Is demanding respect a privilege? Is it asking for too much? Is the provision of a safe, secure workplace environment for women not a basic right? Is it something that women need to prove themselves worthy of? These questions instantly cross one’s mind considering the inapt vitriolic responses being subjected to singer Meesha Shafi, following her claims of alleged sexual harassment at the hands of singer, colleague Ali Zafar in a Twitter post. It is disheartening to see how Shafi’s claims are casually swept away with the general contention that in the media and entertainment industry, such episodes are a given, and participatory posturing in such a field mandates signing up for such abominable responses. The disturbing reality what Shafi has allegedly experienced is not a rarity in Pakistan. Instead, it is the story of every other working woman who publicly vocalises her harassment, seeking action against the perpetrators of vile advances. This brings to fore the cognitive incongruity of Pakistani society, where on one hand reportage of such incidents is encouraged while on the other hand when they do tend to surface, a critical backlash awaits the victim’s audacity for reporting the abuse. Hailed by many as a battle of ego and libellous motives aimed at capitalising on the #MeToo movement, Shafi’s fearlessness for coming forth, along with the surfacing of claims by several other women in support of her stance, in fact signals towards a graver issue at hand. That is the issue of female workplace harassment in Pakistan, a reality callously overlooked, and conveniently shoved under the carpet. On a microscopic level, the pervasiveness of sexual harassment boils down to the general perception of women being considered ‘damsels in distress’, lacking not only the ability to think in clear coherent cognitive patterns, but also devoid of the agency to vocalize their concerns, thereby incapable of the potency to propel into action when wronged. It is this inane declaration coupled with the long held social narrative in the subcontinent that “good women” do not participate in professional domains conventionally demarcated for men, that potentially stands the blame for episodes of sexual harassment of Pakistani women at workplaces. When someone reports abuse, it surely isn’t something to be downplayed through comical memes and morally degrading posts. Victims of abuse are not there to amuse the social media moral brigade Harassment does much more harm than meets the eye. It has been psychologically proven, inactivity and helplessness in the face of sexual harassment leads to ‘self-blame’, a position whereby the victim considers herself to be responsible for the harassment when in reality, it is the perpetrator who is to be blamed, thereby propelling a flawed self-image and broken self-esteem. It only ends up discouraging women from qualifying as active participants of the country’s workforce, but also repudiates the weighty claims made in the name of gender equality, in an age where inclusivity and provision of equal opportunities is heralded to be the norm. Furthermore, when someone reports abuse, it surely isn’t something to be downplayed through comical memes and morally degrading posts. Victims of abuse are not there to amuse the social media moral brigade. In reporting abuse, they do not sign up for such a trajectory. In an obnoxiously judgmental society, when a woman claims to be sexually abused, whether by a co-worker or an associate it is not only courage that can be seen in her decision to speak up. It takes something more than that. It is quite a solicitous decision rendered, mediated by several premonitions, for it entails unsheathing the most vulnerable parts of her personal life by proceeding beyond the precincts of socially imposed comfortability. It is an act that generally invites scathing criticism converse to desired understanding and empathy, where she is condemned to a life of perpetual castigation. Unless pushed to the brink, no woman willingly invites judgment and criticism. Not unless she is forced to risk it. This is by no means to deny the absence of cases where claims of sexual harassment have been at times motivated by malicious intent, aimed at defaming the alleged perpetrator for something he didn’t do. But instead it is to assert the fact that viewing such grave claims with dubious intent downplays the seriousness of this crime, qualifying it to mere farce, when all that we should focalize our attention towards is the acceptance of its pervasion for timely consequent address. It needs to be realised that for women in Pakistan, non-participation in workplaces should be a conscious personal choice. It should not be something propelled by a fear of workplace harassment, since there is no greater injustice than denying a person the right to actualise their potential, all because of society’s convenient derogation of women who report abuse as opposed to maintaining an aura of austere silence. It is high time, such vitriolism towards abuse reportage is done away with, for in its pervasion lies the pervasiveness of abuse, somewhere succumbing an abuse victim to a life of silent suffering, all for the fear of being condemned for something she never invited. The author is a freelance columnist with a profound interest in Local and Global politics, English Literature and Psychology Published in Daily Times, May 5th 2018.