Women complain of extreme harassment in Garden East

KARACHI: Women in Garden East complain of extreme harassment and insecurity in the area. Being on the streets any day, any time, is the worst experience for women in Karachi, whether they are behind the wheels or on foot. If unaccompanied, the kind of harassment they face range from vulgar stares to remarks to extremely uneasy gestures that come from male passers by, rehri wallah, rickshaw wallahs, cars and motorcycle riding men of all ages. The Garden East area is one of the oldest pedestrian areas of the city. Due to the presence of the Ismaili community’s biggest jammat khana in the area, it is very normal to see women and men of all ages walking to attend the prayers every morning and evening. Moreover, the Ismaili women are extremely independent. They are constantly on the move to drop their children to local school, go to local market for groceries, walk to the nearby bank or visit area’s clinics for treatment.

This was stated at a session organized by Pakistan Peoples Party Garden East UC 15 Panel with the team of the provincial ombudsman Office on harassment at workplace. The purpose of the session was to explore means to address the increasing instances of harassment that women face in the area. In addition, Ms Zakia Malik, Inspector Complaint Branch, IG Karachi Office also delivered a talk on recourse to law in case of harassment and violence against women.

It was stated that due to the sudden sprawl of countless buildings, most of which have been violating building codes, there has been over threefold rise in the area’s population. “Today, Garden East is more a mixed community than a Ismaili community area. This has also meant a complete breakdown of civic amenities making it extremely difficult for people to commute on the streets. The builders leave construction material on the streets; potholes are seen everywhere. The traffic situation is extremely bad in the evening and poor maintenance of street lights makes it impossible to walk on certain streets after 7pm. On top of that, the state of insecurity continues to deteriorate with snatchings, bhatta collection from local shops and targeted attacks.”

The moot was told that it is not unusual that the case of harassment against women then takes a backseat in the area. However, there has been an extreme rise in such cases. “Due to increasing commercialization and traffic jams, women’s movement for jammat khana or other activities has been made extremely difficult. The poor presence of law enforcement personnel in the area has led to emboldening of men who think they can have their way with pedestrian women. Women of all ages that we have met as a part of our election campaign have complained of harassment on the streets and some of the experiences have been extremely horrifying. A young girl reported that she was video-taped while travelling by rickshaw. Another person complained of an unknown man sitting in the rickshaw the moment her vehicle stopped at a traffic signal, while she was travelling with her young daughter. Women say they do not recall not being remarked at while standing at bus stations or even while purchasing vegetables from local vendors.

This has to stop! Women cannot be made to sit at home simply because our law enforcers have failed to provide them security and also because men on the streets are never confronted for their actions, either by victims or others.”

While talking to the audience, Ms Malik explained the procedure to approach the law enforcement agencies in case of any untoward incident. She said the LEAs are committed to act once they receive a complaint, so people should not fear getting in touch with the police over any issue. Ms Hira Pirzada of the Ombudsman Office explained Article 509 and the 2010 Act of Parliament that covered harassment on streets and at workplace respectively. She said that harassment is officially a crime and the Ombudsman Office has a responsibility to resolve any complaint of harassment within thirty days.

“Provisions made in the Protection against harassment of women at the workplace Act requires all public and private organizations to adopt an internal Code of Conduct and a complain and appeals mechanism aimed at establishing a safe working environment for working women. It shall be the responsibility of the employer to ensure implementation of this Act. The management shall display copies of Code of Conduct at the conspicuous place in the organization and the workplace. On failure of an employer to comply with this provision the employer shall be liable to fine which may extend to one hundred thousand rupees but shall not be less than twenty-five thousand rupees.”

Ms Hira said the Provincial Ombudsman Office, since three years of its establishment has resolved over 150 cases of harassment. In addition, they deliver briefings to organizations to raise awareness about the mechanism to address harassment. The Provincial Ombudsman team also distributed pamphlets carrying information about filing a complaint against harassment. Ms Hira shared that a complaint can be made over the phone, through emails or just by dispatching it on a piece of paper. “This law has been made to facilitate the movement of women in public life. It is important the citizens make use of it. We are here to help you!”

The organizer of the meeting Saleem Sachwani, candidate for Chairman seat UC-15, Garden East, said that, as a part of his party’s manifesto, he is committed to bring a positive change to the Garden East area. “We want to do politics of issues. Harassment is a serious matter for women and families in Garden East. We would do all to make Garden East safe for pedestrians. Area’s women must take advantage of the information shared by the Ombudsman’s team today. We can work together to end this negative culture against women in our city.”