On merit alone

04 Jul 2020

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A CHALLENGE to the concept of merit has fortunately been beaten back. The Federal Services Tribunal has dismissed an appeal against the combined seniority list of male and female sub-inspectors of the Federal Investigation Agency. The appellant, a sub-inspector at FIA-investigation, had asked that the organisation issue segregated lists for sub-inspectors (investigation) and female SIs/ASIs (immigration) as being separate wings. Included among the respondents were the interior secretary, the DG FIA and 74 women FIA officials. The government since 2003 has issued combined seniority lists for FIA sub-inspectors belonging to the same group, on which their promotions are based. However in 2008, segregated lists were issued, based on a sexist presumption that women sub-inspectors were only fit to work in immigration — in other words, at a desk job. According to this mindset, men alone have the skills and mental capacity to undertake criminal investigations. The segregated lists deprived the female sub-inspectors of their upcoming promotions, and allowed newly inducted male sub-inspectors to be promoted earlier than their female counterparts. Naturally, this caused much heartburn and resentment among the women FIA sub-inspectors. They challenged the segregated lists, and finally managed to prevail. Indeed, they had a strong case, given it was based on their constitutional right to be treated equally under the law, and not be discriminated against on account of their gender. As in much of the world, women in Pakistan too have had to fight for equal opportunities. Even while things are changing, especially in the urban centres, the patriarchal mindset is alive and well. It surfaces frequently to ‘claim’ a self-arrogated right to the choicest pickings in terms of employment or to sideline women from decision-making processes.

In law enforcement, women have proved themselves to be more than capable of shouldering the same responsibilities as their male counterparts even in extremely perilous situations. When the Chinese consulate in Karachi was attacked in November 2018, it was a female ASP, Suhai Aziz, who led the successful security operation against the assailants. A few months ago, a woman police officer won praise across the board for standing her ground against a mob in a Karachi locality in order to enforce the ban on congregational prayers to prevent the spread of Covid-19. As the struggle of the FIA’s female sub-inspectors shows, more and more women are now determined to fight for their aspirations and not let misogynistic elements cow them into playing secondary roles.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2020