Actor Aagha Ali raised concerns about the safety of women in Pakistan and expressed his desire for a society where women can freely travel without the need for a companion. In a recent podcast with his wife Hina Altaf, and host Syed Ali, the actor discussed the stark contrast between the ease of moving around independently in other countries and the restrictions faced by women in Pakistan.
Ali acknowledged the religious and conservative nature of Pakistani society and highlighted the paradox where men often speak passionately about women’s rights, yet unaccompanied women are a rare sight on the streets of Pakistan.
“We [Pakistanis] are very religious, protective [and] conservative. Talk to any man about this and he’ll give you an entire speech on women’s rights but try looking around in Pakistan, there are barely any women unaccompanied on the roads.”
Drawing a comparison to their experiences in London, Ali and his wife noticed numerous women walking alone or with female friends, whereas, in Pakistan, the mere presence of a woman walking alone raises questions and concerns.
“I am not talking about after midnight, I am talking about during the day. You will never see a woman walking in a market, walking from one work to another or going home. Even if you do then she’ll be so scared,” he added.
The actor posed an important question to those who claim to protect women — If women are truly safe in the country, why do they not feel secure? He suggested that people should travel and witness how women live in other countries to gain a better understanding of this pressing issue.
We agree with the actor’s observation that men can freely navigate spaces in Pakistan without fear and that it is essential to address the experiences of women in Pakistan. However, his assertion that women don’t venture out onto the streets unaccompanied is a generalisation that overlooks the reality that women do venture out independently for various purposes, including work, shopping or just to live their lives.
Pakistan does lag behind other countries in terms of safe public spaces for women, but that doesn’t mean that women cloister themselves away. Women too need to work and for that they venture out onto the streets. If you take a public bus, for example, you’ll see women passengers going to work. You’ll see women in markets, shopping for their families, you’ll see them near schools, dropping off their children, or walking along streets to work.
However, there is a fear of harassment and unwanted attention from men that hinders their ability to fully enjoy and relax in a public space. Consequently, it is rare to see women casually strolling on random streets or leisurely sitting alone in parks due to safety concerns.
Undeniably, there is a pressing need to address the safety concerns of women in Pakistan and create an environment where they feel secure and empowered to move freely. Though infrastructure, especially in Karachi, has a huge role to play in this, as it makes it almost impossible to walk on the roads since there are hardly any footpaths for people to walk on.
All in all, yes we need to see more women in public spaces but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.