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Teasing A Girl At A Pakistani Park Could Get You Whacked With A Stick

These guards patrol a park in the Pakistani city of Gujranwala to make sure there's no sexual harassment of women. If they have to, they'll deliver a sharp tap to an offender with that stick. From left: Mohammed Sayed, Mohammed Faisal and Amir Hussein.
Philip Reeves
These guards patrol a park in the Pakistani city of Gujranwala to make sure there's no sexual harassment of women. If they have to, they'll deliver a sharp tap to an offender with that stick. From left: Mohammed Sayed, Mohammed Faisal and Amir Hussein.

Mohammed Sayed is not one of those people who particularly relish the prospect of hitting young men on the butt with a big stick.

But he is certainly prepared to do so to defend the girls and women who frequent the neatly groomed, palm-dotted municipal park in the Pakistani city of Gujranwala where he works as a guard.

The park was designed as a place for relaxation and family recreation (it even includes some ramshackle carnival rides). But it had turned into a prowling ground for young men.


So city authorities have asked a team of guards — including Sayed, 25 — to patrol the park and stamp out "Eve-teasing" — a South Asian euphemism for the sexual harassment of women by men.

"Eve-teasing happens a lot here, especially in the evening," says Kashif Nawaz, another patrol member. He says many men come out "to shout, to pass comments ... to tease and hoot." They sometimes toss wads of paper, inscribed with their mobile phone numbers, at passing females.

I visited the park on "Family Day" the one day each week — a Tuesday — when single males are banned from entry altogether. This was not going down well with a knot of teenage boys and young men standing outside the iron gates, gazing indignantly through the bars.

It's far from certain that these new park policies will succeed.

"Eve-teasing" pales when compared with the cases of abuse in Pakistan that occasionally make international headlines, from gang rape to the trafficking of girls for sex, and more. The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap 2015 report ranked Pakistan second from last when it came to gender equality.


It also doesn't help that most young men in Pakistan lack any sex education, says Lahore-based psychologist Ayesha Hidayat. "That inadequate sex education is one of the primary reasons why there is a lot of depression, suicidal attempts, aggression, violence, the child abuse and all those things in our society," Hidayat says.

When I talked with a group of six young men in Lahore, they all agreed: They lacked mentors with whom they could discuss sensitive personal issues.

"There is no one except your friends," says 21-year-old Mudabir Ali. He says he would never broach the topic of sex with his dad. "The concept of religion and the teachings of religion [we've] been getting for such a long time stops you going to your father to discuss such things."

Older brothers in the family are particularly isolated. They tend not to confide in their young brothers about intimate matters, because they believe this would undermine their authority in the male pecking order. As for younger brothers who worry about these momentous issues, they might be shy about approaching the older siblings.

Chatting with the mullah is out of question as well, adds Gohan Khan, 21. "The clerics here, they do discuss these things. But they are not quite OK with questions that are not in line with religion," he says. "They feel offended." The same goes for teachers, the young men say. They believe a teacher would be offended by a question about sex. In biology class, they say, the teacher will tiptoe around the human sexual organs, saying as little as possible.

The clash between global consumer culture — which uses sex as a selling point — and Islamic tradition profoundly impacts these youngsters, who have all moved to the big city from generally more conservative parts of Pakistan to study.

"That's the main problem," says Zayid Ali, 22. "On the one side, you have this whole advertisement industry, you have Western movies, advertisements, fashion shows, when you come to metropolitan cities. And when you go back where you belong, there is no such thing."

Ali is from a village in Pakistan's Punjab province. In Lahore, it is not that difficult to date a girl, he says — though he does not. But in his hometown, that is close to impossible. There, your family chooses your wife — and it's often a cousin. Any boy or girl who bucks tradition by forging a secret relationship is at serious, possibly mortal, risk.

Hard yards lie ahead for Ali. He has decided he won't allow his parents to arrange his marriage. He hasn't told them yet. A big battle looms, he predicts.

And then there's porn.

Pakistan's government blocks hundreds of thousands of websites, but many of the country's talented young — who form roughly half the 190 million population — remain ahead of the cyberspace game and are big consumers.

I learn that here, as everywhere else, pornography adds to confusion, anxiety and — particularly in this conservative Islamic society — guilt. Shaista Khan, 21, sums it up: "It's just very difficult here, when you see the pictures and [yet] you don't forge a relationship with a woman."

Young Pakistanis negotiating a path through this rapidly changing maze face many obstacles. The scale of their struggle is confirmed by psychologist Hidayat, who works with young people.

Because they can't easily discuss what they're going through with anyone, she says, young Pakistanis often feel guilty: "They feel that something very bad is happening inside them. They start judging and labeling themselves."

She believes Pakistan is changing — sex education and counseling is coming into some schools, she says. But it is a very long road.

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