There’s this strange impulse I feel as a woman in the streets of Karachi. An impulse to grip my bosom almost as if to conceal it behind crossed arms. An apologetic head bow as I cross the road, as if my arms are the only thing concealing my naked body. I walk sucking in my hips and chest, minimising my female silhouette. Even through a chaddar, I fear walking against the sun, the filtered light that will make apparent my anatomy. Walking in broad daylight feels no better than walking in the middle of the night. Walking in a burka feels a little better than walking in a kameez shalwar. But I know that’s just to make myself feel better. My choice of clothing has no bearing on the voyeurism I am about to be subject to. Bowing my eyes feels no better than staring into those that pierce through me and as I scurry through to my destination, the sensation of terror dissipates but a new one dawns upon me- one that lingers. One that makes me feel filthy. And isn’t that ironic. In 7 years of doing street photography, I don’t feel safe, let alone welcomed on the roads that lead to home. I fear what if. And living in fear is not fair. It’s not fair. My existence is not an invitation for you to stare.
My existence is not an invitation.
As a woman, my autonomy is up for grabs everywhere. I feel these men at all levels with all their entitlement, feel they own us women and they owe us no decency. Having no regard for my autonomy over my own body in my space, in my city, is what I have been forced to see with this series. My work as a street photographer, and this series specifically is one way to highlight how the male gaze obstructs a woman’s mobility and sense of ownership over her own body— capturing this infringement, this outright disrespect and disregard for women existing as individuals and not just as property. Not just as objects.
The intent of this series is to educate men and women on how difficult life can be when a woman chooses to exercise her right of simply existing in a public space. While this series only focuses on a very specific strata, does not take away from the intended purpose of raising awareness of how a basic human right — of walking in a public space is seen as a debatable and “foreign” concept. The series is an attempt to publicly display how scared I feel along with many other women everyday. It is an attempt to demonstrate that women do not exaggerate the trauma they go through on a daily basis. And it is more prevalent than any of us realise. And yet my existence shouldn’t be a reason for men to behave the way they do.
Article by Zara Abbas
Photos by Zara Abbas