With Lahooti Melo kicking off in full swing this weekend, a large number of women’s rights activists pitched in with their takes on Redefining Consent, and how some toxic stereotypes related to the word need to be eradicated. While Dr. Arfana Mallah discussed relations between the powerful and the powerless, politician and presenter Mahtab Akbar Rashdi focused on the need for separate sectors to focus on harassment complaints, and a strict No Tolerance policy.
“We used to think that narratives like harassment and teasing girls, it was all acceptable and that there’s nothing wrong with it. But now, these things are gaining more definition, and are being debated over,” she said, adding how these grave matters are being discussed not only in Pakistan, but the rest of the world as well.
“Things like these have urged organisations, especially NGOs, to create a separate department to cater to issues regarding harassment, and to take it seriously, and to protect the identity of the victim,” she said. “The point is to understand that these issues exist in every society. And they prevail because women are not taken seriously, and people get a free pass to exploit them wherever they feel the need to,” she added.
Moving on, she also picked on how women in the west are deemed more powerful, and why. “Western women are perceived as more powerful, having the capacity to speak up, because they do not have to face as much backlash as women in our society do. Even if she speaks the truth, they go saying she must be lying,” she said.
She further pressed upon the need for a No Tolerance policy, with a recent anecdote. “I was the Executive Director at Hum TV and they have a friendly, woman-centric environment. There, we introduced the No Tolerance policy, where a girl complained about a man blocking her way, even as a joke, it was deemed as harassment. When this complain reached the administration, the man is question was called and told that he was no longer needed,” she said.
Moreover, the debacle did not turn into a gossip forum. “Nobody got to know that why it happened or who it happened to. The next day, the man submitted his resignation and left. I have seen two cases like these happen in front of me. And the men in question were at serious positions [in the company],” she further added.
Indubitably, the goal behind this discourse is to take these issues seriously. “The aim is to acknowledge that your employees, especially women, need safety and protection. As these women work overnight, behind the cameras, editing and such, it is why these matters cannot be tolerated and their sense of safety cannot be compromised,” she elucidated.
However, Rashdi felt it is too soon to delve into the topic of marital rape, as for now the situation demanded that things should be taken quite seriously now by addressing complaints of sexual harassment. Nevertheless, with these powerful sessions taking place at Lahooti Melo, the hopes are up for a better future for women where the need of consent is fully acknowledged.