The 4th Women’s Peace Table conference was commenced by Tehrik-e-Niswan’s Sheema Kermani to address the sexual harassment issue in the country. The conference was held at the Arts Council Pakistan, Karachi, on Saturday and the issue under discussion was to support the women who dare to come forward and speak out against harassment instead of staying silent.
To support the ongoing movement of women speaking against sexual harassment and abuse, the conference held different panel discussions, theatrical performances, and survivor testimonials; all centred on ‘breaking the silence’ on sexual harassment cases. Moreover, discussions and performances were presented to highlight the sexual harassment issues at the workplace and educational institutions.
Journalist Nazish Brohi said, “Sexual harassment is a collective issue, it takes place due to the collective mindset of a society which encourages and defends the act but the laws made to curb such acts in society are individualistic.”
Sexual harassment at the workplace
The first panel, discussed the harassment at the workplace, was moderated by a law student, Shazel. Lawyer and teacher, Abira Ashfaq, journalist Farieha Aziz and legal associate, Sana Farrukh.
Lawyer Abira Ashfaq while speaking on the shortcomings of The Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010 “Majority of women in Pakistan work in the agriculture sector, as home-based workers, or are employed in informal work. In their particular working conditions, there is no room to establish inquiry committees.”
During the panel discussion, journalist Zubeida Mustafa also highlighted the need to fight against human trafficking in Pakistan which impacts the lives of thousands of minor girls, who are abducted and forced into prostitution against their will.
Sexual harassment at educational institutions
The second panel discussed the sexual harassment at educational institutes. This panel featured Karachi University’s Professor Dr Navin Haider, Dr Arfana Mallah from Sindh University Teachers Association, and educationist Aimen Bucha, and was moderated by Sadaf Masood.
Dr Mallah said defamation campaigns against women, sleazy behaviour and hostile environments prevail at a massive scale within universities.
Dr Haider said that the mishandling of sexual harassment cases shows that we as a nation have a long way to go before we can fight this menace. “Higher Education Commission can play an effective role by not issuing Quality Enhancement Certificates to universities where an active sexual harassment committee is not set up in the campus, but it does not do so,” she added.