Islamabad, December 1, 2012: I was 13 when I was molested by my uncle. He was a doctor. That was the last time I complained of any sickness to my parents.
I was 22 when I went on my first internship at a foreign bank in Karachi. My first work experience in the corporate world was of a pervert boss who would pass sexual remarks at me in front of the entire floor. He did get some giggles.
Until I graduated I had become stronger to deal with such situations. I had developed the gait, mannerism, attitude and strong performance that intimidated people enough not to do anything that shows gender bias, at least in front of me.
Today, I am a 33 year-old single mother, a bold photographer with feministic tendencies, wiser and calmer. And yet, I have experienced a terrible harassment incident at the workplace.
Working for Blue Noodles Communications as a Creative Director was a choice I made based on my recently divorced status and my wish to gain some experience in the development sector. This organization had a good CV with a portfolio of work on multiple gender based issues in Pakistan. Better yet, they 'allowed' me to bring my 6 year old daughter to office after school. Seemed like a good start.
After I joined, I was introduced to the entire team except one person. That person was always around, had no title and no business in the studio. Yet he was always around, shouting incomprehensible orders and taunts at whoever he wishes. With me, however, he was being very sweet. After all, I was the only female employee. On probing I found out from the team that this was the boss's (owner/ceo) 'peer bhai' (brother, not by blood but by a spiritual guide's directive). I was clearly told not to mess with him.
I used to reach early at work, 2 hours before anybody so I could leave by 5pm. The office would be empty, except for the peer bhai, who lived there. The guy would sit around me and chat for hours whether or not he was getting a response. I ignored. One day he asked me if I mind that he wears shorts in the mornings. When I said its none of my business, he turned and bent saying 'no my underwear shows when I bend, I hope you don't mind that'. I was speechless. My lunch box started getting surprise additions to my bland and boring meals. One day, as I opened my lunch box and found a beautifully cooked kebab on top of my daal, I thanked the peer bhai in the presence of others and told him to be so kind to others as well...not just me. I asked him, 'are you doing this because I am a woman'. He did not answer. Later he called me on the office phone and screamed at me for making such 'inappropriate' remarks in front of others. From that day, I was the target of his tantrums, taunts and occasional passing angry bumps in the doorways.
Until the day, I finally confronted him and told him that I have no patience for his tantrums. The peer bhai in shorts got up from his chair, ready to attack me shouting and screaming curses (including Fuck you, stupid girl) in utter rage with spit flying out of his mouth. One of the guys interfered to stop him from attacking me.
I was asked to work from home from the next day. I insisted on resolving the issue. I discovered that a similar incident had happened between the peer bhai and another female employee in the past. It was beyond apology now. It was time for the boss to take notice and action. That is the least you can expect from an organization that works so passionately on gender issues and harassment at the workplace. With a clientele comprising of many local and foreign NGO's, the organization failed to take any action...except get me a lame apology, and asking me to apologize for instigating this incident. The previous inappropriate actions on the part of the peer bhai were ignored.
I do not handle fools very well. I resigned. As of today, I have been asked to serve my notice period working from home so that the matter can stay hushed and no one finds out about it. I am being portrayed as the culprit while the peer bhai roams the office like a twisted godfather in shorts and exposing underwear.
As I sit and write this today, I realize how freaky the situation is. I realize that despite being educated, smart and strong, I have been victimized because of my gender. I realize I need to do something. And I will.
Soofia is a photographer and writer with a background in advertising. She has combined her creative and marketing skills for developing communication strategies for the development sector.