New Age Islam
Sun Jul 14 2024, 03:49 PM

Pakistan Press ( 23 Nov 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Pakistan Press On Working Woman And Justice And Governance: New Age Islam's Selection, 23 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

 23 November 2020

• Silence Of The Working Woman

By Beenish Zia

• Justice And Governance

By Dr A Q Khan

• Pakistan In 2020 - Part I

By Dr Ayesha Razzaque

• Pak-Afghan Trust Deficit

By Kamran Yousaf


Silence Of The Working Woman

By Beenish Zia

23 Nov 2020

SELECTIVE justice is no justice at all. In today’s age, a chance of getting any kind of protection for women is increasingly dependent on the level of publicity an incident receives. Recently, a video clip of a male employee groping a female colleague at a bank went viral on social media. It caught the attention of all relevant authorities including the bank, police and the concerned ministry. The speedy response and sanctions were undoubtedly commendable; what is problematic is that such a video needed to circulate rapidly before attention was drawn and action taken. We all know this is not the only incident of its kind and that such behaviour is, in fact, rampant. Rights protection and relief should not depend on social media reactions.

Take Punjab’s example. Since 2012, the province has had a special law regulating protection against the harassment of women at the workplace. Under this law, every organisation needs to form an internal inquiry committee. The law outlines the entire procedure in detail for holding an inquiry, the powers of the committee, penalties and appeal processes involving both the ombudsperson and governor. It is accompanied by a detailed code of conduct. Following this, since 2013, Punjab has had an active Ombudsperson Office where it is possible to directly go to file a complaint. While all these established mechanisms exist, female employees still have to work in and endure unsafe, sexist environments. Why?

In my view, the problem is two-tiered: legal loopholes and on-ground practicalities; our attempts to find solutions should look at both.

Regarding legal loopholes, the Ombudsperson’s Office, in order to start an inquiry into an organisation’s failure to implement the anti-harassment law, depends on complaints made by employees. Unfortunately, the law does not mandate a penalty for non-compliance. This has led to the vast majority of organisations ignoring the very existence of this law, thus limiting the ombudsperson’s capacity to take affirmative action.

Why expect women to report harassment if they know they will suffer the consequences?

The Punjab ombudsperson’s narrow interpretation of the special law has also discouraged women from coming forward. As reported by UN Women, the Punjab Ombudsperson’s Office received 4,630 complaints between 2014 and mid-2020 whereas only 338 complaints were admitted for hearing as relevant complaints of harassment. For the duration of 2018-2019, the Federal Ombudsperson’s Office registered 158 cases in Islamabad only whereas the provincial office for Punjab registered 123 cases for the same duration. The Punjab Ombudsperson’s Office needs to be more courageous and active in implementing the true essence of the law and communicating their work more proactively so that women feel comfortable coming forward and reporting cases. It could also consider offering recognition for organisations that voluntarily ensure compliance with the law and work with the relevant government departments to provide bonus points for this in accessing public contracts and businesses. In a nutshell, in the absence of legally binding requirements, the ombudsperson offices should consider identifying creative ways to develop incentives for responsible behaviour.

Another major legal loophole is the lack of vital data accumulation regarding harassment at the workplace. There is no requirement or mechanism for the state to be informed about the initiation or outcome of a complaint lodged with an organisation’s internal inquiry committee thus creating space for suppression and abuse. Only when a complaint or an appeal is filed with the Ombudsperson’s Office does data begin to be accumulated. A proper mechanism needs to be developed for efficient and authentic reporting of harassment cases to eliminate all possibilities of foul play. Otherwise, we are not learning from our efforts or improving our policymaking.

Moving on to practical and cultural factors, some prominent social media reactions to being harassed include victim-blaming and character assassination. As a result, families double down further on restrictions already in place for working female relatives, and a significant number of women don’t come forward with their complaint. The misogynistic and patriarchal mindset of society influences the sufferer’s reactions to the harassment faced.

The bank harassment incident was no different. Every bank has numerous CCTVs installed. It is highly unlikely no one saw this incident — in person or as recorded footage — before the video went viral. But no action was taken until it started to damage the bank’s image. One cannot help but mention the recent notification issued by the same bank forcing female employees to wear the abaya, while not looking at the behaviour of the men employees. Gender bias and hypocrisy could not be more blatant. How can one expect women to report incidents of harassment when it is as clear as day that they will be the ones who will suffer?

Another major practical problem is the location of the Punjab Ombudsperson’s Office in Lahore. Punjab is a huge province, and one cannot reasonably expect women to travel from the farthest ends of the province to come to Lahore to file a complaint or an appeal given the type of society we live in. Practical hurdles like accessibility of the office act as a deterrent for women facing harassment at the workplace. We need to find ways to make it more accessible for women across the province.

These practical hurdles can be minimised at the very least by, firstly, making the existence of this law more prominent and well-known while promoting the female perspective in this regard, giving women greater confidence to come forward and name their harassers. Secondly, the Ombudsperson’s Office can introduce a virtual procedure for holding an inquiry to accommodate women from different districts of Punjab.

The severity of the situation can be gauged by the resistance against establishing internal inquiry committees received in parliament, the judiciary, bar councils and political parties. When those with power hide behind technicalities instead of constituting such committees in good faith, how can we expect other workplaces to do the right thing?


Beenish Zia is a lawyer and an associate at AGHS Legal Aid Cell in Lahore.


Justice And Governance

By Dr A Q Khan

November 23, 2020

During our school summer holidays we used to fondly read 'Alif Leyla' (A Thousand and One Nights) by Abu Abdullah ibn Abdul Al-Jah Sherari; 'Tilism Hoshruba' by Muhamad Hussain Jah; 'Fasana-e-Azad' by Pandit Ratan Nath Sarshar and 'Sahranavard Ke Khutoot' by Mirza Adeeb.

All these books were very interesting but most of all I liked to read Shaikh Sadi’s 'Gulistan' and 'Bostan' over and over again. These books were not only entertaining to read, but also contained extremely useful information, examples and religious short stories of character building. The following is a free rendering of part of the translation of 'Bostan' by Richard Francis Burton and published by Iran Chamber Society.

"I travelled to many regions of the world and passed the days in the company of many different men. I reaped advantage from every corner and gleaned an ear of corn from every harvest, but I saw none like the pious and devout men of Shiraz – my attachment with whom drew my heart away from Syria and Turkey. I did not want to go to my friends empty-handed but reflected that, though I had not candy to give them, I could give them words – words not to be eaten but to take away with respect.

"The goodness of God surpasses even imagination, so how can the tongue be sufficient in praise? Keep, O God in thy Mercy, this King, Abu Bakr, long upon the throne and make his heart obedient to You because he is the protection of his people. Prolong his youth and adorn his face with mercy. O King, do not wear your royal garments when you come for prayer. Make your supplications like a dervish saying: 'O God! Powerful and strong! I am not a monarch in your court but a simple beggar. Without your sustenance, what can I achieve? Give me virtue so I can benefit my people.' O King! Rule by day and pray fervently by night. The best of your servants serve you; so also you should serve with your head on God’s threshold.

"At the point nearing death, Noushiravan counselled his son, Hormuz: 'Cherish the poor and seek not your own comfort. The shepherd should not sleep while the wolf is among the sheep. Protect the needy, for a king wears his crown for the sake of his subjects. The people are as the root and the king is as the tree; the tree, O son, gains strength from the root! The king should not oppress his people or instil fear in them. Fear those of them who are proud and those who do not fear God.

'A king who deals harshly with merchants who come from afar, closes the door of well-being on all his subjects. The wise will not return to the country about which they hear rumours of ill will. If you desire to have a good name, hold merchants and travellers in high esteem for they carry your reputation throughout the world.

'At the same time, be cautious. They may try to harm you in the guise of being friends. Cultivate old friends, for treachery does not come from those that are cherished. When a servant becomes old, do not forget your obligations towards him. Even if old age binds his hands from offering service, your hands are free to give in generosity.

A certain king habitually wore a coat of coarse material. Someone said to him: 'O king! Make for yourself a coat of Chinese brocade.” “The one I am wearing”, replied the king, “gives me both cover and comfort; anything beyond that is luxury. My people do not pay tribute to me so that I can adorn my person and my throne. If, like a woman, I ornament my body, how, like a man can I then repulse the enemy? The royal treasuries are not for me alone – they are filled for the sake of the army, not for the purchase of ornaments and jewelry.'

Darius, king of Persia, once became separated from his retinue while hunting. A herdsman came running towards him and the king, assuming him to be an enemy, got ready his bow and arrow. Thereupon the herdsman cried: 'I am no enemy. I am the one who tends the king’s horses. That is why I am in this meadow.' The king, regaining his composure, smilingly said: 'Heaven has befriended you otherwise I would have drawn my bow.'

'It shows neither wise administration nor good judgement when the king does not know an enemy from a friend', replied the herdsman. 'Those who are greatest should know those who are least. You have seen me in your presence many times and asked me about the horses grazing in the fields. Now you take me to be an enemy. More skilled am I, O King, because I can distinguish one horse out of a herd of a hundred thousand. Pay attention to your people in the same way as I do to the horses. Sorrow comes to that kingdom where the wisdom of the shepherd exceeds that of the king.'

Abdul Aziz had a pearl of great beauty and value set in a ring. When there was a severe drought, he had the pearl sold and the money distributed to the poor. When someone chided him saying: 'Never again will such a stone come into your hands', the king replied: 'ugly is an ornament upon the person of a king when his people are distressed by want. Better for me is a stoneless ring than a sorrowing people.' Happy is he who sets the ease of others above his own. The virtuous desire not their own pleasure at the expense of others.


Pakistan in 2020 - Part I

By Dr Ayesha Razzaque

November 21, 2020

The writer is an independent education researcher and consultant. She has a PhD in Education from Michigan State University.

When I think of the daily circus that is the evening TV political talk show circuit, only a fraction of their airtime is dedicated to issues that have any lasting impact.

Almost none of the issues that received breathless coverage a year ago are of any consequence to the lives of ordinary people in the country today. I see no reason why the 2020 season of political soap opera will be any different.

So, let us look back at the outgoing year and identify key trends and events that are likely to have a lasting impact on Pakistan in the years to come.

Covid-19: This is, hands down, the biggest event to hit Pakistan and the world this year. It induced behavioural changes in a large segment of the population who are now mindful of the spread of viruses by touch and by air and are at least aware of the need to wear a facemask. However, as of September, 46 percent of Gallup survey respondents (most under the age of 30) were of the opinion that the coronavirus is a conspiracy theory or hoax.

So far, the virus has cost us 7,285 deaths (and counting). Unemployment is predicted to surge to 28 percent. Schooling stopped for nearly 50 million students for the bulk of the year. Forty percent of the population is expected to fall under the national poverty line; 45 percent of children are at risk of malnutrition. For the vast majority, dying of hunger due to the lockdown economy has been a bigger worry than dying from Covid. With a resurgence in positivity rate of over six percent, in November, a second lockdown or at least several smart lockdowns are imminent. This is far from over.

Vaccine: According to a recent IPSOS survey, 63 percent of Pakistanis will refuse to get vaccinated when a vaccine becomes available. This attitude is reflective of the reach and damage conspiracy theories have on an undereducated population unable to think critically and distinguish between WhatsApp fiction and reliable fact. While there are now two promising vaccines based on messenger RNA technology (Pfizer and Moderna), the fact that Pakistan has not been an early investor in the development of either of them means that its place in the customer queue is near the end of the line.

It will be quite some time until we can hope to acquire any vaccine in sufficient numbers. Add to that the challenge that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require extreme refrigeration at -94 and -20 degrees Celsius, respectively. This will mean building a dedicated refrigerated supply chain, something we have not seen even being discussed in government circles yet.

NCOC: Covid-19 did not induce any structural changes to speak of, save one: while the central government often sets up some kind of national command center in times crisis, the National Command Operations Center (NCOC) established for dealing with the pandemic distinguishes itself from prior command centers in that its decisions are heavily data driven. This approach has introduced the concept of targeted interventions supported by data in place of broad decrees that blanket a province or the entire country – a scalpel in place of a broadsword. However, this new approach has not extended much further down into the government machinery for other decision-making yet.

WFH: A sliver of professionals and knowledge workers were able to retreat to the protective bubbles of their homes and continued to work-from-home (WFH). However, many smaller businesses and offices were unable to make the quick transition to digital, least of all government. During the peak of the first wave, staff at government offices was reduced to essential staff only. LinkedIn hype aside, for the vast majority of workers, WFH will not become the new normal in the foreseeable future.

Digital Divide and Schools Reopen: The digital divide in the country was also exposed in the unpreparedness of the majority of schools and universities to adopt online education. Again, the sliver of elite private schools and universities, who were already using learning management systems and had students that owned computers and broadband internet connections at home, were able to switch to online education with limited success.

However, for the vast majority of students the shutdowns of educational institutions translated into an early and extended summer vacation. As schools reopened in the last few months, accounts are emerging of the reality behind the government’s claims of online and distance learning during school closings. The learning loss that has resulted from these extended closings will be felt in the years to come. Schools will likely shut down again for an extended winter break. For most students, this academic year will have to be written off as a loss.

Aurat March: Early in the year, the second Aurat March put a spotlight on women’s rights and sparked heated debates. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2020, Pakistan’s rank continues to languish at 151 out of 153 countries, only ahead of Yemen and Iraq.

Hang the Rapist: With this backdrop, the once taboo issue of violence against women is receiving more airtime. Every few weeks a high-profile case of rape or violence makes headlines (Lahore Motorway, Kashmore, etc). Coverage of these cases is causing public outrage and has been increasing the pressure on the government to enact police and legal reforms, but until that happens, with 11 cases of rape and gang-rape reported daily, and many more going unreported, Pakistan remains among the most unsafe countries for women and children.

SNC and Aik Nisab: Historically, changes to the national curriculum have been whisked through without much public scrutiny or questioning. However, in 2020 the Single National Curriculum, or SNC, has ignited public debate like few curriculum changes in the past have, with numerous public intellectuals as well as the general public weighing in.

The increased public interest and input on an issue ordinarily considered insipid and dull has taken aback many in government. This greater-than-expected level of public engagement can be attributed to the rise of online platforms and wider internet penetration that have given voice to the otherwise voiceless.

Tea was Fantastic. The India-China Face-Off: India overplayed its hand in Balakot in 2019. The scrapping of Article 370 changing the status of Indian Occupied Kashmir later that year and the curfew and crackdown transformed it into the world’s biggest open-air prison have further opened India to charges of human right violations that the world is finding difficult to ignore, irrespective of trade interests. In 2020, India overplayed its hand once more when Indian soldiers skirmishes with Chinese forces in the Galwan river valley and several other points at the border.

The Modi government’s aggressive actions and diplomacy, not only against Pakistan, but also China, Nepal and Bangladesh, coupled with human right violations in Indian Occupied Kashmir have set it back on its heels, a rare situation for the Pakistani Foreign Office to find itself in.

Indian Terrorism Exposed: In mid-November, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and DG ISPR Major General Babar Iftikhar held a press conference in which they publicly released evidence of what had long been alleged by Pakistan – Indian financing of anti-Pakistan militants hiding across the border in Afghanistan, using its string of consulates along the border. The evidence included bank transactions and audio clips of Indian handlers and terrorist assets.

This public presentation of facts is a major departure in style and substance for Pakistan. While a single press conference may not change much, sticking to this more open style of argumentation will make it more difficult for world powers to look the other way.

To be continued


Pak-Afghan Trust Deficit

By Kamran Yousaf

November 22, 2020

Prime Minister Imran Khan undertook his maiden visit to Kabul last week. He was accompanied by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, DG ISI Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed and other senior officials. The visit was important in the context of Afghanistan’s current situation.

While the intra-Afghan talks are underway in Doha, Pakistan and Afghanistan have been trying for months to remove mistrust between them. The heart of the problem is the series of complaints both have against each other. Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of harbouring or supporting the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. The rhetoric was lowered in recent months after Pakistan played a key role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table but the trust deficit is far from over. Similarly, Pakistan has its own grievances. It has openly stated that the Afghan soil is being used by groups such as outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Baloch terrorist groups to create trouble in Pakistan. Not long ago, DG ISPR Major General Iftikhar and FM Qureshi presented what they termed “irrefutable proofs” against India for using Afghan soil against Pakistan.

Against this backdrop, the key issue between the two countries is to address concerns for each other. In the past, efforts and promises were made but nothing changed on ground as blame game continued. At the conclusion of PM Imran’s daylong visit, a joint statement mentioned specific steps the two sides agreed to in order to address each other’s security concerns.

“By December 15, 2020: Re-energising joint intelligence services-led work on analysing, mapping and cooperating against enemies of peace and those undermining the peace process.”

This part of the joint statement was the most significant. Both countries have set a clear timeline to deal with the issue of militants or groups that pose a threat to each other.

But will both sides really implement this plan? The question is valid since past efforts could not bring positive results. In 2011, Pakistan’s ISI and Afghanistan’s NDS agreed on an MoU for intelligence sharing and cooperation. However, the then NDS chief refused to sign the MoU as the Ghani administration faced stiff resistance from within on the issue. As a result that agreement could not see the light of the day. The elements skeptical of Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process are still in the Kabul administration and may undermine the push for seeking cooperation between the two intelligence agencies.

To ensure the latest initiative does not meet the same fate as the previous effort, there has to be a greater role from the leadership of the two countries. Increased and better communication at the highest level is one way to go about. The positive thing is that PM Imran’s visit is not one-off. The two countries agreed to continue these high-level exchanges. Ghani accepted Imran’s visit and is likely to travel to Islamabad in the first quarter of 2021.

While all eyes are on the intra-Afghan dialogue, if Pakistan and Afghanistan are able to develop a mechanism whereby instead of indulging in blame game they address their concerns through talks and behind the scenes this would go a long way in shaping not just the bilateral ties but also regional peace. It’s a tough task as spoilers within and outside Afghanistan will certainly make all-out efforts to undermine any initiative that brings Pakistan and Afghanistan closer. The election of Joe Biden as US president has added new dimensions to the already complex situation. On paper, he may not have much difference with Trump on Afghanistan, but he may review the agreement with the Taliban with a view to extracting more concessions from the insurgent group. This will certainly put added pressure on Pakistan.



New Age IslamIslam OnlineIslamic WebsiteAfrican Muslim NewsArab World NewsSouth Asia NewsIndian Muslim NewsWorld Muslim NewsWomen in IslamIslamic FeminismArab WomenWomen In ArabIslamophobia in AmericaMuslim Women in WestIslam Women and Feminism