A PTI member called Ayesha Gululai left the party two days ago, accusing PTI senior members, including Imran Khan, of sexual harassment. The resulting stream of vitriol against her from all quarters, including women, has proven that whether or not Gululai’s allegations are true (and she says she has proof), the consequences of reporting sexual harassment are too high for most women in Pakistan to follow through with it.
News anchors immediately seized on photographs of Gululai’s sister, the famed squash player Maria Toorpekai, wearing shorts and standing next to a male instructor. They flashed these on the news yesterday from where they made their way to social media. With a sister like this, the implication was, of course Gululai would be equally immoral and deserved whatever harassment she got. They accused a “bearded man” of coaching Gululai through her press conference, and when it was revealed that the man was her father, they claimed that he received 50 crores (USD 4.7 million) from the PMLN to malign Imran Khan.
While Shireen Mazari of PTI (the only woman left in the upper echelons of the party) called all the women memebers “useless”, pundits also questioned why it had taken Gululai so long to realize the party’s toxic environment. Why hadn’t she just accused them from the beginning? Why had she allowed them to abuse her? Was she doing this because she hadn’t received a party ticket to stand for elections?
Pakistani women have been no less vociferous in their attack on Gululai. Nobody can believe that a person they hold in such estimation could possibly be of bad character. If he is, then it’s because Gululai offered herself for consumption by joining the party. After all, good women don’t go to work or join politics in the first place; they stay in the home so that nobody can harass them. And if they wore burqa and observed purdah properly, and followed the principles of Islam, they would be protected.
Whether or not Ayesha Gulalai’s allegations are true, every Pakistani woman will attest to the predatory nature of Pakistani workplaces. Pakistani families actively discourage their daughters/wives/sisters from working: further proof that sexual harassment is real.
Instead of encouraging the excoriation of Ayesha Gululai, the party should form an investigative committee into sexual harassment allegations and boot out offenders. Instead of implying that Ayesha Gululai is a slut, it should have a firm sexual harassment policy and nobody should be above it. After all, if you sexually harass a woman at work, you are breaking Pakistani law.
Allegations of sexual harassment take time to be investigated thoroughly, and this has to be a legal process, not trial by media/social media
On her part, Gululai should, according to parliamentarian Nafisa Shah, file a formal complaint with the Speaker of the National Assembly, who should then start an enquiry. She should stop making accusations on social media and get a lawyer who can represent her. And she should team up with the other women who have left PTI for similar reasons – Naz Baloch and Malaika S. Raza – because in our vicious society, one woman alone cannot make a dent in the predatory environment that is Pakistani politics.