‘You need to put your story out there’, she said. And I wondered why.
After a harassment incident at the workplace that pressured me to resign, this was the advice my friend gave me. She urged me to write about it and hand it over to the social media.
With my cynicism with being social, and my disbelief for our media, I was skeptical. I do not call myself an activist, although all my work has been sub-consciously about emancipation of the so called ‘weak gender’. Emancipation not only from the orthodox traditions but also from their own sense of learned helplessness. I did (and still do) want to be part of that change in Pakistan. But with my firm belief that I am but a small dot jumping up and down to vent my frustration, I went on ranting without much response.
Nevertheless, my social media devoted friend introduced me to Bytes for All, Pakistan (Take Back The Tech Campaign). They encouraged me to share my story. Without much faith of its utility, I wrote a piece about it. The blog post received much attention. It was even posted in the Friday Times blog. A big fat yawn was my response. What will it change for me or for the situation?
Turns out, I was wrong. Documenting the incidents and putting them out there somewhere in the cyber world was just the first step. Seeing that blog post, a previous employee contacted me lamenting her own harassment experience at the hands of the same guy. That made me realize that it’s not only about me – a realization that always works to galvanize me into action.
I got in touch with Mehergarh for guidance and started talking to women who proudly call themselves activists. When they encouraged me to do something about this, I realized how much they actually want to encourage change. Only legislation cannot make the workplace safer for women. We, the women, have to actively work for it! I can be one of those women and why not?
A blog post and the response to it woke me up from the ‘helpless victim’ syndrome. A lawyer was contacted, and he too encouraged me to take action and offered his free-of-cost services. But while the legal notice was being drafted, I started getting cold feet. My work is controversial, my divorce is recent and in the words of my mother, I am an ‘akaili aurat’ with a child. Am I doing this for revenge, or money or simply because I do not think ostriches make good humans?
The blog came to the rescue again. It was out there. Being read and circulated. Through my not so active and barely alive twitter account, I was contacted by a respected journalist. He had tweeted about the post, which was noticed by many of his followers, including a political worker and minister. They contacted me for details, wanting to do something about it. I could never imagine someone other than my friends and I (and some wonderful female activists) taking notice of this issue. I was convinced again that what I wrote was not about one woman, or one workplace. It was about principles, ethics, right and wrong. And as I have said many times already, it was about change.
A foreign student asked me in an interview once whether art could bring a revolution in Pakistan. I laughed and replied, ‘there can be no revolution in Pakistan except an Islamic revolution.’ If she asks me the same question again, I would say ‘social media’ could bring that revolution or at least be a crucial part of it. Not today, but some day it can!
My cold feet are warm. My resolve is strong. My faith in the power of the social media as an instrument for change is established. And my hope in the goodness of people restored. I am a mere dot, but a dot that completes a picture when connected with the others.
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. She contributed this piece for Take Back The Tech and Bytes for All, Pakistan.