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Izza Rasul | 

As a woman belonging to a patriarchal society in Pakistan, voicing sexual harassment issues has always had negative repercussions for the whistleblower. I use the word, ‘whistleblower’ because I want people to think of this issue from a different perspective- a perspective that emboldens the culture of whistleblowing at all levels of our society.

The issue becomes ever more complex when a two-time Oscar winner, Sharmeen Obaid is in the limelight for reporting harassment taking place with her sister. Since her initial tweets were drenched in a variety of emotions against the ‘sexual harassment’ that her sister faced at the hands of a physician in Agha Khan University Hospital, she has been severely bashed on social media involving allegations that question her intent and hypocrisy.

The fact of the matter is that the majority of people are basing their arguments on incomplete information and biased judgments and no one seems to be interested in doing a legal and thorough investigation of this issue.

Prejudice against the male gender, arrogance because of her superior status in the society and most of all on her being a hypocritical person who advocates lessons of equality between genders and between the rich and less privileged class of the society are all accusations against her.

I am using a few excerpts from a recent article by Dawn News to highlight the height of unawareness regarding the true meaning of sexual harassment.

Read more: Sharmeen Obaid has just made Pakistan proud again!

“Reactions range from public figure Ali Moeen Nawazish’s belief that Sharmeen has trivialised the ordeal of real victims of harassment by calling a Facebook friend request “harassment” — to a post from the concerned doctor’s colleague who implies that Sharmeen abused her power as a celebrity to bring about the doctor’s termination.”

“Many commentators have also reminded naysayers that as a general rule (and especially in Pakistan, where personal boundaries are routinely infringed upon and harassment is a major issue) it is not up to the accused/perpetrator to determine what constitutes acceptable behavior or not — that right belongs to the accuser/victim.”

“What’s perhaps more problematic about the conversation surrounding the incident is Sharmeen’s own implication that she will use her family credentials to resolve the issue.”

“Her tone in her tweets undercuts the intent of her work and the motive of her complaint — and that tone, rather than her highlighting of inappropriate conduct, is probably the only issue up for debate here.”

It may be that that person witnessed someone else being victimized by a harasser and their experience can also be categorized as harassment because it created a hostile environment both for the direct victim and the witness.

Another article on Aljazeera.com stated how Sharmeen Obaid has been trolled on social media by the use of videos going viral in the past week. While men and women alike continue to criticize Sharmeen Obaid, very few of them have shared thoughts over the notion of harassment, consent, and ethical and moral obligations of a doctor working on the job.

Read more: Doctor fired after Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy complains for sending FB request…

I do believe that the recent case of sexual harassment that ignited a hot debate on social media-mostly criticizing the whistleblower and the victim- deserves a much deeper contemplation of what harassment or specifically sexual harassment is.  Having studied Human Resource Management in the U.S, I decided to share the definition of sexual harassment with the intention of spreading awareness about it in our society as well.

According to the rules published by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment is defined as a form of sex discriminations that involves.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

As described in this definition, it is reasonably clear that the case for harassment is based on the experiences of the victim, not the accused. Moreover, EEOC explains that harassment is illegal when it is frequent and/or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment.

While men and women alike continue to criticize Sharmeen Obaid, very few of them have shared thoughts over the notion of harassment, consent, and ethical and moral obligations of a doctor.

Another noteworthy clause is that a person doesn’t have to be a direct victim of sexual harassment to experience harassment. It may be that that person witnessed someone else being victimized by a harasser and their experience can also be categorized as harassment because it created a hostile environment both for the direct victim and the witness.

Read more: How celebrities and politicians reacted to Sharmeen Obaid’s controversy

Coming back to the case of Sharmeen Obaid’s sister’s harassment case, I see that there are misconceptions regarding what constitutes sexual harassment. Instead of trying to search for more information about the incident such as the circumstances, the nature of the sexual advances, the context in which the alleged incidents occurred and whether the victim informed the harasser that their conduct is unwelcome (EEOC), people are blindly accusing Sharmeen Obaid for creating hype on social media by using her sister’s case.

In our society, it is high time that people should start thinking logically and weigh in their arguments before passing judgments. The fact of the matter is that the majority of people are basing their arguments on incomplete information and biased judgments and no one seems to be interested in doing a legal and thorough investigation of this issue.

Izza Rasul is a Doctoral candidate in Industrial Psychology at University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. The views expressed in this article are authors own and do not necessarily reflect the Global Village Space editorial policy. 

1 COMMENT

  1. If you are supporting sharmeen’s action, u shud have come up with some additional info/facts in support of that, so, that the reader could change its perception based upon facts. Sorry to say but…disappointing article.

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