Most of UoP girls not aware of harassment law

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“The professor had allegedly asked the girl student to remove her veil for identification,” says one university staffer while narrating what happened at the Centre for Disaster Preparedness and Management (CDPM) of the University of Peshawar (UoP) that led to harassment charges against the former.

The girl student, who had reportedly gone to complain possible misuse of her lost phone’s SIM card by a male student, had later also accused the professor of harassing her by asking her to remove her veil in his closed-door office. The girl’s parents later reportedly under pressure signed a “Razinama” (compromise) calling the entire incident as mere misunderstanding.

The issue echoed in the provincial assembly and a committee was set up to look into it. The UoP has also set up a committee to probe the matter under its Employee’s Efficiency and Discipline Statutes. Over a month has passed since the incident occurred and the committee is yet to complete its findings.

“We wear veil because we feel secure this way,” said a number of girls wearing veil, but they looked evasive when asked if girls faced harassment at the hands of male students and university staffers. Only one girl, not wearing a veil, said harassment existed in one form or another. Many were not aware of the law enacted four years ago to protect women against harassment at workplaces and institutions.

Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2010 proposes a speedy and transparent probe yet why the inquiry committee under this law could not be made fully functional in the UoP. Prof Aneesa Qamar, who is the inquiry committee member, says implementation of laws takes time.

“We are trying to make the inquiry committee functional but there is also need for creating awareness of the law,” said Prof Aneesa who is also part of the current committee probing the harassment case at CDPM.

Citing reasons for probing all harassment cases under the university’s statutes rather than the Act, she said that witnesses were needed and girls often did not come forward due to culturally ‘bound society’. All cases were also not about harassment, which were probed. The UoP has so far terminated two teachers after finding them guilty.

“The university is not silent on issues (of harassment), but proof is also needed,” said Prof Qamar.

However, an effective mechanism under this Act could not be set up at UoP so that girls could be assured of protection of their confidentiality to encourage them to come up and file complaints in such cases, if any.

In 2011, Nighat Orakzai, an MPA, taking notice of parent’s appeal in a local newspaper, raised the issue of harassment of female students at the UoP in the provincial assembly.

“There was no proof; neither Nighat no any victim came forward with evidence,” said former minister Sitara Ayaz when asked what became of the inquiry held during the previous government.

Political interference has also often spoiled such investigations. As was observed recently in provincial assembly, when once again Nighat Orakzai highlighted the harassment case at the CDPM, senior minister Sirajul Haq, the Jamaat-i-Islami leader, opposed it citing ‘technical reasons’. It was only when opposition leader Mehtab Ahmed Khan called it a serious issue that most of the male members had to lend an ear to it.

However, Nighat Orakzai said that if there was nothing than what was this ‘compromise’ all about in the recent case. She proposed that the genuineness of the copy of “Razinama” and some text messages should be checked by the committee.

She claimed that a ‘powerful mafia’ involved in such activities in UoP was the main hurdle in such inquiries. However, she did not mention any names.

When asked, UoP registrar Dr Abul Hadi said that whenever evidence was found the UoP had taken action. He gave details of a number of cases where mostly ‘junior teachers’ or contract teachers were found guilty of ‘misconduct’.

It is often cited that victims or female complainants don’t come forward, but in one such case in the history department a teacher, Zahid Ali, was found guilty, but only transferred to another department. Mohsin Shehzad, a lecturer of Institute of Physics and Electronics, found guilty of misconduct was terminated.

Services of a contract teacher Mohammad Saeed at the Institute of Geology were discontinued after misconduct. In a recent case, a female student at the Institute of Education and Research, who happened to be sister of a political activist of a ruling party, complained of harassment against a staffer, but after intervention of the provincial government the accused evaded punishment as he ended up calling the complainant ‘sister’.

Dr Hadi did not rule out political interference as one of the hurdles to free and fair inquires into such matters. He said that this was why the university had set up its own probe committees instead of referring such cases to the inquiry committee as proposed under the Act.

“We don’t want to create ill will. We feel the university law is more appropriate to probe such matters,” said Dr Hadi.

Source: The Frontier Post.