Safe spaces for women: a myth in Pakistan | Pakistan Today

Safe spaces for women: a myth in Pakistan

LAHORE: Two days ago, yet another sexual harassment scandal in the educational institutes of Lahore surfaced on social media.

This time, students from a private school, renown for catering to the elites of the city, broke their silence about the various forms of harassment, especially sexual, by three faculty members as well as intimidation and cover-up by the school administration itself.

The girls, including both current and former students of LGS 1/A-1 publically, narrated how incident after the incident took place over the course of years while the principal continued to shove things under the carpet by gaslighting the victims.

This was not an isolated instance. A few days ago, female students of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), another elite private sector educational institution hailed as the ‘Harvard’ of Pakistan came forward in a private Facebook group with similar complaints of systemic predatory behaviour within the student body.

To the naked eye, both these incidents can be seen as one of the many little waves of the #Metoo movement in Pakistan, however, look closely and the systematic abuse of authority, use of victim shaming as an intimidation tool and incompetency of administrations lead to only one overwhelming truth: educational institutions in Pakistan have never been safe spaces for women.

Talking to Pakistan Today, a student from FC College, Ayesha Ali, opined why harassment continues to take place on campuses. “These incidents happen because men have enjoyed the fruits of oppression of women for so long that they know little to no harm will befall them if they prey on women or even young girls in any space, educational institutes included”.

“The power dynamics between male-female relationships have always been skewed in favour of the male. Be it a faculty member or a fellow student, it is a known fact that the management of educational institutions will either try to bin the claims altogether or make efforts for a cover-up to avoid accountability at a personal and collective level,” she went on to state.

The debate of whether the private sector in Pakistan is providing a high-quality service which the public sector has never been capable of or is it operated on a strictly money-making model is a long and old one which has established that any threat to the reputation of a private educational institute harms potential income generation.

Anmol Zahra, a former student of LGS 1/A-1 testified that the school administration did, in fact, have a toxic attitude towards any complaint that could highlight their incompetency and complacency.

“I personally did not experience any sexual harassment in school, however, the absolute authority and lack of accountability which is enjoyed by the management of the A-levels section ruined my batch’s high school experience. The blatant misuse of authority, slut-shaming of students as well as the coordinator’s mindset of how young girls should act is what normalised the conditions in which these harassers felt emboldened,” she told Pakistan Today.

“LGS 1/A-1‘s school psychologist would ask girls, “do you have a boyfriend?” if they ever tried to talk to her,” said one user on Twitter.

What is interesting about the most recent LGS scandal is that the students repeatedly approached the school admin with complaints as well as evidence being sexually violated at the hands of three male faculty members.

These ignored complaints, made over the course of years, became so normalised that some parents warned their girls to be careful while the students began mocking the incidents in annual farewells.

So, why wasn’t any action ever taken?

Alina, a former student from FC College, who did not want to share her full name, explained, “it is important to realise that in the case of LGS 1/A-1, a system which was already in place i.e. the school management, failed its students”.

She stressed that it is important to make a collaborative effort and come up with solutions which correct the loopholes in our system.

“It is important to equip women with tools to combat harassment, but it is also equally important to make conscious steps towards providing necessary training to sensitise the faculty besides creating a strong system which deals with such issues in all educational spaces,” she concluded.

Ayesha Bibi

The writer is a former member of the staff.