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Sexually harassed LHWs cry out for justice

By Irfan Aligi

KARACHI: Even though there has been a buzz about women’s rights lately and almost all the country seems to be actively supporting the cause, there are many women still being exploited in the name of poverty.

Attaching social taboos to sexual harassment, we tend to ignore the phenomenon altogether while the ugly predators exploit their prey without the deserved consequences. Sexual harassment is everywhere, from malls, where people simply brush past you for a cheap thrill, to work places, where the matter gets worst and the victim has to share the same space with the culprit day in and day out.

Among the unfortunate souls silently suffering at the hands of the menace are the lady health workers that are seen going door-to-door for no other reason then to ensure that our children grow up to be healthy individuals, while they make pathetic wages in the process. The women working under the National Programme for Family Planning and Primary Health Care and the Extensive Programme for Immunisation are treated shabbily by their male colleagues and they often use them to fulfil their shameful desires.

The extent to where the system is corrupt was suddenly more evident when around 22 lady health workers and Lady Health Supervisors (LHS) came forward and told Daily Times that New Karachi Town Health Officer (THO) Javed Iqbal lures many of them into his ‘be quiet or you will be fired’ trap and has sexually harassed them.

Talking to Daily Times, a lady health worker, S, said that she is a married woman and chose this profession only because she desperately needed to make ends meet. She gives details about her job, comparing it to a beggar with a somewhat higher purpose and adds sadly that the male residents of many houses are disrespectful and crude towards her. What saddens her more is that her ordeal does not end on the road, as THO Javed Iqbal and a male vaccinator, Abdul Aleem Khan, successfully reproduce the scenario at work. She shamefully admits to being a victim of their lust many a times, adding that she was also forced to entertain a group of officers with the threat to subjugate or lose the job. She said that she refused to give in and escaped the consequences narrowly.

Another lady health worker, H S, revealed that Iqbal and Khan have, on many occasions, offered to buy a sexual relationship from her. “THO Iqbal had offered to give me Rs 1,000 daily if I give in to his demands. I am a respectable married woman and I would prefer to sit at home rather than sell my honour,” she said, her voice resounding with pride.

LHS D told Daily Times that the majority of lady health workers are married women and their age groups range from 30 to 45 years. The THO and Khan have taken advantage of many lady health workers and M is one such example. Khan tried luring M with his so-called charm and when that did not work, he started putting pressure on her, when even that did not bear fruit, he resorted to threatening her and she finally had to give in. Khan, however, did not stop there. After satisfying himself, he started taking M to higher officers and finally when M could not stand it longer she left the profession that she lost everything to protect.

What is commendable is the shamelessness of the THO, as even after he was caught red-handed by his wife at 2:00 am on January 15, at a lady health worker’s residence, he still has not given up his ways and still torments the girl as it was on his influence that she was inducted.

On the other hand, Khan has been threatening other vaccinators who have been let in on his dirty secrets to remain quite or to be exposed in public for crimes they have not even heard of. He tried to force himself on S Z who resisted vehemently, resulting in nothing but trouble for her, as she was brought under the scrutiny of a five-member enquiry committee, which, too, was biased and obviously had other interests in the case.

However, hopefully this nightmare will end soon as the lady health workers chose to remain silent no more. They demand that the government give them due protection and also that the matter should be investigated by a high profile enquiry commission that is formed under the auspices of a judge from the high court. They also demanded that the Sindh High Court or the Supreme Court of Pakistan take suo motu action in this regard. They said that they have an appointment with the Sindh chief minister’s adviser for April 3 and the adviser has assured them of complete support.
Source: Daily Times

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