Dr Rakhshinda Perveen- I recently was part of a project that aims at equipping women with power in police organisations, with the backing of male champions. This project gave me another opportunity to “work” and “breathe” in a government outfit, visit police stations and directly interact with the police personnel from different cadre and regions and activate everyday feminism.  Some observations are as follows:

  1. Open expressions of abhorrence and repugnance towards the very words Feminist and Gender. The common interpretations thereof these concepts/terms are anti-Pakistani, anti-Islam and most probably a lesbian. Hence, I reframed my introduction as follows; I am a straight Muslim feminist who does not get the jobs I deserve because I co-founded a nonprofit with a renowned scientist in Pakistan.
  2. Obscure and overt stigmatisation of many single women and mothers (especially if they are divorced) and don’t hide their marital status. I was operating with a duo of BhabhiBegum and a socialite (who are suddenly transformed into gender experts to launch their careers in development sector as they wanted to create an additional identity besides being the spirit of the kitty parties). I personally believe that this was very positive development in their lives provided they are not usurping the rights and dignity of competent professionals. In a lunch meeting, the BhabhiBegum underscored her sacrifices for keeping her “love marriage’’ intact and eulogised the role of her mother who told her clearly that she had to bear with her in-laws/susralis till her last breath. This was completely understandable provided she would not have looked at me with taunting eyes and joined by all mighty men in the reaction. In a second, my mother and I became worthless and indecent women. Though staggered by this newly gained status, somehow I maintained my composure as that appeared the only option in my capacity as a skilled expert but a needy divorced mother.
  3. The disliking for women who refuse to seek the concessions of being women, act strong and dress up simply and professionally was palpable. A senior official said in the presence of other team members: “Smile, become the most favorite baby”. Obviously, my instant reaction was not taken in positive stride. (The duo kept on giggling and smiling in different sequences). On another occasion, the head of the organisation said (in the presence of a woman and a male police director) that why do you look so plain-what happened to your face? The duo used to give me makeup tips, insisted on using their supplies on my face. They ‘politely” demonstrated their work priorities by applying makeup and nail colors while I was at their desks for some urgent work.
  4. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the targets of office bullies are not the new, inexperienced and less confident employees. The targets of bullying are the highly competent, accomplished and experienced employees. And independent, experienced workers like myself, pose the greatest threat to the bullies. And when bullies find targets that refuse to be controlled and intimidated, they escalate their behavior. This was in full action there too.
  5. There is neither respect nor acknowledgment of any competent and honest woman, who wants to survive in the system without making compromises of different and difficult sorts. The serious issue of harassment of police and non-police women is a too frequent and too sidelined a concern. Not all women show solidarity for women who are suffering and are vulnerable. The officials at the helm of affairs have total disregard for women rights and respect. They frequently and habitually hound by displaying selective abusive powers, freely use verbal abuse and have no interest in gender mainstreaming or implementing the principles and practices of gender equality. They are class-conscious and treat women according to their social power and to their personal likes and dislikes.

I ignored many offences at a personal level and finally ended up in psychiatry OPD. Being someone who has been struggling against gender discrimination and exploitation for the last 25 years or so and working in harsh environs , I can safely and surely state that  nepotism, lack of transparency, overnight manufacturing of experts in different disciplines to oblige Bhabhis, Begums, butterflies  and build networks of benefits within the civil bureaucracy create enabling environment for gender discrimination and make it thrive even in the programs and projects that are mandated to combat it.

P.S. I sincerely pray that those two women and likes of them develop some humility and never traumatise women in my situation. I also pray that those men never observe naked power and exploit job seekers like myself.

P.S 2. I have written this blog to protect other women and as a self-reminder that I should not focus on hurt but the lessons as I will keep on growing!

The writer is a gender expert and activist.  She is also a divorced single mother.She emailed this piece to two reputed English dailies but it was published by none.