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women safety app

January 7, 2017

The launch of the Women Safety Smart Phone Application on Wednesday is another incremental step by the Punjab government to improve the plight of women. The application would allow women to report any kind of harassment to the Police Integrated Command, Control and Communication officials, which would immediately dispatch a team to the location of the incident determined by the geographical pin of the victim. This innovative solution was designed by the Chief Minister’s Special Monitoring Unit in collaboration with the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women and the Punjab Safe Cities Authority. And while only time would tell if this measure turns out to be effective, nevertheless the fact that the Punjab government is coming up with such concrete measures alone merits commendation.

The main issue that this mobile application aims to address is the lack of security and protection that women generally have in public spaces. This has been a major impediment to the freedom of women in Pakistan. And it is not just outright threats of violence or rape that prevent women from leaving their homes. It is a culture of overtly staring, jeering and shaming women who occupy public spaces. Those men who indulge in such lecherous and morally depraved acts feel a false sense of entitlement over both women and public spaces. For them women are only there for their lascivious gaze and public spaces only for their entertainment. It seems that they are either alien or just apathetic to the fact that what they perhaps perceive as harmless banter not only makes women uncomfortable but also makes public spaces for the entertainment of women inaccessible.

Furthermore, it is this practice, which naturalises harassment in public spaces, that leads to the more direct forms of control over women. This can be by their male relations, such as husband, father or brother, who prevent women from leaving home either out of a misplaced concern for their safety or for the preservation of their socially constructed notion of ‘honour.’ This practice also feeds into the abhorrent crimes against women, such as ‘honour’ killing and rape, by creating a culture in which women are deprived of their agency, made dependant on their male relatives, and circumscribed to private spaces.

Hence, giving women the wherewithal to report incidences of harassment is a much needed first step in stopping this social ail that plagues Pakistani society. However, the work should not just stop there. In order to deter people who engage in this despicable behaviour, commensurate punishment must also be meted out to them. Of course, a proper mechanism would have to be devised in order to ensure that abuse of this measure does not take place. But it also must be kept in mind that without any serious consequences for harassment, it would be very difficult and even unlikely to make women feel safe in public spaces. *


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