The #MeToo Movement In Our Educational Institutes
A new wave of the #MeToo movement began in Pakistan after artist Meesha Shafi’s tweet regarding sexual harassment by another artist Ali Zafar recently, following which many other women worked up the courage to raise voice against this behavior at their workplaces. Ayesha Gulali, a Member of the previous National Assembly had also made such claims last year against politician Imran Khan, but evidence requirements dusted her case. It is also obvious that victims of sexual abuse are not only women but even men, including some Pakistani actors who reported their own accounts during the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns. The new wave of feminism and empowerment is not limited to a certain class or field of work, but has also become part of our educational institutions.
An intermediate student reported being sexually abused by her examiner during her biology practical exam. She wrote on Facebook about the sexual harassment she and fellow students faced and the unfitting behavior of her examiner, Sadat Bashir.
She said, “Approximately 80 girls were sexually harassed that day and our teacher told us to keep quiet because she didn’t want us to lose marks.” She shared Sadat’s picture with a hashtag #PunishSadatBashir which began to trend and got shared by thousands of people on social media, following which 18 more female victims shared similar experiences. The hashtag campaign received support from some influential celebrities on Twitter as well.
It was a matter of shame for the institute where some teachers stopped their students from reporting such a grave matter only for the sake of marks. It was not only about an incident of sexual abuse or sexual harassment but also about the shameful attitude by the college administration who did not report it in the first place. Surprisingly, they had already known about the decadent behavior of that examiner since a long time.
Another victim pointed out that a similar incident occurred four years ago at the hands of the same examiner and the administration of Army Public School did warn the girls about the examiner’s behavior but also told them not to complain against by warning them of his strict behavior. She claimed that no action was taken against this man by the APS administration while the Federal Board of Primary and Secondary Education kept on sending Sadat Bashir as an examiner to these girls’ colleges.
One of my colleagues, a lawyer practising at the Peshawar District Courts and an active social rights activist also faced sexual harassment at her workplace due to which she left her law practice and moved to Islamabad and is now teaching in a private school. She had to kill her dreams because of the immoral behavior of certain men in our society. In another incident, a student in a private university in Gujranwala had to face character assassination by a female teacher and went into depression. She left the city and moved to Gujrat to complete her remaining studies.
There is no denying the fact that Pakistan is in the ranks of 90 countries that have some form of legislation for domestic violence. The first ever legislation on domestic violence in the country was passed by the Sindh government, followed by the Balochistan Domestic Violence Act 2014. While the first Domestic Violence Bill was tabled in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly during PMLN’s first tenure in 1990s, it faced opposition from religious groups. On the other hand, the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act was passed in 2016 and the Punjab Women Protection Authority was established in 2017. The 2016 Act defines the violence in Section 2(r) in the following terms:
“…violence” means any offence committed against the human body of the aggrieved person including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, sexual violence, psychological abuse, economic abuse, stalking or a cybercrime.”
The 2016 Act also lays down the procedure to deal with such kind of violence against women, yet harassment at our educational institutions and offices is rampant. Necessary measures to address this issue should be taken by the government and strict action should be taken against college administrations for remaining silent because that makes such a case an issue of someone in a position of power exploiting that power and authority for perverted desires.
It is commendable that women in our society are raising voice against harassment, especially when their own family members are often reluctant to listen to them or when teachers tell their students to brush it under the rug, thereby providing more opportunities to sexual predators. If women raise their voices and report the incidents, sexual predators will be exposed. While victims do not owe anyone their side of the story, remaining tight-lipped in matters where other women may be at risk too can be an issue. If someone takes the courage to speak out about it, her voice can save the lives and dignity of thousands of other potential victims, men and women. Bravo to the #MeToo victims for speaking up an speaking out!
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