Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sexual Harassment In the Workplace: The case of rape of student nurse in Karachi..

The sexual harassment in the workplace bill was passed by the national assembly recently and most women and people were happy that this issue will not be just become a vague scandal mongering issue. Millions of women in Pakistan are now in the workforce in urban areas in fields as varied as schools to hospitals to media. The bill which emphasizes the organisations to implement procedures and mechanisms so that a complaint can be lodged against the harasser in the work place.(  See my previous post on sexual harassment . ).
The sad and eye-opening rape, violence and assault of the young nurse in Jinnah hospital, Karachi is indeed a very painful reality that nurses in Pakistan have to face since ages. Here, the almost "Angelic" profession is degraded and the girls as usual are considered objects. This is true for almost all professions in Pakistan. And the main reason is lack of implementation of laws and procedures to make the workplace environment safe. The repressive and criminal mentality of most men is apparent, whenever a woman especially a younger woman comes in the work force. Even young  lady doctors are not spared, even when they are relatively better off than the nurses. I have been a doctor for thirty years now and am saddened to see that even after much academic improvement in nursing with institutes such as the Aga Khan Nursing School , the JPMC Nursing School and other big nursing schools in Karachi, there exists a mindset especially of male doctors from towns and villages , who because of their posting and power as a medico-legal officer, resort to such violent and criminal acts.The conditions have not improved because the laws of sexual harassment were not implemented. Had they been implemented long time ago , the conditions of sexual harassment and sexual assault would not be so worst as is seen nowadays.
 The sad part is till today a rape survivor is not examined in a dedicated place. We are fighting for strengthening the medico legal evidence still ( ). The nurse survivor has told Ms. Humera Alwani, an MPA from Sindh, who is also a member of the Pakistan Nursing Council, that she was forced to go into the room where she was gang raped.  This shows the total disregard by the male doctors and collusion of the lower male staff with these men , of the sanctity of the hospital premises. It seems that these acts have continued in the past and only because this girl jumped out the window, this has come to attention. There have been hundreds of instances where the survivors have not even reported sexual harassment as they think that even their families will withdraw them from education. Girls in Pakistan , especially from low socio-economic class have to fight against all odds such as taboos, primitive cultural norms, tribal and feudal mindsets, lack of availability of opportunities to education, early marriages and childbearing etc to enter any professional field. The profession of nursing because of it's close contact with males is even considered disrespectful by the suppressive mindset people in Pakistan.
 Pakistan faces this dilemma today. It needs an educated, progressive workforce in order to develop and grow and the women population is almost 51%..As it is there is shortage of nursing and other paramedical staff. We really need women in medical and its related fields. A free and fair work environment is the need of the times. The dismissal from service of the barbaric doctor,  by insistence of Mr. Altaf Hussain of the MQM shows how important it is to give institutional and legal cover to work place environment. Only  mechanisms of justice when in place for employees and workers to avail of, will ensure a fair and free society.
A more proactive role by the Sindh government now of improving services for collection of evidence, providing helpline 24 hours all over Sindh ,implementing policy decisions on rape and sexual assault with the help of organisations like WAR, Aahung, HRCP, which have the recommendations ready, implementing the sexual harassment in the workplace bill in letter and spirit in all hospitals, private and governmental institutions, all academic institutions, offices and media workplaces , has to be taken seriously.
It is imperative for the political parties in government and opposition to work for implementing  these laws so as to make the workplace and institutions of learning and philanthropy like hospitals and nursing schools safe.

Dr Meher Zaidi.Writer.


  1. I think until we grow up as a nation and realize that women are an asset to this country rather than objectd to be used we will not progress, good post!

  2. its important to implement these a matter of fact these steps should b take much earlier..