IN a step that will go far in sending a message of reassurance to female students and academic staff in universities, the KP ombudsperson for protection against the harassment of women recommended the removal of a senior professor at Islamia College University in Peshawar for inappropriate behaviour towards a women student. The student had approached the ombudsperson last November with a complaint against the chairman of the political science department. After an inquiry conducted into the matter, the ombudsperson’s office recommended that the professor be removed from his post under Section 4(II)(c) of Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010. The order also recommended additional penalties under Section 10-2(h) to be decided on by the relevant authority. Considering how pervasive harassment is on campuses and how university authorities tend to ignore or dismiss such allegations — as was seen in this case initially — the decision comes as a breath of fresh air. Indeed, Islamia College University was the scene of protests last year in a demonstration that saw female students from other institutions in Peshawar participate as well. The students were protesting against harassment by male students and academic staff members.

One hopes that this decision will serve as an example for other provinces, where harassment in campuses is just as rampant in both public and private universities. A most egregious case of harassment and blackmail of women students was the one in the University of Balochistan. The students’ trauma came to light a couple of years ago. Despite the fact that the case rattled the provincial and federal administration and the Balochistan High Court took suo motu notice of the matter, no legal action appears to have been taken against the alleged perpetrators who included university officials. Similarly, several cases have been reported from Karachi University but the university management has been reluctant to pursue them. Unfortunately, when the highest in the land promote the strange logic that harassment is a consequence of ‘obscenity’, lesser mortals will feel that they have a free hand.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2021

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