Sport and harassment

Published October 26, 2017

IT is a sad reflection on society when allegations of harassment are given short shrift by those whose responsibility it is to investigate such charges and take action.

The recent case in which Syeda Sadia, the former goalkeeper of the women’s hockey team, alleged assault by her head coach is an example.

According to Sadia, the coach tried to hit her, but was stopped by Tanzeela Aamer, secretary of the Pakistan Hockey Federation’s women’s wing.

Following the player to her room, he apparently attempted to assault her again, threatening to ban her if she reported him.

Her roommate, who tried to intervene, has been expelled from the team on ‘disciplinary grounds’.

For such a serious charge, an official inquiry is essential. Ms Aamer should have supported a probe.

Shockingly, she dismissed the need for one, calling the coach a ‘thorough gentleman’, even though Sadia claims she has fielded off other advances by him. He denies the allegation.

There can be no two opinions: gendered assault and violence must not be tolerated under any circumstances; tragically, women suffer on account of these in most spheres of life, including sports.

Action is avoided in such cases of harassment because preserving an institution’s reputation outweighs harm done to the victim.

Our culture of misogyny is such that women alleging sexual harassment or abuse are discredited, as is evident in the case of PTI lawmaker Ayesha Gulalai.

It is almost a given: as a woman you will not only be humiliated for your experience but disbelieved; the resulting silence only nurtures predators.

The suicide of cricketer Haleema Rafiq is another tragic example of not taking such allegations seriously.

Disbelieved when she said the chairman of the Multan Cricket Club had demanded sexual favours, she eventually took her own life.

Because such predatory behaviour is both overt and insidious, workplaces must define what constitutes harassment and initiate prompt action against the offenders.

For women, staying silent should no longer be the safest option.

Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2017

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