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ANTI-SEXUAL HARASSMENT LAWS ARE APPLICABLE TO UNIVERSITIES IN PAKISTAN

Although everyone would be more concerned about the attacks in Waziristan, I do want to share this article which  clarifies some of the misconception created by the print media. It is disheartening that one has to work so hard to get a positive impact from a law, but everyone picks up something negative so fast. I don’t know if the amendment will pass or not but the way he has talked to the press has thrown our work back about two years. We have been trying to control the damage for the last five days  Anyway here is my clarification. If you know people in the universities kindly help me circulate this article widely. Now that we had the universities adopting this law we don’t want to have any sliding back.

The anti-sexual harassment law is applicable to all institutions, government, private, civil society and as the text of the law regarding this clearly states, “to the educational institutions” as well (Section 2 Paragraph 1). A recently proposed amendment in the Senate created an impression that the law is not currently applicable in the educational institutions. This is totally incorrect. I will explain the challenges this law is facing because of some elitist elements, which are persistent in harassing others and pull all strings to get away with it.

The amendment moved recently in the Senate has a positive intention. We have given our inputs. If approved, it should expand the definition of sexual harassment which will help cover, in a better way, all complainants who are not employees of an institution but are harassed by an employee. These include students as well. We hope the government will look at such changes in a positive manner.

The law, Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2010, was signed on March 9, 2010. In January 2011, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) dispatched a detailed guideline for all universities to comply with the new law.

The law has a provision for an appeal process. If you approach the Inquiry Committee of the institution, either party can go in appeal to the ombudsman. You can also go to the ombudsman, under section eight which states that, “Any employee shall have the option to prefer a complaint either to the ombudsman or the inquiry committee.” In such a case, either party can take the decision for a representation to the president. But no one gets to appeal twice. Perhaps a future amendment can also make this more explicit.

The university controller of examinations of the Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) was forcefully retired by the university for physically harassing a young female student. The story was corroborated by many witnesses. A frenzy was created within the syndicate. Most respected Supreme Court Justice Nasirul Mulk, who happens to be on the syndicate of the QAU, ruled that the law is applicable to universities. The controller took the case in appeal to the ombudsman where the university’s decision was upheld. He tried his luck in the high court but did not get anywhere. He then took the case to another appeal — to the president. The second appeal is not allowed under the law. The president sent the case to the law ministry where, we are told the ministry said the law doesn’t cover student grievances. We disagree with this opinion as the definition clearly states: “Harassment means any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes … or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply to such a request …”. This was a classic case where a senior controller examination abused his position to create fear of reprimand and physically harassed a young female student in his office and was fully covered under the law and fully within the HEC policy which the university officially adopted.

More than 40 complaints of sexual harassment, mostly by students against professors, have been resolved so far. Five major cases have been tackled in QAU itself. Thus, I would like to make it clear to the senators to kindly not frame their discussion in terms of whether this law should include universities or not. This is damaging for our implementation process. The universities are already included. They will be going against the law if they do not establish the complaint mechanisms. Any help in further strengthening the act by them will be welcomed.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2014.

 

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Sexual harassment charges: Shameless elite and the daughters of this nation

Sexual harassment charges: Shameless elite and the daughters of this nation

Published: July 30, 2013 in Express Tribune, Pakistan

The syndicate of Quaid-e-Azam University needs to understand the legislation and realise that it is not their personal discretion or whim that applies in this case, says Fouzia Saeed.

ISLAMABAD: Recently, two universities have let down women students by protecting predator professors from sexual harassment charges. Quaid-e-Azam University, where serious convictions on charges of sexual harassment set a positive tone for the implementation of the anti-sexual harassment law a year ago, has now waivered under the pressure from our shameless elites.One would imagine that after charges of sexual harassment of students have been proven against professors, they would be embarrassed and resign or hide somewhere, but in our dear country they shamelessly fight back, while their friends who obviously do not think there is anything wrong with pulling a student into their office for sexual fulfilment or asking for sexual favours in exchange of better grades, diligently support and protect such culprits.

Two recent cases in Quaid-e-Azam University, where teachers repeatedly sexually harassed students, were investigated thoroughly by a committee set up by the university for this purpose. In the past, the committee has also given honest and brave results. After investigation, the committee recommended that Inamullah Laghari be terminated and Abdul Samad Mumtaz be charged with minor penalties. Charges were proven in both cases. All parties had no complaints on the process and made no verbal or written record of any concerns on procedural grounds. After the committee made its recommendations to the university syndicate, the culprits realised that they would be convicted and started lobbying for a diversion. ‘Technical grounds’ is usually the back door.

The syndicate of Quaid-e-Azam University needs to understand the legislation and realise that it is not their personal discretion or whim that applies in this case. It is the job of the committee, authorised under the law, to do the inquiry. The syndicate only ensures if procedure was followed and endorses the recommendations.

In this case, they did not even bring in the inquiry committee members to ask them questions about the procedure. They simply constituted a new committee. This is the most negative precedent they could have set. This has opened the process to anyone wanting a custom-designed committee when they do not like the decision. In the new committee specially put together for the accused, members like Dr Qaisar Mushtaq — who is a person known to have sided with sexual harasser professors earlier — have been included. As some members made noise to protect the culprits, others watched silently. For how long will our shameless elite remain silent and allow the humiliation of the daughters of our nation?

In the case of Punjab University, a brave decision to terminate the services of a habitual sexual harasser, Iftikhar Baloch, was applauded two years ago. The notorious professor who maintained a bedroom next to his office on campus for his flirtatious activities kept using political elites to come back. Even then-prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and former governor Latif Khosa put pressure on the university to take him back. Recently, interim governor Ahmad Mahmud used his window of opportunity to get his friend back in the university.  A woman high court judge decided that it was up to the governor to take the final decision. Very conveniently, the governor did the necessary paperwork and signed the orders to reinstate him. The university resisted, but the pressure took more of a ‘desi’ turn.

We make a strong appeal to Punjab Government to intervene and keep such predators out of our universities. Also stop them from threatening brave officials of the university who have resisted pressure for the last two years and have stood their ground. Also, for Quaid-e-Azam University, the PM and the HEC should send a strong message that the syndicate cannot go against the law. Legislation and procedure has to be followed. If they argue the soundness of the procedure, they should call the full committee and get a presentation from them. If they see any gaps or have suggestions to strengthen the procedures, they should make those to the committee legally authorised to investigate.

The legislation will only be effective if the intention of our elite and senior university officials is to bring some dignity to these houses of learning. We need to clean up our universities and educate the shameless educated elite — those who harass, those who protect them and those who remain silent and do not put their foot down.

The author is an authority on anti-sexual harassment legislation in Pakistan and has been monitoring its implementation.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2013.