What does it mean for a woman to take up space in the world? In Pakistan, it’s complicated. If you do so in the way you’re inclined — speaking publicly about your right to an education, navigating your marriage the way you prefer, expressing your sexuality — all too often, it seems the results can be disastrous, even fatal.
Of course, the repression isn’t always so dramatic or headline-worthy. It trickles down into everyday life for many Pakistani women — simply strolling into a public park on a sunny afternoon turns into a negotiation. Don’t show too much skin. Don’t smile. Don’t walk alone — or else you’re basically asking to be harassed. Even on designated Family Days, when males aren’t allowed inside the gates unless they’re with family, men leer from just beyond the fence. Sometimes they whisper, shout, or even throw pieces of paper with explicit messages, a practice that’s referred to here as “eve-teasing” (which is also used to describe groping and other physical forms of harassment and assault). The problem, many women say, is a lack of education; too many men have no understanding of women’s rights or why it’s important to treat all people with respect.
Refinery29 sent a reporter and photographer to Gujranwala Park in Lahore this spring to interview women about how they navigate public space, and how they’d like to see things change. Read on to explore their stories.