistani women cannot improve until men in our society respect all women, whether they have any blood relation with them or not. “Women must teach their male children from day one that their female siblings are as important and respectable as they themselves are. They will have to be taught since their childhood that all women in society are respectable to them; whether they are their blood relations are not. Only then we can establish a safe society for women,” she suggests.

The writer is a physician by profession. She has worked as an intern at the Capital Health (New Jersey) & the Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital (New York). Rights and gender issues are the areas of special interest to her. She can be reached at: [email protected]