Biased leniency correlates to escalating harassment incidents in educational institutions

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Lahore: Laws which provide legal protection against harassment are relatively unknown in educational institutions, making female students vulnerable to various forms of uncalled for behavior.

Young women in colleges and universities avoid conveying harassment incidents to their families as they dread that their instructive vocations will be at risk. Numerous cases of harassment are hushed just because the victims of harassment are looked down upon by the general public, hence genuine reports are rarely recorded. Most women are unaware regarding the guarantee against inappropriate behavior given to them by the law of Pakistan. It is imperative to raise awareness amongst women regarding their rights and how they can protect themselves against harassment by using the law. They need to be mindful about what harassment is, so that they can get well acquainted with the most effective method to deal with such issues independently under the protection of the law. If awareness is raised among the women of Pakistan, they can start recognizing their rights and choose to confront bawdy behavior, over 80 percent of harassment issues could be settled, or avoided altogether.

According to a previous report by News Lens Pakistan, a majority of universities and colleges in Pakistan do not have clear policies regarding sexual harassment. For instance, in Islamabad, except for the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), other universities do not have any apparent policies. After the promulgations of Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2010, the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan adopted the law and issued a booklet. The Act establishes inquiry committees, each of which must include one female.

Another interesting fact is that universities mention names of their committees e.g sports committee, disciplinary committee etc but none of them mention the anti-harassment committee.

In a recent incident, National College of Arts, Rawalpindi, an ethical and responsible institution, which is not only a renowned arts college, but also the oldest educational institution in public sector, decided to tackle a case of sexual harassment involving its former director, and set a shining example for other private and public educational institutions. The entire staff and faculty were on the same page against the director, who deliberately harassed the faculty members through sexual gestures/behavior. Despite numerous efforts on his part to involve various references and influences, the Board of the college took serious action against him and called him in for an explanation. Inquiries regarding his conduct are still in process. The victims, who have been intensely affected by the unpleasant behavior of the director, are hopeful for a legitimate decision in order to promote justice and ethics in educational institutions against such influential, yet manipulative officials.

The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act was brought forth enthusiastically and was marked by the Prime Minister at the time, Yousaf Raza Gillani, with a rationale to make working conditions safer for women; free from badgering, manhandling and misogynistic intent, thus enabling them to work with pride. This demonstration goes along with the Government’s sense of duty regarding universal work models. It requires all public and private associations to receive an interior Code of Conduct and a grievance/bid system enabling them to report hostile conduct of any sort instantly. The demonstration characterizes provocation as ‘any unwelcome lewd gesture, asking for sexual favors or other verbal or composed correspondence or physical lead of a sexual sort or, on the other hand sexually disparaging mindsets, causing impedance with work execution or making a scary, threatening or hostile work condition, or the endeavor to rebuff the pursuer for refusal to consent to such a demand or is made a condition for business.’

However, the law has not been implemented in the educational institutions properly.

In 2014, media reports outlined that Islamabad’s National University of Modern Languages flouted the HEC’s policy guideline by setting up an all-male committee of three members to investigate a harassment complaint. A woman was later added to the committee when the accused refused to appear before the committee. The accused professor was removed from his position as head of department, only to be appointed head of another department, despite the recommendations of sexual harassment committee that he should not be given any supervisory or departmental head’s role.

In a harassment case at Quaid-e-Azam University in 2013, a teacher from Biological Sciences was removed from his post. He was later reinstated by then President Asif Ali Zardari. The Public Relations Officer of the university told the media that the President replied with a note of Ministry of Law and Justice, “The law of harassment does not apply to students because they are not employees.”

It was the first time when such major lacuna in the law was raised by the Ministry of Law and Justice, which legally vets and approves the legislation drafts in the country. On February 27, a senior official of Ministry of Law and Justice, Sajjad Shah told the parliamentary committee on human rights that the law passed in 2010 did not apply to educational institutes as the law, “does talk about employee-against-employee but not employee-against-student.”

Various female legislators have been trying to introduce amendments to the law to make it more inclusive of students, but according to reports, their proposed amendments are pending with various committees.

It is the professional and ethical duty of the government and universities’ administration to raise proper awareness amongst not only students but for officials, regarding harassment, and anti-harassment laws while ensuring their implementation in letter and spirit in order to give women a safer footing in society.

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