UNIVERSITIES in Pakistan have a real fight on their hands when it comes to tackling pervasive sexism, misconduct and sexual harassment. The evidence in certain cases that professors and staff continue to blatantly abuse their position implies that legal procedures to tackle harassment are ineffectively implemented on campuses. In one case recently, a young student enrolled at the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto University in Nawabshah alleged she had been subjected to months of harassment by a lecturer — and that she was not the only victim. The student alleged that the university’s vice chancellor not only refused to pay heed to her complaint, but that he had falsely implicated her father in a case involving a car accident to pressure her to withdraw the charge. While the student’s plea for justice has been taken up by the Sindh High Court, a separate four-member inquiry committee will also investigate her complaint and report its findings to the province’s chief minister. Dissatisfied with the investigation of a internal three-member university inquiry committee (mandatory under the province’s anti-harassment law) she went public with her case.
Such cases demonstrate that many educational institutions, instead of addressing the complaints of their students fairly, are too concerned about protecting their own reputation and that of their academic staff. Though it is impossible to estimate the extent of the problem — public records are few and victims show reluctance to register complaints because it risks their academic career — sexism is rife in male-led institutions. Often perpetrators leave an institution to get a job with another while the victim is left unsupported and damaged. Breaking the silence on harassment will only happen when universities follow legal policy by registering and investigating complaints and ensuring there is zero tolerance for this type of behaviour. Stamping out harassment is about changing culture at institutional levels so that women have an equal right to education in an academically conducive setting without having to endure verbal and physical misconduct.
Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2018