Break the silence

November 6, 2018
By Iqra Sarfaraz

Sexual harassment has been a widespread issue related to women since forever.....

Session on ‘Harassment at Workplace’ was conducted to highlight the lack of law implementation in this regard.

women peace table conference 2018

Sexual harassment has been a widespread issue related to women since forever. Every year, peace table conferences, workshops and seminars are held all over the world to cater to the issue of sexual assault, bring peace and fight gender disparity. Moreover, there have been efforts made through debates to have women support each other in the peace making process by getting united and having a voice.

With a motive of breaking the silence and women supporting each other, Tehreek-e-Niswan recently organised its 4th Women Peace Table Conference in Arts Council, Karachi.

Since 2015, Peace Women Across the Globe (PWAG) has been holding Women’s Peace Table conferences around the world. PWAG is the global network of 1000 women who were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. Sheema Kermani, founder of Tehrik-e-Niswan, was one of these 1000 Peace Women. Tehrik-e-Niswan has been a part of Peace Table process and to exchange knowledge about peace building and mediation, and to enhance women’s participation in the process. “I think that this is a very important event as it brings women from different backgrounds together to talk and discuss topics that are not talked about, and creates an atmosphere of introspection and discourse,” shares Sheema Kermani while talking to You!.

This year, the Karachi Women Peace Table Conference focused on sexual harassment that women face at all levels, be it within their homes, at educational institutes or at workplaces. The conference thoroughly highlighted how this atmosphere can be changed. Since the #metoo campaign, several Pakistani women from different strata of society have come forward to publicly narrate their own harrowing stories of sexual harassment; some of these cases have been taken up by court, a few of these have been won by survivors while mostly the perpetrators went free.

Samina Ahmed, Saba Hameed, Angeline Malik & artist Tubbo Khan on #metoo campaign and the entertainment industry.

There were in-depth discussions which included panellists from different backgrounds and fields. The panels included lawyers, educationists, media and showbiz members, students, teachers and survivors. Apart from that, the conference had interesting performances and dances by Sheema Kermani and her team members from Tehreek-e-Niswan.

The first panel, on ‘Harassment at the Workplace’, was moderated by a law student, Shazel. Lawyer and teacher, Abira Ashfaq, journalist Farieha Aziz and legal associate, Sana Farrukh, were part of the panel. The overall discussion incorporated the shortcomings of The Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010, the procedure of filing a complaint to the ombudsperson and the need to establish a proper system where the victims of sexual abuse can be facilitated. It was also suggested that in these matters, the state should come forward and take the charge apart from forming inquiry committees. Also, during the discussion, journalist Zubeida Mustafa also highlighted the need to combat human trafficking in Pakistan which impacts thousands of minor girls, who are abducted and forced into prostitution against their will.

Session on ‘Harassment at Educational Institutes’ conducted by Professor Dr Navin Haider, Dr Arfana Mallah and educationist Aimen Bucha.

The second panel discussion was on ‘Harassment at Educational Institutes’. The panellists who led the talk included Karachi University Professor Dr Navin Haider, Dr Arfana Mallah from Sindh University Teachers Association, and educationist Aimen Bucha. The discussion, moderated by Sadaf Masood, began with how these educational institutes are vulnerable to a hostile environment. As Dr Mallah informed, women are subjected to defamation campaigns and ` campuses. Moreover, Dr Navin Haider told how sexual harassment cases in the universities are mishandled and that we as a nation have a long way to go before we can fight this nuisance. While shedding some light on the private universities, Aimen Bucha told that the situation is no different at such institutes. She further said that the state is unwilling to implement harassment laws in the universities.

The third panel discussion revolved around the entertainment industry and the #metoo campaign. The panel featured veteran actress Samina Ahmed, actress Saba Hameed, theatre artist Tubbo Khan and Angeline Malik. It was moderated by fashion designer, Mohsin Sayeed. Discussion on supporting each other, listening and trusting the victim’s story and providing each other help at the time of such incidents was conducted. It was also suggested that if women may acquire powerful positions, cases of sexual assault won’t happen.

Sheema Kermani performs at the 4th Women Peace Table Conference 2018, Karachi.

The last panel ‘Izzat Nahi Insaan Hae Aurat!’ discussed the crisis of minorities with sexual harassment complaints. It was chaired by minorities’ rights activist, Pastor Ghazala, Seema Maheshwari, Nazish Brohi and journalist Hamna Zubair and moderated by journalist, Fawad Hasan. Pastor Ghazala addressed that if a woman from a minority group comes to file a complaint on sexual abuse, not only her but the entire family pays the price of it. This usually happens because religion is dragged in between and they are also easily charged for blasphemy. Hamna Zuberi concluded the session by urging the organisations and women in decision-making roles to bring these cases forward and work to support the victims.