Earlier this month, a mainstream channel presented a hugely watched episode of Drama “Dunk,” which means “sting” in English. According to data released by YouTube, more than 1.5 million viewers tuned in, in addition to a large number of audiences who watched on screen.
The story of Dunk was criticized from the start as it covered the very sensitive issues of alleged harassment in an alma mater of Pakistan in a somewhat unconventional way that was also not the true reflection of society at present.
It centres around the character of a beautiful and innocent-looking educated girl who misuses her charm and alleges false accusations of harassment against her professor, who kills himself, and later against her cousin and former fiancé. Many women felt this portrayal was an insult to all women at workplaces and educational institutions.
The issue of harassment has been discussed widely in Pakistan’s vibrant media recently, especially a few mainstream cases like Meesha Shafi vs. Ali Zafar, the case of a male professor at Karachi University, the case of radio presenter TehreemMuneeba vs. the radio channel, Shiffa Yousafzai vs. Asad Toor and a case related to Agha Shorish vs. Tanzeela Mazhar and Yashfeen Jamal.
The controversy caused by some slogans of Aurat March, which affected sentiments of a segment of the population, was an additional reason to bring the issue to the limelight; however, it miserably failed in making a positive im- pact due to divisive debates on the matter
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Pakistani Media: A misconstrued reality
In one of his interviews with an international channel, Prime Minister Imran Khan also confirmed that only “one per cent” of rape cases are reported in Pakistan. A survey done by Punjab Police underlines that out of the one per cent reported cases, more than ninety per cent do not get a conviction. With these specific facts, one would have expected a bit of empathy and understanding from the makers of the drama, not a tornado of hatred being thrown on women.
At one point, in a captivating scene, the woman is not only divorced at the stand of the court but also humiliated quite extra-judicially by her former fiancé. He found it perfectly acceptable to kidnap his cousin because of her false accusation.
While the Director claims that the story is based on the life of a real person, it is a fact that harassment against women is more common than the cases of perverted minds in which the woman was the villain and not the victim. The eternal messaging in the drama was irresponsible and based heavily on misogyny. This dangerous example reflects how Pakistani media has barred an accurate representation of women in discourse.
Events of violence against women saw an alarming rise with highlighted cases like the “motorway rape case,” “Noor Muqaddam’s murder and beheading case,” and the Quratulain case becoming worldwide trends on Twitter and glaring examples of dwindling safety of women. These examples are enough to parallel how women of privilege are not exempted, so what to talk about working women belonging to middle and lower middle-classes?
Are we failing to represent women?
The journey of Pakistan in itself is an amazing story of highs and lows, and the women of Pakistan are not behind in contributing to the cause of nation-building. The country has traditionally been an agricultural-based economy, and women have been an integral part of this sector.
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A woman of the village is a hard-working, respected, and dedicated to the home and fields entity in a family, so what went so drastically wrong that the same woman who landed for a better future in urban settings with the same zeal is now subject to verbal, visual and physical harassment?
As the educational leap for women started to impact various sectors of the economy, women were encouraged to take up jobs away from stereotypical sectors, and more opportunities were presented in hospitality, food, media, marketing, IT, entrepreneur businesses, armed forces, medicine, media, and many other fields. The last decade has seen a female influx in various sectors, which are fast becoming the backbone of the economy.
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The economic pundits are predicting Pakistan’s economy will be booming in coming years, where more avenues will open up for the female workforce. The parity of high-wage male dominating society will make a paradigm shift where skill will be critical for success rather than gender. The question arises are we ready for this change or not? Recent echoes of harassment against women and violations should make us consider whether we have failed our hard-working mothers and daughters who are also earning for their families?
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We need a fair assessment of the social norms and values and how we are building our society to take this giant step towards modernization, yet handing over women into the clutches of harassment? Society is transforming rapidly, and if the values are not checked at the right time, then there will be a moral decay. Hence, the media needs to take its role seriously in determining this all-inclusive role of women in the emerging society.
It all started by ignoring trivial matters of public transporters violating female passengers, ogling in public, hormonal men following girls from colleges, colleagues poking noses in women matters, whistling, cracking lucid jokes, and passing remarks. One goes to any hill station in Pakistan, including Murree, and it is perfectly acceptable that a group of nasty boys can make the walking of a family with girls uncomfortable.
One will often see a father walking with bowed down shoulders with his family comprising girls because we did not object from the beginning that this is not acceptable or civilized behavior. One of the most prominent political exercises seen by women in the near past was during the sit-in of 2014 when the present Prime Minister and then in opposition Imran Khan brought men and women on roads.
Political victimization of women
Those opposing the sit-in started blaming the women for being present with men at these gatherings, “of dancing” and listening to music. The then PM Nawaz Sharif lamented in a public gathering, “did you see, what were women doing at dharna?
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Even a modern party, MQM, which consistently portrayed itself as a woman-friendly party, criticized women’s participation heavily during that dharna. And we all stayed quiet at the injustice of this insinuation, forgetting all those women who participated in an active battle to get their right to vote.
Again in 2018, another dharna took place under JUI-F, and thousands of men poured in the capital; this time, there were no women as it was announced by the organizers “their women” are not needed “for such exercises.”
All mainstream media gave coverage to this political exercise that abhorrently barred any women participation. Even the women journalists who went to cover it, including me, had to walk in tight security and with covered heads due to the unseen pressure.
It is precisely these events or incidents or unseen pressure points, which required a negation. Nevertheless, we did not do that. Today, when we look around at the absence of creches at universities and workplaces, no feeding or baby rooms in marketplaces, no concept of maternity pay strictly implemented, we need to first look at where we went wrong from the start.
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We closed our eyes when female lawyers spoke of the problems they faced while working in dingy but mostly women unfriendly environments. A lower-middle-class woman is treated to an unimaginable cluster of challenges if she comes to get justice in these environs. We all know what happens in the lower courts, yet we all stay quiet as these are neither the “main issues” nor the “mainstream narrative.”
These “apparently small incidents” lead to more violent acts, affecting people for life or loss of life. To make matters worse, our entertainment and news industry is still grappling with defining the role of women
A need to take collective responsibility
Pakistani dramas have a considerable following and impact on viewers and must take a responsibility to educate the masses on issues that the country is facing and will impact the future. The intellectual dishonesty prevalent in many spectrums today will lead us to implant seeds of vulgarity which will further deteriorate the cause.
The young generation has no formal education on harassment, and this seems only a medium to portray the burning issues in the right spirit. However, the entertainment industry needs to show the character of more powerful women as working women and as devoted wives, loving mothers respected in-laws, which should be the true aspiration of shaping a responsible society.
The government needs to address this subject by introducing educational programs in various private and public sectors because harassment complaints take precedence over institutional reputation. Female employees must be encouraged to bring forth harassers instead of being victims of unnecessary male domination. Awareness based on reforms, not on some agenda, should be promoted and discussed by mainstream electronic and print media, which should play a vital role in policy formulation.
The introduction of the curriculum in higher education should be part of courses or subjects. Our society may be progressing towards modernity, but we cannot move ahead without forgetting our cultural and religious moralities. There is a vital need to educate males regarding harassment, and doing it in mosques, especially in Friday sermons, can make a massive difference in the outlook towards working women. There is no key to finish this issue.
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However, we as a society can bring it to the minimum by integrating all segments and formulating a unified firm policy that should give women enough freedom to work morally, ethically and become able part of society rather than an isolated entity being pushed in a defensive corner now and again. If there is still a journey towards a Naya Pakistan, it will not be possible without the women.
The Dunk or the “sting” of the society against women needs to be neutralized!
Fereeha Idris is a journalist, anchor, and host of the show ‘Tonight With Fereeha.’ She’s been allied with the media industry for the last ten years. She did her Masters in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Westminster, London. A slightly different version of this piece appeared under the title, “Cornered Tigresses and Naya Pakistan” in the August issue (print) of Global Village Space Magazine.