By Syeda Ghazal Qadri

Let’s assume Sarah is the victim of domestic violence – and for years she has been suppressing her emotions. Given the stigma attached to divorce in Pakistan, and the fact that she has 3 children with her abuse, staying in her marriage has always felt like her only choice. One day, while applying makeup to cover up the marks of her abuse, she snaps and the next thing you know, she’s driven to the police station realizing that this is a real problem. In an idealistic world, Sarah would report her abuse, get custody of her children, whilst having enough social and financial empowerment to raise them on her own and continue with her life. However, this world is far from idealistic and here’s (among other things) is what Sarah finds herself going through:

  1. Severe Discomfort in filing a report. This discomfort is much worse if the officer in contact is a cis man, as most are in Pakistan.
  2. Social Stigma. Forget the abuse she has endured, Sarah is to blame – she’s ruining her family, especially the lives of her children.
  3. Financial Constraints. If Sarah is empowered enough to have enough wealth in battling this, she is in a far better position. However, if she doesn’t and hasn’t worked, she is in for a very tough battle.

While these are the issues on top of my head that I feel exist in reporting abuse, there’s so much more. So inevitability we should ask, what can Sarah do? Furthermore, how can the system (the police particularly) help Sarah in overcoming this ordeal?

In the 27th Session of the Learner’s Republic Fellowship 2021, I had the privilege of having Amna Baig as our speaker. Amna spoke on a myriad of topics, particularly of her experience with the Police Department, Transgender Units, Harassment Units and Day Care facilities in the office. This session made me wonder of reporting harassment to the police, a topic I often have come across to in my life. Furthermore, with the ongoing case of Meesha Shafi and Ali Zafar, the backlash to reporting harassment has been highlighted in our lives. This is where we can point to and say that the system has fallen down, because even if someone musters up the courage to report what they have gone through, the social stigma along with the internalized misogyny and the lack of a concrete policy and its implementation catering to harassment leads to significant difficulty in reporting.

Policy makers in Pakistan do give harassment its due importance. In my personal experience as a research assistant to a senator, I have understood the importance she had given to harassment, from gathering data on a hundreds of cases before senate meetings to their conversations in the senate, the effort has been seen.

Along with that, relevant bills have been passed too. But somewhere between that effort and the implementation of it on a grass root level, a policy gap can be identified. While some may believe this gap exists because of the social stigma attached to harassment, others may think that the policy itself is not strong enough to cater to it. Whatever the reason may be, one thing can be concluded for sure: reporting harassment in Pakistan is NOT an easy task, and the system fails to support you.

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