Islamabad: Protests continue against alleged sexual harassment of a female student by an official of the Karakoram International University Gilgit.
Over a dozen activists of Young Activists Movement (YAM), Progressive Students Federation (PrSF) Islamabad-Rawalpindi, Awami Workers Party Gilgit-Baltistan (AWPGB) and Women Democratic Front (WDF), staged a protest demo outside National Press Club in the federal capital on Sunday demanding justice for the victim and an impartial inquiry into the incident.
The protesters were carrying placards inscribed with various slogans against patriarchy, rising incidents of violence against women and girls. They raised slogans against the accused, the KIU vice-chancellor and the administration.
Addressing the protesters speakers expressed concern at the rising incidents of sexism, harassment and violence against women and girls in educational institutions and workplaces.
They demanded strict measures and enforcement of laws to stop such criminal acts.
WDF activists Tooba Syed, Marriya Malik and Areej called upon the KIU administration to immediately set up an anti-harassment committee and terminate the service of the harasser.
The YAM chairperson Naveed Murtaza said that the KIU administration instead of taking any action against the harasser is threatening the protesting students of dire consequences including expulsion from the university if they continued to raise their voice against the culprit.
He accused the KIU administration of trying to save the culprit and shifting the blame on the victim.
Shan Babar, the organizer of the protest, said that students of KIU Gilgit and Hunza campuses are protesting for the last three days but the administration has been adopting dilly-dallying tactics to put the incident under the carpet.
Some extremist elements are trying to save the culprit. They have even attacked and injured some students who had participated in the protests in Gilgit and also hurled life threats to them if they continued to raise their voice against the incident.
Addressing the protesters senior leader of AWPGB Farman Ali demanded setting up of anti-harassment committees in all educational institutions, including KIU and appointment of women coordinators in every department of the university.
He said the patriarchal system prevailing in our society and the outdated curriculum obscurantist norms are the root causes of rising violence against women and children. He called for a joint struggle to demolish anti-women laws, traditions, and customs.
Tooba Syed also stressed the need for creating awareness about gender equality in schools and colleges to sensitize students about women’s rights.
Artist and activist of NSFGB Azeem Hunzai said women are insecure at homes, on streets, campuses and at workplaces. We need to change the culture of harassment in society.
The protesters demanded installation of CCTV cameras at all campuses to ensure foolproof security to the students.
They demanded the appointment of Ombudsperson in GB and accountability of the KIU administration with 70% representation of women; an immediate ban on activities of sectarian extremist groups inside the university.
The protesters also condemned the attack on protesting students by goons to save the accused from punishment.
The VC instead of taking action against the hoodlums is threatening the protesters of dire consequences, a student activist alleged.
The protesters also called for launching mass awareness campaigns about rights, harassments and violence against women, girls and boys.
The state is responsible for the protection of the life and honour of every citizen, vulnerable segments of society, one of the protesters remarked.
Background of incident
According to reports, a female student at KIU Gilgit campus was sexually harassed on November 17 by a senior staff member in the scholarship affairs office. The victim filed a complaint against the official to the Vice-Chancellor demanding justice. The complaint has become viral on social media.
However, the VC and the administration did not take any action against the accused. Upon this, the student attempted suicide but her fellow students stopped her from doing so.
The VC instead of taking any action against the accused shifted him to another room from his office to disprove the victim and later shifted a female staff to the office where the incident had happened.
Harassment on campuses
Pervasive sexism, misconduct and sexual harassment are rampant on campuses across Pakistan and GB. Professors and staff continue to abuse their position.
Although the Higher Education Commission had notified a comprehensive Policy on Harassment in July 2020, the anti-harassment laws and procedures are not effectively implemented.
Such cases demonstrate that many educational institutions, instead of addressing the complaints of their students, are too concerned about protecting their own reputation and that of their academic staff.
Most of the victims do not register complaints because of the risks for their academic career. Often perpetrators leave an institution to get a job with another while the victim is left unsupported and damaged.
The activists called upon drastic changes at the institutional level to stop harassment so that women have an equal right to education in a conducive atmosphere.