The issue of sexual harassment at higher education institutions has taken a new turn in the last few days as it turned out that the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 is not applicable to incidents on campus.
Recently, Senator Farhatullah Babar also spoke about this issue at an event, in the presence of other members of a parliamentary committee. The senator and other speakers urged that sexual harassment should be considered a crime.
But neither the Higher Education Commission (HEC) nor the ministry of education bothered to plan the formulation of a law which would cover harassment cases at educational institutions.
The HEC, in 2010, issued guidelines about sexual harassment and urged over 150 varsities to abide by these instructions. As per these guidelines, every varsity has to form a three-member body in case any student approaches them, complaining about a faculty member or a fellow student.
But sadly, not a single varsity is following these guidelines, nor are the non-governmental organisations bothering to create awareness about the students’ right of access to such committees.
Earlier this year, a case surfaced at the National University of Modern Languages (NUML) Islamabad campus and when the management hurriedly announced such a body, it was criticised by the victim for not having a female representative. The body was later reformulated with a female member.
Another case recently emerged at the Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) where a student accused head of department of sexual harassment. The QAU has also followed the course of NUML and all of a sudden formulated a three-member body to look into the case. Now the way forward to address the sensitive issue of harassment is that the HEC should be bound to make varsities follow them. Varsities should be bound to not only set up the harassment committees, intimate students at different departments but also forward the names of the nominated members to HEC as well.
The prime issue is awareness about the existence of such a body at campus. Once the students and faculty get to know that any such monitoring body exists, it will prove to be greater deterrent to crime.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2014.