Virginia Woolf highlights the discrimination faced by females at public places i.e. Library in following words;
“That a famous library has been cursed by a woman is a matter of complete indifference to a famous library. Venerable and calm, with all its treasures safe locked within its breasts, it sleeps complacently and will, so far as I am concerned, so sleep forever. Never will I wake those echoes, never will I ask for that hospitality again, I vowed as I descended the steps in anger.”
The words pierce through my heart and have the power to do so with anyone who has faced this kind of discrimination. Although things have changed in twenty-first century as compared to twentieth century but in Pakistan, the situation is still very relevant. Although we are not denied access to a library on the basis of our gender. But still there is considerably a smaller number of females in libraries.
When I first visited the library, selected a book and entered a room where people were engrossed in reading. I looked around to have a fair clue of my surroundings and to my surprise I did not find a single female. I ignored the fact, thinking it a mere coincidence. I started to read. After a moment I raised my head due to an unconscious trigger that someone is staring at me. I found that the males around me were looking at me as person looks at an unwanted thing that destroys the calm and beauty of a peaceful landscape.
It made me uncomfortable and I looked around the room to find if there is some board saying ‘all-men’s room’ but I failed. I found no note except that saying ‘No discussion is allowed’. But my trouble was still there until I asked a person sitting in front of me, ‘Are females allowed to sit here?’ He smiled and answered in positive.
Although there are equal rights and opportunities for both males and females but the shared discourse surrounding people does not expect females to be seen in certain spaces. There is a need to bring a movement of #girlsatlibrary similar to the #girlsatdhaba. This is important to ensure a greater acceptability for females in all fields.
Reading and visiting libraries is as much essential to empower a female as their equal representation in all fields of life. Only reading has the power to embolden a woman to break away the mental, psychological and physical restraints put by a colonial-patriarchal society.
The hindrance faced by females to visit library is that they fear harassment in such a male-dominated domain. Females prefer to go in such places in pairs that prevents them from frequently visiting these places. The need of the hour is to normalize the presence of females in all public spaces especially libraries. So, no woman be obliged to curse a library like Virginia Woolf.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Dunya News’ editorial stance.