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Monday May 27, 2024

Safety for women

By Editorial Board
March 11, 2022

While we have said time and again that Pakistan’s girls and women are not safe, especially when they venture out, there is the minimum expectation that at least at home or at educational institutions they can feel protected. The reality unfortunately seems to be the opposite. We already know of the many ways women are in danger even when at home: domestic abuse, honour killings being two glaring examples. And when they do manage to step into places of learning, they face a whole different set of challenges and trauma. In 2021, Dr Nosheen Kazmi killed herself at the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Medical University in Larkana. Two years earlier in 2019, another final year student, Dr Nimrita Kumari had also committed suicide in her room. Following an investigation, the vice chancellor of the Benazir Bhutto Medical University was suspended for a period. Hearing an appeal against this, the Sindh High Court has ruled that the professor should be allowed to resume her post as vice chancellor of the University. But far more disturbing than the bureaucracy and the manner in which inquiries are conducted is the question of why two young women are today dead.

There have been questions over whether one of the reasons for the extreme steps they took could be harassment or threats. While the truth may never be uncovered, the Sindh High Court has ruled that no male staff is to be appointed at girls’ hostels in public-sector universities across Sindh. This could be one step towards protecting female students, though it is tragic that such a measure needs to be taken in the first place. Across the country, the challenges girls and women face are unimaginable. There are many stories that do not come to the fore, with many young women too scared to talk about the ordeals they face just to gain an education. Some of the silence stems from the fear that they would be forced to give up their studies. After all, families fear for their lives and in some cases also believe education for girls is not important.

The education and work environment for girls and women in the country has considerably deteriorated in the past couple of decades, and the impunity with which cases of harassment, murder, rape, and torture are taking place now is highly alarming. The antagonistic setting women find themselves in has hindered their progress. And any efforts at change can be meaningful only if we start at the very beginning of education. School books for young children should promote respect for people of all genders and all groups, regardless of who they are, or what status they hold in society. The attitude of political leaders towards issues such as rape or harassment is yet another problem. It can be easy to scoff at groups that just want to increase the visibility of women but when something as fundamental as affirming the right to exist invites threats and danger it is obvious that there is a long way to go before Pakistan’s girls and women can feel safe – whether at home, on the street or at school.