By Zareen Muzaffar
“When I turned my camera lens towards these men who have such leering gazes, some got angry while some started posing and many were flattered”.
“I was amazed at the spirit of women there. They said don’t give us donations, make workshops for us so we can do something constructive”.
When Naureen Shah visited Pakistan this year, she did not take pictures of famous places or monuments, she took pictures of the men who were staring at her because she is a woman.
“I was so sick of being looked at, stared at, and not just me, there are so many women who walk on those streets and get lecherous looks by men”. Armed with her camera Shah decided to unleash the reality of certain areas of Lahore and Karachi. Shah is back from Pakistan and held a photo exhibit called The Naked Stare of a Pakistani Man.
Shah came to Canada fourteen years ago from Karachi where she was active in the field of advertising and freelanced as a photographer. Mother of two daughters and owner of a small montessori school Shah has received grants from Ontario Arts Council for various projects and her work includes United Way, Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International.
In August 2002 Naureen traveled to the Afghan Refugee camp Jalozai to photograph the plight of Afghan Refugee women and children. “I was amazed at the spirit of women there. They said don’t give us donations, make workshops for us so we can do something constructive”.
Her work on Afghan women has been widely exhibited in Canada, United States and Pakistan. “They thrive even in the worst of circumstances”, said Shah with a far away look. She had been beckoned by the memory.
Shah has received e-mails blaming her of bashing Pakistan. “People don’t realize it is not about any particular country, it is not about them, it is about me, about women and their discomfort”, states Shah emphatically.
Some areas such as Gizri and Sadar in Karachi or Gujranwala in Lahore gave Shah the opportunity to capture the gaze under which women fall everyday. “The irony is the more liberated I felt here the more cautious I was there while walking on the streets in Karachi for instance. I had covered myself with a chador but despite that I was being scanned and followed by the men”.
And such is the plight of women in Pakistan who go out unescorted. Shah feels they are more protected if they have a driver and a car, and if not then they are in trouble. Shah recalls her life in Pakistan where the unwritten code was ‘cover yourself up otherwise don’t blame men for looking at you’.
Shah says she is satisfied with this project. “Now everyone will know what women go through on the streets in Pakistan. And that’s what I wanted to show through my photography”, says Shah.
“When I turned my camera lens towards these men who have such leering gazes, some got angry while some started posing and many were flattered”. Shah believes there was a certain power struggle at play in those market places.
“I felt a little empowered because of the camera in my hands”, says Shah.