No more silence

  • For women, revolution has just begun

For women, #metoo movement is gaining recognition across the world as a source of not only creating awareness, but also for breaking barriers by talking about once taboo and hushed topics. It matters particularly in conservative societies, like in Pakistan, that women are now picking up courage to share experiences which may cause unease. The motive, of course, is to be able to reduce the quantum of such incidents.

While Pakistan still awaits settlement of a row involving a famed artist alleging her colleague of harassment, new disturbing details of over 80 female students being harassed have rocked the nation once more.

At a reputed university in the capital, a group of female students reportedly informed other groups to follow that the invigilator during their practicals for intermediate examinations, touched many girls inappropriately. The student who shared details of her own shocking harassment at the hand of the same examiner had to deliberate much before making a complaint. When she did, she had to face a callous attitude. The administration of the college said there was nothing they could do. The principal of the institution did not attend calls and when other staff members were informed no action was taken.

In exasperation, the horrified student has asked on social media, why silence is the answer to such issues? She urged women who face harassment to #standupforyourself. At roughly the age of 18, the girl has already been through a life changing experience.

Federal Directorate of Education (FDE) Director General (DG) Hasnat Qureshi has admitted that the invigilator was also accused by students of another school in 2014. The FDE had sent a summary to Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD) asking the division to suspend the accused teacher. Instead, he was exonerated of all charges.

Qureshi added that after the recent accusations, a two-member inquiry committee had been constituted to probe the matter and it had been directed to submit its reports within seven days.

While a person being alleged of similar accusation more than once makes him already suspicious, the battle against harassment in educational institutions is still not easy. A female assistant professor in the Karachi University (KU) awaits justice in her cause, despite having waged the crusade two years ago.

In April 2016, Dr Navin G Haider had filed a complaint of harassment to the then vice chancellor of KU against a visiting professor. The accused, Professor Sahar Ansari, is also a renowned literary figure. Dr Navin was not the only one to have suffered at the hands of Ansari – many other female colleagues shared incidents of similar nature. But the committee formed to investigate the complaint gave a clean chit to the accused professor.

However, Dr Navin approached the Provincial Ombudsman for the Protection of Women against Harassment at the Workplace. Justice (R) Shahnawaz Tariq rejected the KU committee’s inquiry report and directed the vice chancellor to form a new one to investigate Dr Navin’s complaint against Ansari under the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010.

The second committee at the University of Karachi found Professor Sahar Ansari guilty of sexually harassing Dr Navin Haider and stopping just short of suggesting his removal, recommended that he be kept away from varsity activities. But the professor is still eagerly accepting invitations to university events to which he continues to be invited at.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is preparing to outlaw sexual harassment, less than a month before the kingdom lifts its decades-long ban on women driving. The kingdom’s Shura Council, which advises the cabinet, has approved a draft law which would introduce a prison term of up to five years and a penalty of 300,000 riyals ($80,000).

An ultra-conservative society is opening up on a global issue. It seems to be creating strong hurdles in the way of those who have no respect for women. While we back here in Pakistan play musical chairs in innumerable committees to discuss matters and then dispose them heartlessly.

0It is not just a matter of customs and taboos that make it exceedingly difficult for a woman to share details of being encroached – physically, mentally and emotionally. No woman, or even a man, would like to be at the centre of attention for the wrong reason. No woman likes to express the helplessness and defilement she experiences at the hand of a man. No woman manages with ease to discuss how and when her privacy was eroded. But when she does, she expects that she at least gets back a sense of security.

When a woman explodes beyond her social grooming and limitations to tell the world that she is not a public property which can be abused at will, she demands a shift in the paradigm. She expects honour and respect. She looks up to the long list of laws and regulations which promise that to her. But when in return she receives nothings, what is she to do?

Still, the age of revolution has begun. When women come to an agreement that they will not hide behind customs and will not feel ashamed of an act which was not of their doing, they signal a change. The more they speak out, the louder their voice becomes. The louder it is, more force will it gain. Today, they ensure they are heard. Tomorrow, they will not settle down without an answer. Day after, they won’t leave until the damage would somehow be undone. That day, the paradigm will shift.