Sexual Harassment In Educational Institutes And A Possible Solution
By Ali Hassnain
All over the world men and women have harboured dark secrets about sexual harassment. Pakistan is no exception. Recently some allegations in the prestigious Lahore Grammar School for Girls (LGS) came to light. It has surprised me that in this day and age why it took so long? The abuse is not limited to one school in private or public sector. Men and women have used their real or assumed position of influence to misuse same or opposite gender. For the sake of this article I will not focus on religious schools. This is another horrible chapter for all religions.
Montesquieu had a theory that power is too important to be trusted into one man or one body of people. It is as relevant in politics as well in educational institutions. All the teachers I personally have been mentored by in my life were very good people. However to be fair, they were not taught by the institutions how to tackle basic bullying let alone spot sexual harassment. They probably used their own instincts and knowledge.
The culture of educational institutions is horrible at best. And I am talking of the top institutions in the country. God alone knows horrors of the public sector underfunded and ignored institutions. However every other month the press is full of one or more of such horrible stories. Courts of law are full of runaways and lawyers fight it out to prove the age of bride, which is mostly absurd. Overwhelming (well over 95%) of reported rape cases where accused is punished are ones where girl elopes and later under the pressure of family tells the court it was by force. The laws are absurd, out dated and their execution is even worse.
Even in 21st century the Pakistani legal system is yet to sentence a female rapist. There is no data available but to the best of my knowledge there has never been an FIR registered where a female has been accused of rape or even sexual harassment.
That said, the standards are different for most expensive schools and colleges which are often affiliated with institutions in the west and offer their courses based on their guidelines. They are stuck between the western concepts and the South Asian execution. None of the highly paid institutions have trained psychologists, counsellors nor seminars or guidelines for students or faculty to address the subject of sexual harassment.
Even in the west the situation is appalling; the #MeToo movement is just beginning. It is difficult to explain the ideas of undue influence, psychological coercion and exploiting underage girls by being in a better social standing. Parents or teachers are not expected to have “the talk”, nor do schools monitor the atmosphere in general.
One of the funniest concepts here in Pakistan is the concept of “dating”. Here often the acts forbidden by culture are called dating. This concept of dating is seriously lost in the East. If one is to follow the Western concept of date, I think the Islamic concept is of chaperone dating approved by parents, which is also alien to us. It is strange that the standard of chastity for many here is that the person did not date in academic life; it means many basics of our educational system are flawed beyond repair.
Let’s not even bring professional colleges into discussion; the culture there is beyond ridiculous, it can perhaps be defined as expectations of Hollywood and Lollywood infused reality. A lot like the aerobic dance style of Govinda as superman in an Indian film from the 1990s. Dreams turned into nightmares.
In such a situation where sincere teachers are content on saving their own face from it all, and a rogue person or persons with compromised morals with no relevant proactive or even reactive forum to report them, God have mercy on children because schools won’t. Another trick from the playbook is to make a horrible example of one to scare others, which as well is very tricky and would probably not have a desired result.
To make matters worse, a recent precedent sent after a #MeToo issue between two popular media persons of Pakistan has set a horrible example. I am making no assumption of guilt or innocence, which is between the accused, law and God.
However the whole point of #MeToo movement was not that people would be brought to justice. Even Harvey Weinstein is not behind bars or on the run. It was to change the culture, so what happened in the issue between media persons in Pakistan was that the guy went to court and demanded that the claim be proved in court. Even with the perfect victim and a good legal system, sentence in such situations is very hard to get. The guy as expected was given a clean chit. I can’t comment on his guilt or innocence, that’s not my place, nor do I have facts or evidence. But if this script is to be followed, the #MeToo movement in Pakistan is doomed, for better or worse. However in the case of LGS there were complaints made at the time which were ignored.
I perfectly understand there would be some cases of complaints where mala fide is involved. However anyone who has been in the Pakistan’s educational system knows females get more attention and better grades and sometimes eyes of the male teachers say it all. However I am mentioning a few only; I don’t talk of overwhelming majority of selfless teachers who stop such activities on their own without any training or instructions.
So what is to be done? Are we going to use our legal system and put children and teachers in court for inappropriate touch, sexting or harassment short of rape? Surely most parents would not want that and the result might not be so great either. The purpose is to protect children, not put them in what they may see as more trouble. What solution do we find in our current system? An easy start, perhaps.
I think there is at least some room. There is an institution called Wafaqi Mohtasib (Ombudsman) which has many branches including one which addresses workplace harassment. Complaint there is free, no lawyer is mandatory and proceedings are way less formal and in private and punishments don’t fall under Hudood or penal code. It basically deals with grievances between people and state institutions. It’s called Mohtasib in Urdu and is an Islamic concept.
I suggest that an institution under federal Ombudsman is created for tackling harassment and other issues (e.g. bullying) in schools. A frame work and guidelines can be given to schools to investigate such matters and the ombudsman and can foresee and act either suo moto or on complaints. Rules can be made where complainant would not be penalized and at the least would be protected from further possible harassment through a directive or whatever appropriate measure is decided. That forum can oversee general atmosphere of private and government sector schools, and also the religious schools which are the most complicated of them all.