By: Abdul Hadi
Najma,23, was among the fortunate girls who was allowed by her family to do master’s in university. Najma completed her one and half year happily until the province was shaken by harassment scandal.
Najma says, “ I was allowed to do master’s degree but the university scandal turned the situation to worst for me as my elder brother forced me to abandon my studies back in October 2019 as university administration was blamed for blackmailing of girls. As per her, she couldn’t attend her classes for many days then completed the final semester after getting brother’s approval.
Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan by area, is also the least developed province of the country. According to UN, Balochistan scores highest in terms of female literacy, gender disparity and unemployment amongst its provincial counterparts.
As per the Provincial Women Accountability Department, 15 cases have been registered of harassment at workplaces from 1st April to the last day of 2019. Dozens of women have orally registered their complaints of harassment in the mentioned period.
The famous blogger and women’s right activist Afia Safdar told, if a woman speaks against harassment so she is criticized by male-dominated society. Women usually don’t go outside home in interior parts of Balochistan but still few numbers of women who are working in governmental and non-governmental sector are being harassed. There are no anti-harassment committees in non-governmental organizations; serving in interior Balochistan, women’s right activist further added.
On October 14, harassment scandal surfaced in Balochistan University in Quetta, when the Federal Investigation Agency arrested security and surveillance officers for blackmailing students. The Federal Investigation Agency had been asked by the Balochistan High Court to look into the reports of harassment at the university, which were being increasingly reported.
Anti-harassment committees haven’t been established yet in all governmental and non-governmental organizations of the province. Even though the establishment of anti-harassment committees in all governmental and non-governmental organizations were declared mandatory.
It is mandatory for all organizations and institutions of Pakistan, whether public or private, to develop a self-regulatory mechanism to handle cases of sexual harassment internally instead of relying on external committees.
The prominent female activist from Quetta Jalila Haider told, women are harassed at workplaces in Balochistan too as in other parts of the country. Usually women don’t report their complaints of harassment in Balochistan as they are part of a tribal society she added.
Balochistan Assembly approved “Balochistan Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act in 2016. The mentioned act has defined that each organization shall constitute an inquiry committee within thirty days of the enactment of this act to enquire into complaints under the act. Dr. Sobia Ramazan who is the chairperson of harassment committee told, “our committee has conducted many awareness sessions in universities of Quetta”. The civil society shown irresponsibility after the scandal as hype was created even though high court is looking the matter itself, she further added.
As per the existing law, if someone proved culprit not only, he will be penalized 500000 rupees but also will be terminated from his job.
Secretary Women Development Saira Atta Baloch has emphasized the need to spread awareness about the ‘anti-harassment act’ of 2016, as implemented by the provincial government to prevent harassment of females at workplaces and in educational institutes.
UN Women Pakistan has entered into an agreement with the Office of Ombudsperson Balochistan to work together in order to fight harassment of women at the workplace. Aisha Mukhtar, Deputy Country Representative UN Women Pakistan, and Sabira Islam, Ombudsperson for Protection against Harassment Balochistan, signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at the Country Office of UN Women back in December 2019. According to the MoU, data collection mechanisms will be improved and strengthened for better data collection and reporting and to assess the trends through reported cases.
Well-known blogger Afia Safdar considers “women in Balochistan are now getting strength but woman faces serious threats if she registers her complaint of harassment at workplace”. If nobody talks the harassment goes unchecked and I think silence begets injustice, she added.
Published in The Balochistan Point on February 27, 2020