Islamabad: Universities have received reminders from the HEC, asking them to submit the reported cases of sexual harassment, and the names of inquiry committee members appointed at each university. However, so far, none of the universities have bothered to respond to HEC’s instructions.
In recent years, there has been an increasing number of students and faculty, who are courageously reporting cases of sexual harassment cases happening in universities of both public and private sectors. However, there are several misconceptions shrouding the “Protection of Women against Harassment at the Workplace Act, 2010”, thus it’s applicability at the university campuses is still being questioned.
All organizations and educational institutes will be required to nominate sexual harassment probe committees, comprising of three members, who will be responsible for investigating any reported cases. With almost 158 universities operating across the country, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) had to issue Policy Guidelines against Sexual Harassment in Institutions of Higher Learning in 2010, to help raise awareness about the issue in universities. The guidelines are available on the HEC website, but not a single university has bothered to put it up on their institutions’ websites. Nothing has been done to implement and create awareness about this law on campuses. But an incident involving a controller examinations has generated fresh debate since the year before.
According to reports, in 2013, Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) syndicate removed the controller examinations on the recommendations of the inquiry committee, but he was later restored when former President Asif Ali Zardari, who was also the chancellor of the university, overturned the punishment. The official approached the president and argued that the law under which he had been removed was not applicable to the university since the educational institution did not fall under the category of workplaces. The presidency first consulted the Ministry of Law, which termed the act “incomplete and faulty” and set the case aside.
The QAU is reviewing two cases of sexual harassment but following the letter from the presidency the cases are being investigated under Efficiency and Discipline Rules 1973. QAU Vice-Chancellor Etizaz Ahmad said they could not follow any other law to probe such cases after a letter from the presidency. In 2011, QAU became the first institution to receive a complaint from a student after the passage of the act.
Human Rights Organizations are arguing that there is no confusion about the legislation, and the officials at the presidency and the Ministry of Law should thoroughly read the act, so the misunderstandings do not surface. Seminars and sessions will be launched to create awareness about the law, in all universities. But the administrators have to show more willingness to implement the law and learn how to cope with issues related to sexual harassment on campuses.