KARACHI: Pepper sprays, pocket knives and other forms of protective gear are flying off the shelves as anxious women take personal safety in their own hands after the motorway rape incident.
Many Pakistani females took to social media in the days after the incident to find out where they can buy pepper spray. Now, stores are also stocking up on the equipment and selling it next to other essential items.
“It is probably for the first time in decades that we are selling pepper sprays at our store — that too, after scores of women, especially young girls of school-going age, asked for this item in particular at our counters,” said a shopkeeper in Karachi’s Saddar area, adding that pepper spray was selling “like chewing gum”.
Huma Naz, a resident of Rawalpindi and a mother of four daughters, said that she ordered pepper spray from an online store for each of her daughters to keep in their school bags once they resume going to school. She added that she was scared by the sudden increase in rape crimes, and this had motivated her actions.
“My husband and I have also searched for a self-defence instructor for our daughters who will teach them at least the basics after school so that they don’t have to wait for help in case [God forbid] they meet an unfortunate and unexpected situation,” Naz said.
Speaking on the recent series of events, the founder of an online organic store, Mehak Ali started introducing these pepper sprays at affordable rates and added that this was to get rid of the misunderstanding that self-defence education or items such as pepper sprays are limited to a particular class or segment of society.
“All women – irrespective of their age and social strata – should be protected from the monsters of this world,” Ali said, adding that the proceeds from the sales of pepper spray bottles were being used to provide bottles to those that couldn’t afford them, such as domestic workers. There has been a 45 per cent rise in the sale of pepper spray bottles, she added.
“The response is indeed overwhelming, giving us hope that no matter how grave and brutal the circumstances are, we will fight through this together,” Ali said.
Speaking to a local media outlet, a manager at another online store, Ahmed, said that queries regarding pepper sprays were increasing with each passing day. However, in the past week, not only have sales shot up to 100 units a day, but people are also panic-buying, and purchase the items en masse.
Baneen Rizvi, 23, who works as a communication associate at an international firm, shared how her father recently handed over Swiss Army knives to both of his daughters.
“My dad handed us these Swiss knives when he was at his wits’ end while looking at the threatening situation in the country, especially for working and school-going girls who have to step out of their houses every day,” Rizvi explained, stressing on the need for self-defence education for girls in the light of recent sexual assault cases.
Terming it an “unfortunate necessity”, Nimrah Javed, 23, who works at a local audit firm, said that the motorway incident prompted her to learn — and to encourage others to learn — self-defence techniques or to keep items like pepper sprays or pocketknives on hand.
Javed, talking about her situation after the incident, said: “The anxiety of stepping outside now just to go to my workplace and back has doubled. I have to frequently turn around to look back and see if somebody is following me or attempting to get close and harass me.”
Along with the sale of these protective items, there has also been an uptick in the demand for self-defence classes such as boxing. Some kickboxing schools have seen an increase in admission of about 30 per cent, said a trainer.
“Women should learn self-defence techniques to protect themselves from any unfortunate situations and also empower themselves to access public spaces without fear or anxiety.”
“I have encountered multiple dirty glances by men but as it is frequent, I just choose to ignore it,” another woman commented regretted.
Marium Aslam, 21, a student at a private university in Karachi, believes that women can “never feel safe again” until the rapists are brought to justice. “I am forced to keep protection gear with me so that I can use it as a weapon,” she added.
A Karachi-based journalist, Bismah Mughal, 23, said that she chose to carry a pepper spray as she had encountered several incidents of misconduct in the past.
“There have been multiple incidents, not only those that I have encountered but those that every woman around me have, since a very young age. So instead of limiting my mobility, putting barriers around myself, or letting someone control my freedom, I chose to be prepared in case anything unfortunate happens,” she shared.
“I don’t want to be helpless,” Mughal stressed.