The day she went to get her identity card at NADRA, Anila Ansari found herself doing more than sitting for a camera to get photographed. She felt she was the focus of a thousand stares. And when she finally snapped at the man who had accompanied her to the counter where she paid the fee for the card, it was not just out of unease at being ogled by men at NADRA, but from a frustration borne out of many such experiences before.
“It felt more than ogling; it felt like he would start drooling any minute now,” says Anila Ansari, who works as a program manager at Power 99, the Islamabad based FM radio. “The man turned red in the face when I asked him why he was staring at me like that. I asked him if I was someone with horns on my head.”
Of late, Anila Ansari has been scolding men a lot: Youth standing in a queue at the Hardees where she had taken out her nephew, at the guard sat outside Standard Chartered where she went to open an account and those in the bazaar. “It appears I can’t go out without rebuking someone for staring at me. It makes me very uncomfortable but I cannot stand being ogled at. It makes me feel like I am not a woman but a spectacle.”
Anila Ansari, who has returned to Pakistan after 20 years in UK, says she was so upset by the rampant habit among men to ogle women that she decided to take up the issue on the radio show she does for Power 99. She talked to her colleagues at the radio station where mostly young women do programming and news and they all expressed dismay at the practice but had grown resigned to it, as most Pakistani women do.
The program was hugely popular among listeners who called to comment on the subject. However it was the opinion of most male callers, as opposed to women who voiced discomfort with the practice of ogling, that got her thinking deeply about the subject.
““Men called to blame it all on women,” says Ms Ansari. “They said women deserved what they got for turning up all made up in public spaces and for sashaying around like models. I realized that the issue was more deep-rooted than what a radio program could address – it called for a behavior change campaign.”
Ms Ansari proposed that Power 99 launches an anti-ogling campaign to highlight this serious problem in the Pakistani society as not only it amounts to invasion of a woman’s personal space, it makes her feel uncomfortable and insecure too. She formed a campaign team who were tasked with developing campaign slogans and logos. The campaign team is aware of the sad reality that a lot of people brush the issue of female harassment off by claiming there are more pertinent issues in Pakistan such as terrorism, unemployment, health etc to deal with. Through this campaign they want to ask the society, is the marginalization of half of our population not a serious enough issue?
Ms Ansari says she knows attitudinal change can be a painfully slow process however it’s not impossible. Talking about the objectives of the campaign she says “Our campaign will allow us to bring this issue in the mainstream and get people acknowledge how serious an issue ogling is and how it impacts on a woman’s mental health and well-being as well as her employment and academic opportunities. It will allow us to expose the under reported stories of female harassment and help us tackle the roving eye syndrome. Our campaign will create a public discourse about the issue of ogling, encouraging people to acknowledge that ogling is an unacceptable behavior”.
“As female journalists, we often find ourselves in situations where male ogling and harassment can be a huge obstacle in performing our duties effectively .Therefore we understand the everyday struggles of women in Pakistan who have to face this unacceptable male behavior in public places, educational institutions and work places”.
The campaign has the full support and commitment of Power 99’s CEO, Mr Najib Ahmed. Power 99 takes harassment of women seriously and is one the first institutions to sign the AYSHA code of ethics. Sharing his views about the anti-ogling campaign, Mr Ahmed said “Without the participation of women we cannot produce balanced content for our listeners. For the last 10 years our organization has ensured its work force reflects gender balance. At the moment our female staff outnumber the male staff. And if you ask me the reason I would say it is very simple: they are more committed and responsible provided they are given a safe environment to work. Ogling is a big curse in our society; it can only be cured if the Pakistani print, broadcast and electronic media realize this and make concerted efforts to bring a positive change by addressing these harmful behaviors. Ensuring our women feel safe in the work place, public places and educational institutions will benefit the whole society. Our country will join the list of developed nations and mentally balanced societies”.
About Anila Ansari
Anila Ansari is a trained print and broadcast journalist. She has more than 20 years’ professional experience of working in print and broadcast media. Since joining Power99, Anila has conceptualized and developed a series of behavior change communication programs on social, health and gender related issues.
Anila has several years of experience of developing resources and awareness campaigns. Furthermore, she has several years of community development experience, working with vulnerable, hard-to-reach and socially excluded women’s groups. She has scripted and directed short plays raising awareness of Cancer Screening programs, mental health and domestic abuse related issues. Anila has lived and worked in the UK where she set up a women’s support group that that provides information, support, activities and a listening ear to South Asian women.
For further information
About the Anti Ogling Campaign
Misogyny is deeply embedded in the psyche of Pakistani men. Overt and covert gender discrimination continues unabated at every level.
Gender biased legislation further aids gender discrimination. Global Gender Gap Report 2015 ranks Pakistan at 144 out of 145 countries. For the past four years Pakistan ranked second last in global gender equality survey. The only country where women face worse equality issues is Yemen. It is significant that Pakistan ranked at 112 in 2006, the first year of the report, and since then, its position has been steadily deteriorating every year.
There is a constant barrage of messages in the Pakistani media, educational institutions, offices, public spaces promoting gender segregation and gender inequality.
We live in a country where the most common abusive words involve a person’s mother and sister.
Women are constantly compared to wrapped candy suggesting that the wrapper protects the women from flies and dust. In the same way a veiled woman won’t attract any unwanted attention and will be safe from male harassment. In fact it’s a highly derogatory analogy suggesting a woman is an irresistible food to be devoured.
Not only is the comparison offensive since it basically suggests that a person with a functioning brain can be compared to a lollipop, it also suggests that an inevitable link exists between “being a wrapped lollipop” and being a good woman who by covering up prevents herself from getting ogled and harassed by men. Any discussion or debate on the issue gets hijacked by the male sexist discourse that blames the women for bringing this on themselves.
This mindset holds the women responsible for male ogling and harassment as they don’t cover themselves in public, they wear make up and don’t dress modestly. Women who use public transport to commute to work or educational institutions have to deal with male ogling and sexual harassment on a daily basis. This unwanted attention and indecent remarks by the ogling men cause much discomfort and anxiety and in some cases can end a woman’s chance of seeking employment or education.
Some journalists have written on this issue but our campaign will be unique as there has never been a campaign or a concerted effort to tackle this issue. Here is a quote from a newspaper article written on this issue a while ago. “Women have to take matters into their own hands if they want to feel protected, but when a society is ingrained with this disease, the battle seems fruitless at times. Many women just stay silent because they don’t want to have the issue spiral out of control. Tackling the roving eye syndrome will require radical change, through education and a shift in values to abolish such behavior.
Sadly, I don’t think this problem will be rectified anytime soon. One can only hope that a majority of women will unite together to make a stand against this repulsive habit”. Another writer expressed similar views in her article in one of the English language newspapers. “I still shudder to recall a boy in that red, body-hugging, silk shirt. He would come in front of me every now and then, and make me cringe with his piercingly sharp stares. I wanted to cry and just run away from the situation. This wasn’t a first, nor was I alien to this hobby of sexually frustrated Pakistani men. I have experienced this from a very young age. It’s not just me but every other girl in this country who has this complaint and is disturbed by this behavior”.
Our campaign goes on air on Monday 18th July. The campaign messages will be aired on Power99 network as well as shared on our website and social media pages. We would invite civil society organizations, educational institutions, government departments and local businesses to come on board to support the campaign.
We anticipate some challenges too. In a male dominant society, highlighting harmful and unacceptable male behaviors is in itself a huge challenge. Furthermore women can be reluctant to share their experiences and stories due to fear of being judged by the society.