Saturday July 20, 2024

‘Support and believe women who speak out against harassment’

By Zoya Anwer
October 28, 2018

Tehrik-e-Niswan’s Sheema Kermani kicked off the 4th Women’s Peace Table at the Arts Council on Saturday by stressing the need to support and believe the women who muster the courage to speak out against harassment, instead of discrediting their experiences.

“Instead of saying things like ‘why she took so much time’, we need to understand the trauma carried by the woman who speaks out. The trauma of such an episode is always valid, irrespective of the years passed. Instead of throwing irrelevant questions at the woman regarding her clothes and conduct, we need to support them.”

Supporting the ongoing movement of women speaking against sexual harassment and violence, the Women’s Peace Table held discussions and performances regarding such incidents at the workplace and at educational institutes.

The workplace

Lawyer-teacher Abira Ashfaque, lawyer Sana Farrukh of the Digital Rights Foundation and Bolo Bhi’s Farieha Aziz held a panel discussion on harassment at the workplace that was moderated by law student Shazil Najam.

Abira, who was a part of the case against University of Karachi (KU) professor Dr Sahar Ansari, talked about legal loopholes and women’s struggles in getting justice on the basis of the workplace harassment act. “The law is not inclusive, because the agricultural sector comprises mainly women, followed by home-based workers, and it’s almost impossible to think of forming an inquiry committee if an incident occurs.”

Talking about the scenario in Punjab, Sana said that there are some success stories, but the end result gets stretched because sometimes it takes many days to send the final notice to the accused, which may lead to their transfer or removal, despite being found guilty.

Farieha said the promulgation of any law doesn’t mean the crime would vanish, rather it gives some power to the people to hold those people accountable who believe they can abuse their authority, but if the state just passes the law and doesn’t pay any attention to what it demands, there will be difficulties in using it.

The discussion was followed by a theatre performance depicting the opposition a woman goes through for raising her voice against harassment at the workplace and at educational institutes, portraying the KU professor’s case.

Educational institutes

KU professor Dr Navin Haider, Sindh University Teachers Association’s Dr Arfana Mallah and educationist Aimen Bucha held a dialogue on harassment at educational institutes that was moderated by Sadaf Masood.

Speaking about her case, Dr Navin said that it was a difficult situation for her because she couldn’t lock herself in her room out of fear, and that she took the step when some students came to her complaining about the same person. “I would encourage women to take someone trusted into confidence when such an incident occurs, because you’re in a different frame of mind due to trauma, and the dialogue between the trusted person and the victim is very important,” she said.

“I would also ask educational institutes to make sure that the inquiry committee isn’t incomplete or isn’t formed after the complaint has been lodged, because it may lead to inclusion of a biased member from either party.”

Dr Arfana also shared her case, saying that 14 cases were registered against her to force her into withdrawing her stand against the vice-chancellor of the University of Sindh.

She said she was also sent lewd messages, and when she decided to file the harassment charges, she was asked to reach a middle ground by agreeing to let the perpetrator call her his “sister”.

Aimen felt that this issue must not be taken in an individual capacity, rather it should be acknowledged that certain kind of men who have a privilege are able to carry out such deeds and go scot-free. “These issues will not get resolved if a man puts a ‘brotherly’ hand on his victim’s head.”

Dr Arfana said that if the Higher Education Commission can be strict with educational institutes about plagiarism or the number of papers to be published to get a PhD, it can also make sure that universities not following sexual violation policies as part of their guidelines are not granted a certain status.