Where are you going?

Shabana 6 mins 30 sec credits: Dale Copley – project assistant Jamie Finlay- sound editing
(audio link)

This is not about the experience of street sexual harassment.

Translated text: “My name is Shabana. I moved to Manchester from Lahore 20-22 years ago. I got married here and have been staying here since. We do visit Pakistan, but now this place is our home. I think women are safer in Manchester than in India or Pakistan. I don’t think women in Pakistan or India are unsafe, however I think women here are safer. Women have a place in society here. They are respected and taken care of. If someone sees an elderly woman standing, she is offered a seat. This is what I feel. If you are in Pakistan you could belong to any age group, be a little girl or a much older woman, but if you are walking alone, you are bound to find men stalking you or harassing you in public. It isn’t the same here. In Manchester if a woman does not allow it a man cannot even look at her. There is no way he could try touching her. It is 4 pm. I am returning home from work. I will get home and cook dinner. If I need to shop I will go with my husband. We don’t go out on social visits or for fun in the evenings. No. If there is a holiday, like the recent bank holiday, we travel together, as a family, not alone. My children are busy with their games and they do not consider going out much. I have three sons. They are 18, 16 and 3 years old. I always have a phone. Why must I complain about someone harassing me? I have never been harassed or violated. Even when I was younger I was never harassed or bullied on the street. I don’t feel any kind of fear in Manchester. There is no reason to fear. My children fear going to Pakistan when they hear about genocide. I feel safe here. At this point, I am lost. I don’t know my way home! I started my new job yesterday and am lost today.” 10 minutes into meeting Shabana, Dale and I realize she is lost. She pulls out a used enveloped from her handbag which bears the home postal address. Dale locates her address on the map and we soon find ourselves at the bus stop waiting for bus no. 15 Shabana contd. “I used to spend my day at home, sometimes watching tv, doing household chores, talking with friends and gossiping about them.” The bus arrives The phone gives us immense security. It also makes us gossip about each other. We will have to pay for our sins one day. We gossip and we sin. Despite this knowledge we don’t stop talking on the telephone. I know someone who has been warned by the doctors to not use the phone, but she just wont listen. Whenever I phone her I cannot get through. It is always busy. I realized how ignorant I am now that I am out alone. It is a big problem. The fact that I don’t know my way around town is the biggest problem. There is no other problem. I am grateful to God for introducing me to strangers who help, and drop me home. Today is my second day. Someone helped me make a bus pass yesterday. Today you are dropping me home! I used to spend all my time at home before. My children were much younger then. It was a different phase. Now I am in another phase and hence I decided to get a job. I always wanted to work outside home but it wasn’t an acceptable idea for my mother in law and family. They wouldn’t agree to the idea of me going out to work and them cooking for me. I did the cooking. I have been cooking. It is only now that I am doing what I want to do. Working outside home is not culturally accepted. No. It is impossible to see that acceptance come from an Asian mother in law. When it was the right time to learn English, I was busy cooking food for the family. Today I realize that I should have learnt English. I feel the need for it now. I regret not having learnt it. No one let me learn. They told me that I wasn’t going to be out and interacting with others anyways and so I don’t need to learn English. I know what I am doing is courageous but there are many challenges. Not knowing how to speak in English makes it a bigger problem. My sisters live in UK as well.

Am so glad I put this envelope in my handbag this morning. A letter had come this morning. I kept the envelope. I knew this would be helpful if I were to lose my way home.
Dale and I met Shabana while wandering through the streets of Manchester. We were looking out for people to interview. She was the only one who agreed to be interviewed. Ten minutes into the conversation we realized that she was lost. She found a used enveloped in her handbag, which had the home address. Dale located her address on the map and we soon find ourselves at the bus stop waiting for bus number 15. Shabana is home by 5 30. She said she would take us to interview her friends. She comes out of her house 10 minutes later to say that the friend whom we were to interview is not at home and goes back inside. We have not been in touch since.


Anonymous said...

on the story about Shabana,

Its good to hear from a woman who has not faced any kind of Street Sexual Harassment, but one thing which is important here is that as Shabana herself admits that she does not go out of home so much, she is back at home before 5:30pm and mostly she goes out with some one. It may be important to note that one has to go alone on street to face such a thing street sexual harassment . For e.g. if one always stay inside their home, how can one know what is happening outside. Secondly, in some place where a women is given a seat to sit in Bus or Train, but she does not feel safe travelling alone. then is that respect?

J said...

exactly- here;s someone who says she has never experienced it-0 she finds it safe- but then again- here's someone who has never accessed the city- never stepped out- is lost and cannot find her way home.

there are so many women like her. who say ' i dont experience it' - am sure we know that. it is because they have structured their lives based on avoiding street sexual harassment/ flirting/ wooing/ violaiton.

i know many women who say they dont experience it. probed further- they dont step out alone!