Anti-harassment laws for universities

Published: February 20, 2014
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The writer is the founding member of AASHA, an alliance against sexual harassment

The writer is the founding member of AASHA, an alliance against sexual harassment

The anti-sexual harassment law is applicable to all institutions, government, private, civil society and as the text of the law regarding this clearly states, “to the educational institutions” as well (Section 2 Paragraph 1). A recently proposed amendment in the Senate created an impression that the law is not currently applicable in the educational institutions. This is totally incorrect. I will explain the challenges this law is facing because of some elitist elements, which are persistent in harassing others and pull all strings to get away with it.

The amendment moved recently in the Senate has a positive intention. We have given our inputs. If approved, it should expand the definition of sexual harassment which will help cover, in a better way, all complainants who are not employees of an institution but are harassed by an employee. These include students as well. We hope the government will look at such changes in a positive manner.

The law, Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2010, was signed on March 9, 2010. In January 2011, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) dispatched a detailed guideline for all universities to comply with the new law.

The law has a provision for an appeal process. If you approach the Inquiry Committee of the institution, either party can go in appeal to the ombudsman. You can also go to the ombudsman, under section eight which states that, “Any employee shall have the option to prefer a complaint either to the ombudsman or the inquiry committee.” In such a case, either party can take the decision for a representation to the president. But no one gets to appeal twice. Perhaps a future amendment can also make this more explicit.

The university controller of examinations of the Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) was forcefully retired by the university for physically harassing a young female student. The story was corroborated by many witnesses. A frenzy was created within the syndicate. Most respected Supreme Court Justice Nasirul Mulk, who happens to be on the syndicate of the QAU, ruled that the law is applicable to universities. The controller took the case in appeal to the ombudsman where the university’s decision was upheld. He tried his luck in the high court but did not get anywhere. He then took the case to another appeal — to the president. The second appeal is not allowed under the law. The president sent the case to the law ministry where, we are told the ministry said the law doesn’t cover student grievances. We disagree with this opinion as the definition clearly states: “Harassment means any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes … or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply to such a request …”. This was a classic case where a senior controller examination abused his position to create fear of reprimand and physically harassed a young female student in his office and was fully covered under the law and fully within the HEC policy which the university officially adopted.

More than 40 complaints of sexual harassment, mostly by students against professors, have been resolved so far. Five major cases have been tackled in QAU itself. Thus, I would like to make it clear to the senators to kindly not frame their discussion in terms of whether this law should include universities or not. This is damaging for our implementation process. The universities are already included. They will be going against the law if they do not establish the complaint mechanisms. Any help in further strengthening the act by them will be welcomed.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • abdul hadi
    Feb 20, 2014 - 12:41AM

    remember guys…no matter what she is wearing, she is not asking for it…

    Recommend

  • ASMA SIDDIQI
    Feb 20, 2014 - 10:50AM

    Support for Sexual Harassment!
    Even though Pakistan has a law against sexual harassment in the workplace, it will not be effective if women employees do not have access to competent and honest attorneys and women’s organisations that are willing to take up their cases. Pakistan’s Alliance Against Sexual Harassment [AASHA] lists a large multinational pharmaceutical company SmithKline Beecham Pakistan, as a “progressive employer” even though the company fired me for filing a sexual harassment complaint against my supervisor. I informed AASHA about it but the organisation neither replied to me nor removed the company’s name from its list of “progressive employers.” So much for mobilising organisations for victims of sexual harassment. -Asma Siddiqi

    Recommend

  • Feb 20, 2014 - 1:35PM

    //he president sent the case to the law //

    And was it needed?Recommend

  • M.Faisal
    Feb 20, 2014 - 1:38PM

    There should be separate work-space for women and men , and co education with 0 cross gender interaction policy.. women can study in women group why in universities both mingle to help each other.. And my experience now days a harassment case will be filled against man who does nothing because of doing nothing…..!! I being guy harassed by women 20 times and my analysis the media and dramas have spoiled their mind and they think that what they watch in dramas and Hindi movies that is reality…Get a lover hero and he will marry you..!! Recommend

  • Syd Hussain
    Feb 21, 2014 - 9:04PM

    i can not imagine any situation where this law appears impertinent in universities… and lets assume that universities are immune from this Act, then what kind of regulation protects students? is the state leaving it up to universities to implement procedures based on mainstream ethics? what rubbish!!!
    anti-harassment laws apply to all workplaces, and universities are also workplaces where employees are expected to exercise control and act socially appropriate without any sexual advances to either colleagues or subordinates or students… Recommend

  • Feb 26, 2014 - 1:50PM

    @ASMA SIDDIQI:
    Please visit http://www.fos-pah.gov.pk for registering a online complaint and further information about the Harassment at Workplace Act 2010.Recommend

  • asma siddiqi
    Mar 9, 2014 - 12:44AM

    @Muhammad Shahrukh Abbasey:

    Thanks for the suggestion but members of the ombudsman’s office and Dr. Fouzia Saeed have one thing in common. They do not care about issues such as sexual harassment. They have positioned themselves as advocates of working women in order to advance their personal interests and enhance their socio-economic status. Human rights and equity issues are not their concern even though they pretend to be activists with bleeding hearts.

    Recommend

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