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‘Govt’s measures will help make harassment issue irrelevant within next five years’

Updated February 11, 2019

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SHARMEEN Obaid-Chinoy speaks at a session of the Lahooti Melo at Sindh University in Jamshoro on Sunday.—Dawn
SHARMEEN Obaid-Chinoy speaks at a session of the Lahooti Melo at Sindh University in Jamshoro on Sunday.—Dawn

HYDERABAD: Given an increasing awareness in women, their empowerment coupled with legislation will turn the harassment issue irrelevant after five years. Till this happens, the law against harassment at workplace or educational institutions is there.

This was confidently stated by Sindh Education Secretary Qazi Shahid Pervez while discussing the issue at a session held during the concluding programmes of the two-day ‘Lahooti Melo 2019 — an ode to a liberated woman’ at the University of Sindh, Jamshoro, on Sunday.

Mr Qazi observed that more women were entering institutions of higher education. He pointed out that Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace law was introduced, appointment of ombudsman to exclusively deal with women’s cases was made. Civil society gets more assertive then ever and all this would help make ‘harassment’ totally irrelevant in near future, he argued.

“Today’s discussion on whether we have an infrastructure against harassment at workplace looks relevant but it will become irrelevant after five years considering reforms,” he said while responding to a point raised by the moderator of the session on ‘Gendered world of higher education in Sindh’. The discussion focused on how universities are complying with the law.

Lahooti Melo draws to an end with talk on women empowerment

According to Mr Qazi, the only thing that is important is that girls should come forward to expose predator and say it is not only sexual harassment but some other forms that tend to affect them.

He called for defining harassment beyond its conventional meaning of ‘sexual’ harassment. If a person discourages his daughter on getting higher education arguing that how will she travel to her far off university by bus and risking her honour, he in fact harasses her emotionally. Harassment has thousands of manifestations. We need to consider impact of various forms of harassment. The state has given an overall framework and infrastructure to address this issue.

Mr Qazi urged female students among the audience to always be at the receiving end by complaining that this or that had been denied to them. “You shouldn’t underrate yourself in any way as you are proactive leaders to get your rights,” he advised.

He said that in neighbouring Liaquat medical university, a medical college for male students was established because female outnumbered their male counterparts. He said that life skills-based curriculum was not part of the syllabi for class I to VIII to help them lodge their complaints if they were bullied. He said that Sindh was the first province that had modernised its syllabi to that extent by shattering this taboo.

Sindh University Vice Chancellor Dr Fateha Mohammad Burfat’s take was that parents should develop better communication with their children so that they should not get shy or afraid of sharing their issues with them. “The Naila Rind case is not reaching its logical end because her family didn’t come forward,” he said. Parents would have to trust children but it had been a dilemma that they do not have faith in them.

“Girls are often afraid of their families and that’s why they avoid lodging complaints,” he said.

Dr Burfat said that female enrolment at SU was increasing. He said he believed that without women empowerment, the country could not progress. He said he posted women on administrative positions and they performed better than men. “We need to clean minds,” he stressed.

The VC said that people needed to change their perspective on female education. He pointed out that SU had put in place measures under special anti-harassment cov­er. “I stress a friendly bond between parents and their children as this will transform gender landscape in higher education in Sindh,” he said.

To the moderator’s question to Dr Binafsha Manzoor Syed whether any counselling mechanism existed at the Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences (LUMHS), she said ‘no’, adding that although an idea to this effect was floated by the psychiatric department some time back also asking the university to help check suicidal tendency.

She said that medical education itself was stressing and those staying in hostels did not get support of counselling. “This is need of the hour today,” she said alluding to an incident in which a third year medical student, Atif Arain, committed suicide at LUMHS. She said that mentors were there at the univer­sity.”But there is a trend that parents force their children into medical education against their will. This needs to be addressed,” she added.

Oscar Award winning journalist, filmmaker and activist Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy showed her three short films — on Ghulam Fatima, women elite force of Nowshera and Lyari’s boxing girls — to assert her point that women can become their own voice.

“If we don’t do it then who will do?”, she quipped during her session ‘Freedom fighters’. She said that she believed women were Pakistan’s best segment. “It’s we who win Nobel peace prize, we climb mountains and we win Oscar,” she said amidst thunderous applause.

“If we struggle we will make Pakistan shine,” she said.

Singer Shahzad Roy at a session said music could be a powerful catalyst for social transformation. He narrated to the delight of audience the intriguing story of his inspiration for philanthropy along with his music career.

Journalist Wusattullah Khan, writer Asif Farrukhi, Angeline Malik, Hafiz Nizamani, Omran Shafiq, Mohsin Qazi, world-renowned V-logger Eva Zu Beck and others shared views on spectrum of socio-cultural issues.

Vocalists Mai Dhai, Faqeer Zulfiqar, Taj Mastani, the Sketches Band and other popular music groups enthralled audience with spectacular performances.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2019