In what is being referred to as “Pakistan’s biggest Me too moment,” Pakistani actor and singer Meesha Shafi recently accused Pakistani actor and singer Ali Zafar of sexual harassment. Shafi publicized her allegations against Zafar in a tweet, stating that on numerous occasions he had subjected her to “sexual harassment of a physical nature.”
Sharing this because I believe that by speaking out about my own experience of sexual harassment, I will break the culture of silence that permeates through our society. It is not easy to speak out.. but it is harder to stay silent. My conscience will not allow it anymore #MeToo pic.twitter.com/iwex7e1NLZ
— Meesha Shafi (@itsmeeshashafi) April 19, 2018
In her tweet, Shafi reminded people that no one is impervious to the threat of sexual harassment, and that the culture of silence that allows such treatment to continue must be broken.
Zafar, who is best known for his album Huqa Pani, denied the allegations on Twitter, and threatened to take Shafi to court. In his defense, Zafar said he is “the father of a young girl and a young boy, a husband to a wife and a son to a mother.”
Since Shafi came forward, other women have also leveled accusations against Zafar on social media of inappropriate contact, groping, and sexual comments. The allegations have been polarizing, with the Pakistani entertainment industry divided between the two performers. For example, Mahira Khan, star of the film Verna, came out in support of Shafi on Twitter, while actor Maya Ali used Instagram to urge people not to condemn Zafar until a court has had the opportunity to weigh in.
Undoubtedly, the Shafi-Zafar controversy is significant for Pakistan. It represents the first time one member of the Pakistani entertainment industry has publicly accused another of sexual harassment. It also underscores a not insignificant recent history in Pakistan around confronting sexual harassment. Pakistani writer Alvana Jaboor recently wrote in MangoBaaz about the many recent examples in which the difficult topics of sexual harassment and abuse have been tackled in Pakistan. In April 2018, Pakistani CEO Khalid Bajwa resigned after multiple women came forward on Twitter accusing him of sexual harassment. Additionally, in January 2018, two Pakistani media and fashion industry icons came forward on social media with accounts of childhood sexual abuse, sparking a chain reaction in which other Pakistani women shared their own painful experiences.
The global rise of #MeToo has undoubtedly emboldened women across the world to come forward with their experiences. But to give credit entirely to the Western-born #MeToo movement obscures the existing efforts undertaken by women in Pakistan and beyond to bring sexual harassment to light. Nevertheless, Shafi’s account of sexual harassment resonates on a global level. It is a reminder that harassment is pervasive, and that women worldwide have had enough.