Gender harassment in academic institutions is a persistent issue challenging gender equality
Prof Dr. Abdullah G Arijo
In Pakistan, 62.2% of female college students reported experiencing sexual harassment while pursuing higher education (Survey). Eyebrow raised, blood circulation freezes in vessels and hair erection goes uncontrolled, when the truth is revealed.
The “Protection against Harassment of Students in Educational Institutions Bill 2020” was approved by the 12-member standing committee on education of the Pakistani Senate on January 13 to make institutions safer and make it possible to bring criminal charges against harassing individuals like teachers, all seems to go in veins.
Gender harassment in academic institutions is a persistent issue challenging gender equality. Our academic institutions serve as a symbol of knowledge, innovation, and societal progress. However, they are often criticized for the ongoing issue of gender harassment. This deeply entrenched issue continues to impact gender equality within our institutions, compromising their identity as boundless arenas of intellectual exploration.
Gender Harassment in Academic Institutions: A Prevalent Problem?
Gender harassment in academic institutions is a problem, or to put it in more candid terms, a plague. Yes, indeed. It’s an unfortunate truth that exists, despite our collective efforts to purge it. These instances of harassment not only tarnish the learning environment but hinder the development of a safe and inclusive community altogether. Harassers may wield their authority or misuse the institutionalized norms to perpetrate such acts, which often go undeterred and unreported, a sad testament to our so-called “evolved” society.
The evidence highlighting this issue isn’t simply anecdotal. Countless studies and reports are underlining the existence of gender harassment within academia. A 2018 report by the National Academies of Sciences illuminated that over half of faculty and staff had encountered some form of gender harassment. Another study conducted by the University of Texas indicated that nearly 90% of respondents reported experiencing gender-based harassment.
Gender Harassment in Pakistani Universities: A Concern that Needs Addressing
Higher Education Institutions (“HEIs”) are highly consequential institutions in society that are dedicated to the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge. Members of the HEI community have several important rights and privileges, central among which is the right to pursue inquiry and search for knowledge without hindrance from unlawful or otherwise unacceptable constraints. The Higher Education Commission (the “HEC”), which has been mandated by law to prescribe conditions under which HEIs in the country may be opened and operated, takes very seriously the freedom of teachers, researchers, scholars, students, and other members of the HEI community to live and work in a safe environment in which their dignity is protected. (Courtesy HEC, Islamabad)
Higher Education Commission Islamabad has introduced serious regulations, but the results are not encouraging. Gender harassment in universities is a global concern, but in Pakistan, the issue is particularly pressing. The insidious problem of gender harassment is often hushed up or ignored in the country’s higher education sector. Studies suggest that a significant percentage of female students experience it in one form or another. But isn’t it high time we addressed this pressing issue?
The issue has risen to prominence lately due to numerous reports in the media, highlighting tales of distress, humiliation, and anguish. Stories abound of individuals who had their academic careers – not to mention their self-respect – tarnished by this issue. And yet, we seem to be shying away from discussing it candidly. Why is that so, and what can we do about it?
Gender Equality: A Universal Necessity
The intention of every educational institution should be to build an environment of gender equality. It is not only a crucial matter of human rights but also a fundamental prerequisite for a progressive society. By engraining equality in educational institutions, we foster respect and mutual understanding among genders, thereby leading to a more inclusive and harmonious society.
Gender Harassment in Pakistani Universities
Enforcing appropriate conduct in Pakistani universities, even the more prestigious ones, can be challenging. All too often, people in authority leverage their position to perpetuate a culture of menace and intimidation underhand. Often, victims are hesitant to speak out due to fear of retaliation, reputational damage, or simply because they believe their concerns will be disregarded.
Are we doing enough to combat this issue? Unfortunately, it seems not. Policies to protect students from harassment need greater enforcement, and proper grievance redressal mechanisms need to be established.
Gender harassment, sadly, leaves more than just passing scars. It affects the mental health of the victims, jeopardizing their academic performance, and in severe cases, leading to dropouts. In a country where female education is already battling numerous challenges, can we afford to look away?
Recommendations for Change
Overcoming this issue requires a holistic and concerted effort. Institutions must encourage open discussion about gender issues and harassment, without fear or prejudice. Importantly, zero tolerance for gender harassment should be strictly enforced, with severe retribution for violators.
Moreover, the implementation of robust and transparent grievance redressal mechanisms is a must. Comprehensive guidelines on proper professional interaction should be disseminated, and awareness programs initiated to foster a culture of respect, protection, and equality.
In conclusion, the battle against gender harassment in Pakistani universities must involve a comprehensive and collective approach. Until we address this issue head-on, gender equality will remain a distant dream.
The Impact on Gender Equality and Learning
Gender harassment directly hinders gender equality within these institutions and more broadly impacts societal progress. Listing the ways, it impacts learning:
- It compromises the merit-based structure, curbing opportunities for talented individuals.
- It fosters a hostile learning environment, limiting academic growth.
- It affects the victims’ mental health, resulting in poor academic results and lower participation rates.
Eradicating Gender Harassment
So, what can be done to eradicate this issue? Academic institutions need pre-emptive policies, transparent reporting mechanisms, and proactive steps to develop an inclusive and diverse learning environment.
The presence of gender harassment in academic institutions is not something we can afford to overlook. To uphold the principles of gender equality, it’s high time we set new benchmarks for ensuring safer, equal-opportunity academic environments. It is anticipated that the regulations introduced by various bodies will yield results.