Who’s helping the NGO women? | Pakistan Today

Who’s helping the NGO women?

Some modicum of justice please!

Over the past few weeks alone, I have collected numerous reports of wanton abuse, unchallenged aggression, and hair-raising incidents of repeated sexual harassment and violence. Based on these reports, it appears that we may need to establish a separate NGO for the exclusive mission of helping the female employees – and victims – of existing NGOs.

It’s a country where the Defence Minister feels comfortable enough to refer to a woman parliamentarian as “tractor trolley” on the floor of the National Assembly itself. And he does so, not in a room echoing with gasps, but amid laughter and applause of his fellow party members. Clearly there is much work to be done on that front.
Contrary to the bourgeoisie liberal conception of anti-women practices, patriarchy remains firmly entrenched in the most dependably progressive circles. These are the circles populated by activists combating religious intolerance and championing minority rights. These are sectors resisting government censorship and safeguarding our civil rights. These are organizations fighting disease and poverty, and vowing to protect our most vulnerable sexual minorities.

Within the high-flying lanes of technology and development, often dominated by ‘geeky’ men who know their way around the internet, harassment and abuse of women employees is especially egregious. Developer extraordinaire formerly working for the Tor Project, Jacob Applebaum, has recently come under fire for allegedly engaging in gross sexual misconduct for over ten years. Countless other cases have inculcated an environment so toxic, that the career ladder transforms into a leaky pipeline for women who can only go so far before surrendering to the misogynist gale, and bow out.

Things are hardly different in Pakistan, where male activists advertising themselves as guardians of progressive values, experience no hesitation in taking advantage of our patriarchal mores and a fenestrated criminal justice system. Within the tech sector, the sanctity of the bro code trumps all principles and values.
One in particular has spawned enough reports that, if allowed to erupt out into public, could make a splat visible from space. It’s an NGO that aims to defend civil liberties especially those pertaining to use of online spaces and, ironically, counter gender specific violence. The history of this organization is brimming with complaints of oft underpaid female employees subjected to unwanted sexual advances.

This is hardly surprising in an organization whose leader is widely recognized to have engaged in sexual misconduct himself with more than half a dozen women. They’ve summoned the courage to report the abuse, only to have their names dragged through the mud without any hope of justice or even fair inquiry.
There is order to this chaos; a pattern of abuse. These are not merely the suppressed sexual emotions of grown men bursting at the seams. The victims appear to be selected from a list of employees, peers, and associates. They are chosen on the basis of their personalities, economic vulnerability, and their need to maintain discretion for the sake of keeping their career from falling apart.
This isn’t the worst of it. The head of the organization has been accused of rape by a work associate. Unsurprisingly, the victim fits the pattern not only in terms of economic vulnerability, but also by being a minority member who would understandably have a harder time raising her voice in the current legal structure.

There is a lot more to be said, but this should offer a fair idea of how profound the problem is.
What becomes of the victims who do raise their voice within the NGO? As I said, nothing supersedes the sanctity of the bro code, the need to prevent funding from drying up, and salaries from taking a dive. An inquiry team, often included friends of the accused, is assembled with the pre-determined objective of uncovering nothing. The higher-ups are bound by an omerta stronger than the responsibility to serve justice to the female staff manipulated, harassed, abused, assaulted, blackmailed, and raped by the men.

Similar reports have emerged from organizations fighting for the rights and security of LGBT community, at times preying upon the very people they’re meant to protect. Drowning in corruption charges, a certain organization has known an incident of a desperate transgender girl approaching them for help, only to be sexually assaulted and frightened away. I may not be able to comment accurately on the frequency of such occurrences, but I doubt it’s the only existing scandal.

This, of course, is not meant to dissuade marginalised members of the society from seeking assistance. But it is intended to encourage the management to remain on its toes. I also doubt these activist bros have much insight into the problem. It’s all for the greater good, they may remind themselves. Haven’t you seen the advertisement posters of rural women in colorful kurtas beaming in delight over the new well dug for them by the NGO? Take a look at the mountain of paperwork our knights in shining armor are buried in, from all the legal battles they’re fighting for your civil liberties; yes, your civil liberties! We’re the good guys. Give or take a few dozen sexual harassment allegations, we’re the heroes this society can’t do without. After all, don’t we all know that sexual harassment and assault allegations are merely tools in the purses of unscrupulous vixens, over ambitious harlots, and vengeful exes, seeking to siphon money out of the company and garner special work benefits?

The next logical step for the victims and their sympathizers is to approach the organizations funding such NGOs. It is often discovered, to the victim’s dismay, that the parent companies and funding bodies are apathetic to the plight. The bottom line is that the NGO continues to operate smoothly, women employees be damned. These victims sometimes face legal action for defamation, leaving them penniless. Or they are blackballed in the field, because nobody wants to hire an employee who can’t keep calm and carry on in the face of soul-crushing harassment.

The movements you stand for have existed and thrived for hundreds of years before your 9:00-to-5:00 bureaucracy rode in on a silver steed. You cannot save the world, when you can’t even save the employee cowering in the cubicle of your own building. If you want to help the society, you can start by helping the abused employee hanging outside your office, waiting for some modicum of justice to trickle her way out of your empire of benevolence.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat is a medical doctor from Rawalpindi and an ardent traveller who writes frequently about science, social politics and international relations.


  1. neutral said:

    This is not a Pakistani problem only. Bill Clinton would not have lost his job if it were not so.

    • Anthony said:

      Yes but he actually got indicted, tried and made an example of. He was impeached. Our folk won’t have a hair on their head touched and will not leave their positions or get fired.

  2. QZ said:

    Another bro-doc coming to rescue “NGO-women” -thanks, but no thanks!

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