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A FEW WORDS: Sexual harassment of women in the Civil Services

By: Dr Qaisar Rashid

The message is this: if a male officer has political connections, he cannot be harmed notwithstanding the authenticity and seriousness of the allegations of sexual harassment

In the media, much has been debated about the harassment of women cricketers by male officials of the Multan Cricket Club. However, little has been said about the incidents of sexual harassment of women civil servants by male civil servants in the Civil Services of Pakistan. A concise definition of sexual harassment is to harm a woman verbally, physically or psychologically by adopting any means, whether or not to meet certain objectives.

When the topic is sexual harassment of women at the workplace, the character of Mohammad Akhtar Buland Rana, Auditor General of Pakistan, cannot be overlooked. Reportedly, as Chief Controller Military Accounts (CCMA), he was accused of sexually harassing a female subordinate who was serving as the Controller Military Accounts (CMA), Karachi. An enquiry into the allegations was held in 2008. The enquiry found him guilty of the crime and recommended a penalty for him in the light of the Efficiency and Discipline rules concerned. However, the previous PPP-led government wanted him to be the Auditor General of Pakistan (which was a constitutional post, i.e. once appointed would serve for four years) and serve certain audit-related purposes of that government. Certainly, a person who practises debauchery becomes easy prey for those who want him to serve their purpose in return for masking his crime. However, his promotion was not possible in the presence of the recommendations of the enquiry report. Consequently, a second enquiry was held and it acquitted Rana of the accusations, neither because the accusations were sham nor because there was dearth of proof but on some technical grounds. Rana was promoted to Grade-22 and became Auditor General of Pakistan in 2011.

The act of harassment was one thing and a technicality of the complaint was a different thing. If a senior male officer harasses a subordinate female officer, how is this not a crime and how can a clean chit be given to the culprit to go scot-free? Why should the complainant be technically correct when the proofs are in abundance? The point is simple: when depraved officers become the head of departments (such as the supreme audit institution of Pakistan), what kind of a trend will be established in the department is anybody’s guess.

The second prominent name is of Pakistan’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Sanaullah. The allegation of sexual harassment was levelled at him by a female officer of Pakistan Customs who was working as a Commercial Attaché in the embassy. The complaint was filed in August 2010. This complaint was a test case for the Protection Against [the] Harassment of Women at Workplace Act introduced in March 2010. Unfortunately, the foreign office did not take notice of the complaint duly filed until June 2012. The reason for taking notice was not to provide justice to the lady officer but to vindicate the ambassador concerned because his promotion to the next grade was due. The matter was hushed up. The ambassador is so powerful and well connected that he is out on a foreign mission for the past eight years against the six-year rule.

The third prominent name is ex-chairman Capital Development Authority (CDA), Farhand Iqbal. He was a technocrat. When he served as the Director General (Project) with the National Police Bureau (from June 2009 to May 2011), he was accused of sexually harassing a female officer of the rank of Assistant Director. That matter was also suppressed.

After these incidents, the general demeanour of these departments is of pro-sexual harassment of female subordinates. Senior male officers think that they can sexually harass a female subordinate officer and go unscathed. The exoneration of these officers in these cases has set a bad precedent not only in the departments concerned but also permeated negative messages into other departments where women are working, both below and above Grade-17. The office of the Federal Ombudsman for protection against harassment of women at the workplace (established in January 2011 and of which Ms Musarrat Hilali is the first Federal Ombudsman) is now encumbered with complaints of sexual harassment. The way this institution is coming under pressure means that in government departments, sexual harassment in various forms exists but is covered up.

One of the major faults in handling such complaints at the government level is that when allegations are levelled by a junior lady officer at her senior officer of whatever seniority, the senior male officer is not constrained from working. He keeps on doing his work and uses his clout to mitigate the situation by various means. The message is this: if a male officer has political connections, he cannot be harmed notwithstanding the authenticity and seriousness of the allegations of sexual harassment. No doubt, our society is male chauvinistic but in the civil services the trend of sexual harassment must be discouraged. On the one hand, the government has adopted the policy of induction of 10 percent lady officers in the civil services every year over and above routine allocations, while on the other, the government is failing to chastise the culprits involved in sexual harassment of lady officers, especially young officers. The incidents of sexual harassment are seen mostly in the cases when the lady officers are unmarried, widowed or divorced.

Apparently, the government is radiating the message that the civil services are not culturally ready to take female officers in, even if they have proved their worth by qualifying the civil services examination. The question is simple: if these officers cannot protect themselves, how can they guard other women from the public approaching them to redress their grievances?

The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at qaisarrashid@yahoo.com

Daily Times

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