Thursday Sep 17, 2020
In the wake of the motorway rape incident, which has triggered fear and anxiety in all of Pakistan, pepper sprays, pocket knives and all kinds of self-defence items are flying off the shelves as concerned women take personal safety in their own hands.
In the days following the incident, distressed social media users could be seen frantically searching online for protective equipment they could use for personal safety.
Not only that, store owners are also reporting that they are now stocking pepper spray next to other essentials at payment counters to cater to a sudden rise in demand from customers.
“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 mart owner in a bustling neighbourhood of Karachi’s Saddar area.
He said pepper spray was selling "like chewing gum" for the past few days.
Huma Naz, resident of Rawalpindi and a mother of four daughters, shared that she was terrified after the sudden increase in reporting of sexual assault cases in the country. She instantly ordered pepper spray from an online store for each of her daughters, which she plans to keep in their school bags once they resume going to school in the weeks ahead.
“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.
Catering to these concerns and apprehensions, an online organic goods store has launched a range of pepper sprays at comparatively affordable market rates to make them more accessible to women belonging to impoverished segments of the city as well.
Explaining that the recent series of events has been extremely traumatising for most women, the founder of the store, Mehak Ali, said the idea behind introducing these pepper sprays was to get rid of the misperception 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 money generated from the sales of each of these pepper spray bottles enables her to hand over free bottles to those who can’t afford them – especially women hired as domestic help and other working women.
Speaking about a 45% surge in pepper spray sales after the motorway rape incident last week, Ali said an enormous number of women have placed orders not only for themselves but to contribute to the delivery of free pepper spray bottles to underprivileged women as well.
“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 added.
Speaking to Geo.tv, Ahmed, a manager at another online store, said that queries regarding pepper sprays were increasing with each passing day. However, in the past week, not only have sales shot up by 50% (which makes it 100 units a day), people are now purchasing these items in bulk, indicating a rising panic among the general public.
Apart from a surge in sales of self-defence items, a trainer from one of the renowned kickboxing schools shared that admissions have increased by 30% during the past week. Females interested in joining the academy are aged between 16 to 30 years.
"During the past week, several parents have approached me inquiring about any self-defence training that our academy offers or a related course programme," he said, adding that given these requests and growing concerns from parents specifically, they are are rolling out three-months self-defence training programmes that will empower women, especially young girls, to rely on their physical strength and other protection techniques to ward off any assaulters.
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 pocket knives 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."
She said that hazards have multiplied for working women particularly, and unless justice is served, "more offenders will roam freely and that includes potential rapists in the workplace as well".
"This incident has made us realise that nothing can save you but yourself," she said, adding: "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," she 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.
Responding to the question of whether she had become more concerned about her safety after the rampant occurrence of rape cases, she said: "Yes... All day every day."
I am forced to keep protection gear with me so that I can use it as a weapon, she said.
Speaking to Geo.tv, Bismah Mughal, 23, a Karachi-based journalist, 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.
The journalist said that some of her friends had joined self-defence classes after the motorway incident and that she too aims to join them in the near future.