This year, the annual two-day festival Lahooti Melo concluded with erudite sessions on wide spectrum of socio-political issues by scholarly panelists from a wide cross section of the country. The theme, An Ode To A Liberated Woman, reflected women’s empowerment in Pakistan with especial focus on harassment cases. The organizer, Saif Samejo, was inspired by the courage of survivors of sexual harassment and thus dedicated this event to them.
Every year, the festival achieves much more than a shift in the audience’s mindset. Lahooti’s stage has become a mutual ground for policymakers and artistes to address crucial issues of the society and later this exchange strongly influences their professional work & decisions.
Lahooti is carrying the flame it has lit for equity and justice forward with their agenda of redressing sexual harassment in educational institutions. There were two sessions that were interconnected in some way or the other which lead to its groundwork.
The First Session: A Dialogue on education
Sindh Minister for Education, Culture, Archives and Antiquities Department Syed Sardar Ali Shah, shared this session with celebrated music icon and education philanthropist Shahzad Roy. Mr. Sardar Shah said that Sindh, over centuries, had remained as unflinching emblem of socio-political resistance. “It is a gross misconception to misconstrue nefarious social customs as ‘culture of Sindh’-for they are not. Sindh has all along been having a culture of all positive, universal, core human values”, Shah added.
The Second Session: Gendered World of Higher Education in Sindh
The session was moderated by a well-known Pakistani Lawyer and CEO of Digital Rights Foundation Miss Nighat Dad. The Panelists included Dr. Qazi Shahid Parvaiz, Dr. Fateh M. Burfat, Dr. Binafsha Syed. Secretary Sindh Education (Schools) Dr. Qazi Shahid Pervaiz said that there existed significant measure of harassment against women at workplace; which he termed a global phenomenon. Complimenting Vice Chancellor of Sindh University, Mr. Burfat upon taking concerted efforts to curb harassment prospects at SU, Qazi stressed the need for change of male mindset in the given context.
Following this, Lahooti shared an agenda that includes some basic but important rules and policies that are surprisingly not already instituted in educational institutions, but must be applied.
The recommendations in the letter are aimed to fundamentally change the campus culture, by broadening the awareness of sexual harassment/assault at Education Institutes, by promoting the transparent system of inquiry and by reducing the number of such incidents at campus by taking appropriate and timely measures;
1. The rooms used by the staff i.e teaching faculty, clerks, dean’s offices, senior management, should be made with transparent/see-through walls. The recommendation has been adopted earlier by many institutions, however, in number of institutes, teachers have covered the transparent glass walls with colored papers. This action of the teachers should be strictly prohibited.
2. Professor’s famous ‘sex for marks’ phenomenon or quid pro quo harassment (this for that) is unethical, immoral and against the rules of the institutes. However, professors get away with such policies easily. It is therefore suggested;
a) The student should reserve complete rights to re-check their exam copies.
b) The assignments, projects, and exam copies to be evaluated by third party.
3. Strengthen the survivor/victims right to privacy; A victim’s decision to disclose information must be free from pressure. When a case is reported, a mediator or mediation committee should be out-sourced and confidentiality of the victim should be ensured.
4. A third party should be allowed to lodge the complaint on behalf of the student.
5. Anti sexual harassment units must be placed in all educational institutions.
Saif Samejo, the founder of Lahooti, has also mentioned how this set of recommendations has been forwarded to the Government of Sindh. After successfully getting the bill to fix marriage age as 18 for girls passed in the senate, we can safely say we have high-hopes that this action plan will be implemented too.