The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 and Sindh Commission on the Status of Women 2015, were passed years ago, but hardly any efforts can be seen on the ground for its implementation, including raising awareness among working women, especially those associated with the education sector, where so many cases were reported.
In most cases women especially in rural areas of Sindh do not wish to file complaints against their harassers to avoid threats and criticism, fearing that taking such an action could result in their families forcing them to quit working.
Unfortunately, there is not a single anti-harassment committee functioning at any of the public girls’ secondary schools or colleges across rural Sindh where male faculties and staffers are employed. In the absence of a body to protect the female workforce, a number of sexual harassment cases go unnoticed, as they do not report them to the provincial ombudsman or approach the court.
After the passing of sexual harassment laws, just for the formalities the notices/circulars had been issued by the Executive District Officer (Education), ordering the transfer of all male staffers from government girls’ schools and colleges across the districts, but it was not implemented at grossroots level. Such decision was taken after increased reports of sexual harassment at female educational institutions.
The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 states that each organisation would constitute an inquiry committee within 30 days of the enactment of the law to investigate into relevant complaints.
The law states that the committee would include three members, one of whom must be a woman. But eight years on, public schools and colleges across Sindh are yet to see the law’s implementation.
“The authorities had clearly instructed all the heads of colleges to display posters and banners carrying anti-harassment laws at their respective institutions, but the order was ignored,” said Prof Nasreen Mukhtiar at Government Degree Girls College in Matli.
She said that due to a shortage of working women, men have been appointed at women’s colleges, which is one of the reasons behind sexual harassment cases. “One of the main obstacles to spreading awareness about harassment and about combating the problem is the continued practice of not reporting such incidents,” she added.
Sindho Nawaz Ghanghro, a woman activist and Chairperson Youth Action Committee Sindh, said that though sexual harassment is a criminal offence, such incidents go unreported because proving an allegation is more difficult than lodging a complaint. She suggested that the government form anti-harassment or internal complaint cells at colleges where male staffers are likely to interact with their female counterparts and students. She said that if female teachers and students want to combat the discriminatory behaviour of men, they should voice their concerns together, adding that organisations dominated by men cannot solve the problems faced by female teachers and students.
Ms Shabana Chandio, Principal at Benazir Bhutto Youth Skill Development Program (BBYSDP) for girls, said that in most cases families of the harassed women refuse to take legal action against the harassers. “They try to bury the issue before it gets highlighted, which discourages the harassed to talk about their problems.”
She said that hundreds of sexual harassment cases are not reported because female students want to continue their education while female teachers do not want to lose society’s respect, but the fact is that they have been facing the worst kinds of behaviour at the hands of men for years.
“People generally blame the victims, claiming that they wear improper dresses and deliberately attract the attention of men, which shows the ignorant mentality of our society,” she said.
She said everyone, from young girls to old women, should know about their rights. “When they have proper awareness, they’d be in a better position to file their cases without worrying about producing any evidence.”
According to the data available on the college education department’s website, Sindh has 239 degree colleges and 290 higher secondary schools for male and female students. At these institutions, the number of enrolled students stands at 123,446. The percentage of female students enrolled at girls’ colleges is 42.6 percent, those enrolled at girls’ secondary schools is 31 percent and those enrolled at co-educational institutes is 36.6 percent.