Ayesha Gulalai’s allegation and its repercussions for Pakistani women

By Ali Hassnain

Before I begin, I must point out that I am not a supporter of PTI or PMLN or part of any political party whatsoever. That puts me in a unique place of neutrality that is prized commodity these days.

Here is what we know.

Sexual Harassment of women is a serious problem in our country just like it is all the other countries of the world.

Little has been done to address the issue of work place harassment; however baby steps have been taken.

The culture of belittling women, objectifying them and sexually harassing them unfortunately extends to all political parties of Pakistan.

Ayesha Gulalai Wazir is a powerful politician who belongs to South Waziristan (tribal area), and her father is a teacher. She started her career as a human rights activist. She joined PPPP, a splinter group of PPP created in support of Musharraf as a worker. She rose through the ranks, joined APML created by Musharraf after his resignation, then PPP. Supposedly she could not compete for parliament due to her age in 2008. She joined PTI in 2012 and was appointed to a high position in the party. In 2013 she was “appointed” a member of parliament on the seats reserved for women. They are indirect elections and outcome is predictable as almost all the members vote on party line.

She was a vocal supporter of Imran Khan till a few days back when she claimed she has been harassed by Imran Khan on text messaging for years.

Her sister was a rebellious child who went on to become a squash player. Not to judge, but I was under the impression that Pakistani tennis and squash players use trousers to cover their legs due to cultural and religious sensitivity. But these days supporters of PTI are circulating her pictures in shorts. I am not sure if it is directly relevant or even important, but worth mentioning.

Timing of her claims is extremely important. Archrival of Imran Khan had been disqualified on the 28th of July, on 30th PTI celebrated “Yaum e Tashakkur and Miss Gulalai was right there on the stage.

Finally here is what she claimed on 1st of August: the culture being promoted by certain party leaders was not in line with Pakthtun cultural values.

“Women workers are not respected in the PTI and a respectable woman worker cannot remain in the party,

Media frenzy followed; there were accusations and counter accusations. In short she claimed Imran and at least one other party member have sexually harassed her on text messaging (I think). She claimed her party leader Imran Khan had been sending her inappropriate messages since 2013 (for 4 years). She also said that he was constantly hitting on her, even trying to meet her alone.

NOW my concern is somewhat different. This case would have long term repercussions.

IF, and I want to clarify IF her statements are politically motivated or she is doing so for money/future promises, she is guilty of sending our society back on the issue of harassment at least 10 years.

We, like most countries of the world are battling with blaming the victim mind set. Being a developing country we lack resources. Little has been done to protect women; however it is wrong to say at least little has not been done. Is it enough? Not by a long shot, but at least it’s a direction that is being adapted.

IF her claims are correct, BBM or Whatsapp messages have end to end encryption and a forensic lab can verify her claims. BBM was even accepted as evidence in a case of treason (Memogate). That’s however beside the point; I don’t find any leader indispensable, super human, holier than thou or above the law. She has enough resources and powerful friends who would help her. My concern is, IF she is proved to be an ambitious lady who lied for some personal gains what’s next?

What would you expect a primary teacher of a remote village in Baluchistan to do when the headmaster uses his social position to sexually harass her? What is she supposed to do when he is being inappropriate with her? Would she be blamed for being alone with him? Would she be asked a thousand questions? Assumed guilty till proven innocent? Would she be called another ‘Ayesha Gulalai’?

Who would change the mindset when our politicians are busy pursuing their own political agenda?

I am making the assumption here that Miss Gulalai’s accusations are politically motivated because her “friends” from her new political party would have roasted Imran Khan by now had there been proof or evidence.

That being said, a culture of sexual exploitation exists in all the major political parties of our country, and that needs to be tackled with a very serious no nonsense approach. It exists in universities, medical colleges, hospitals, banks and corporate entities. I do plan to write about this menace and surely, one article cannot cover it. But my point here is IF it is a politically motivated issue, Miss Gulalai is guilty of silencing countless current and future victims of sexual harassment. It is a serious problem which extends to both genders. Are we trying to “India-fy” the issue of sexual harassment??  Blame the victim and forget about it?

Should it be mentioned overwhelming majority of rape in Pakistan (especially sodomy) goes unreported. In rare cases when it is reported, it is extremely uncommon for culprits to face justice, both because of rotten law and justice system and culture of a male dominated society. 90%, probably more (90% is a very conservative estimate) people who face jail terms are those who elope with their lovers, the lover later recants under family pressure and alleges abduction and rape. Such is the pathetic condition of our criminal justice system.

So here are my questions to Miss Gulalai:

You remained silent for your years and suddenly brought up the charges some 3 days or so after your leader was enjoying the biggest wave of popularity and a moral high ground. Fine, one can accept your hesitation. You claim you have evidence. Text messages, Blackberry messages and Whatsapp messages can be all verified and are acceptable in a court of law. Prove your case. You owe it to the public to produce evidence even if it is borderline harassment, which appears not to be the case from the looks of it. It is a criminal case; why haven’t you launched an FIR yet, or a civil suit at least? If you don’t, you are a criminal. You have no idea what damage you have caused. If you are a victim, I support you.

And to PTI: Take her to court. Move fast. Discourage the very practice Miss Gulalai is accusing you of. Take practical measures if you are truthful, you have a strong case, go ahead defend yourselves.

Media and social media warfare would not get anybody anywhere but I fear it would cause extreme damage to women (especially working women) and the hype would die down eventually in some sort of compromise. That would be an unfortunate outcome indeed.