July 2020


July 26, 2020

Any disaster, pandemic or calamity always results in more sufferings for women as while performing the roles of caregivers, breadwinners and homemakers, they continue to be the most vulnerable segment of society who are exposed to violence of all sorts.

This was said during an online panel discussion organised by the Uks Research Centre under its series ‘Dialogue for Change’. The talk tried to get an insight into the phenomenon of the ‘new normal’ after the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has impacted Pakistanis in their personal and professional capacities.

Clinical psychologist Dr Asha Bedar said that she noticed a rise in incidents of domestic violence against women as soon as the pandemic started. “We often witness this same pattern after natural disasters or pandemics. And the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw the same pattern but more as the women and children have been locked in a space with the abuser. There isn’t any proper research or data gathering on this, but it should make a very valuable study should someone take this up.”

Faiza Mushtaq, the head of the Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Department at the Institute of Business Administration, commented that gender dynamics played a key role in this regard. She remarked that the gender roles may have changed but the domestic violence situation was still serious and out of control.

Rashida Dohad, the executive director of the Omar Asghar Khan Development Foundation, lamented that in Abbottabad, she had witnessed that police were recording the cases of domestic violence but they did not take into account mental health issues.

Dr Asha and Faiza were of the view that the media had not been covering the rise in domestic violence and mental health issues during the pandemic. “There is a rise in mental health issues [and the] media doesn’t get these nuances,” Faiza said. Dr Asha remarked that she had noticed a rise in suicides and suicidal inclinations but these subjects were also not being discussed by the media.

The panellists agreed that our lives have changed in many ways due to the pandemic. The Uks Research Centre director asked them if they had got used to a previously unfamiliar or atypical situation that later became standard and usual.

Rashida remarked that though she had never been an extrovert, she missed the social connection with her friends and going out every now and then. She, however, added that the lockdown had its own perks as her health had been stable and she did not catch a cold in the past four months.

Dr Asha stressed the point that though people were trying to deal with stress and saying that it was hard for them to adapt to the new normal, they were themselves not sure what that new normal meant. She added that for some, the new normal could mean working from home but for others it might mean living like nothing ever happened in the first place.

This uncertainty of not knowing what you are adapting to could cause anxiety in the longer run, the psychologist remarked.

Faiza told the panel that the new normal to her was the fear of health issues, the inevitability of catching the virus and still working with it. Getting children to adapt to the novel coronavirus and online schooling had also been a challending task, she added.

Huma Khawar, a freelance journalist, said when the pandemic broke out, the government maintained that the situation would improve by June. However, she added, as soon as June came by and nothing got better, people started panicking.

She revealed that her husband and son were working strictly from home but now she did not hesitate from visiting slums to spread awareness because they needed it most. It is hard to explain to people what the issue is when they cannot even see it, she remarked.

Discussing how and why stigma driven by fear and misinformation had been quickly emerging as a primary concern, followed by a low perception of risk, Dr Asha explained that false information acted like a plague. She said she noticed how people talked about the virus as if it was the plague, which would take them all.

She added that now people were in a state of denial and being scared, they would rather stay ignorant than got themselves tested. Faiza commented on this that the sources of information mattered and not everyone had the luxury of researching about whatever they did not understand.

For Rashida, all these mixed messages had made the situation confusing for the people. She said it was not just the government’s responsibility to remove the misconceptions.

Cheena Chhapra, an entrepreneur and teacher, made a comparison between the deaf kids she taught and the general public regarding how both had reacted to the pandemic. She explained how it was not any hassle to explain the standard operating procedures (SOPs) to the kids.

The panellists agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic had resulted in some dramatic cost-saving changes in society as amazingly many seminars, training sessions, meetings and teaching classes were now being held online. They said we have to keep reminding ourselves and especially children to avoid hugging and touching each other as following the SOPs was very crucial to fight the pandemic.



AP 25 Jul 2020

WASHINGTON: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s outrage over a Republican lawmaker’s verbal assault broadened into an extraordinary moment on the floor of House of Representatives as she and other Democrats assailed a sexist culture of accepting violence and violent language against women whose adherents include President Donald Trump.

Rep Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star of the Democratic Party, admonished a Republican Congressman on Thursday who allegedly hurled a sexist slur at her on the steps of the US Capitol. Ocasio-Cortez, 30, said Florida Representative Ted Yoho had “put his finger in my face”.

“He called me disgusting, he called me crazy, he called me out of my mind,” she said during a nearly 10-minute speech on the floor of the House of Representatives. “In front of reporters, Representative Yoho called me — and I quote — a ‘f… bitch’,” she said.

A day after rejecting an offer of contrition from Rep Yoho for his language, Ocasio-Cortez and more than a dozen colleagues cast the incident as all-too-common behaviour by men, including Trump and other Republicans.

“This issue is not about one incident. It is cultural,” said Ocasio-Cortez, calling it a culture of accepting violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that.

Episode followed a colleague’s admonishment of a Republican lawmaker who ‘hurled a sexist slur’ at her on the steps of US Capitol

The remarkable outpouring, with female lawmakers saying they had routinely encountered such treatment, came in an election year in which polls show women leaning decisively against Trump, who has a history of mocking women.

“I personally have experienced a lifetime of insults, racism and sexism,” said Rep Barbara Lee. “And believe me, this did not stop after being elected to public office.”

Trump was captured in a 2005 tape boasting about physically abusing women, and his disparagement of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has included calling her crazy.

In an apparent reference to that tape, which drew attention during the 2016 presidential campaign, Ocasio-Cortez said “men accost women with a sense of impunity every day, including when individuals who hold the highest office in this land admit, admit to hurting women”.

She also recalled that last year, Trump said she and three colleagues on the “squad of progressive Democratic women of colour should go back” to their home countries even though all but one were born in the US and all were American citizens.

The lawmakers joining Ocasio-Cortez represented a wide range of the chamber’s Democrats, underscoring their unity over an issue that is at once core to the party and capable of energising its voters.

Those speaking up included the three other squad members Reps Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

No Republicans spoke on the House floor.

Ocasio-Cortez said on the House floor Yoho’s references to his wife and daughters as he explained his actions during brief remarks actually underscored the problem.

“Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man,” she said.

She added that a “decent man apologises not to save face, not to win a vote. He apologises, and genuinely, to repair and acknowledge the harm done, so that we can all move on”.

Her voice trembled slightly as she said that her father, “thankfully”, was no longer alive to see Yoho’s treatment of her. But she said her mother saw it, “And I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter, and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men”.

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2020



Editorial 16 Jul 2020

WOMEN legislators in the KP Assembly have voiced their anger against growing incidents of underage marriage, sexual abuse and murder of children. They have demanded answers from the provincial government over the delay in legislation that criminalises child marriages and domestic violence. The outcry was sparked due to ghastly incidents in recent weeks: the marriage of a disabled 12-year-old girl to a teenager which culminated in her death allegedly at the hands of her in-laws in Lower Dir; the marriage of an 11-year-old girl in Torghar district, and the rape of a 13-year-old in Charsadda district. During the session, Nighat Yasmin Orakzai of the PPP correctly pointed out that, although the Punjab and Sindh assemblies had already passed laws to stop domestic violence against women, KP is yet to legislate on early marriages or domestic violence. In response to Ms Orakzai’s demand for “aggressive legislation”, the province’s law minister informed the house that a proposed law regarding domestic violence against women had been referred to the house’s Select Committee, while the Child Marriage Restraint Bill would also be presented before the cabinet.

That KP lawmakers have dragged their feet on such crucial legislation for so long is symptomatic of a larger problem: the lack of political will to protect women and children from abuse and violence. Child marriages are a violation of fundamental human rights and have serious repercussions on the health, education and well-being of the girl as well as her family. While there has been some consensus in the KP Assembly about bringing a law that criminalises child marriage, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Marriage Restraint Bill, 2019, is yet to be passed. Even this consensus was reached after months of wrangling over the issue of the ‘permissible minimum marriageable age’ for a female — a debate which reflects how deeply fraught the issue of something as basic as children and women’s protection is. On the issue of domestic violence legislation, there has been even more resistance from religious parties, who, along with the Council of Islamic Ideology, have created hurdles in bringing about the needed laws. It has been over a year since KP’s ministers pledged that pro-women legislation would be enacted. In the absence of these laws, vulnerable citizens continue to suffer while politicians avoid the issue. The PTI, which has now been in power in KP for two successive terms, must prioritise the passing of these laws to guarantee constitutional protection for women and children.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2020




July 5, 2020

LAHORE: Authorities in Punjab on Saturday registered a case against four employees of a private school in Lahore — including a teacher who was earlier sacked by the administration — after they were held responsible by the school for the alleged sexual harassment of female students.

A case was registered on the complaint of Child Protection Bureau officer Ehtisham Arshad under Section 292-A (exposure to seduction), 500 (punishment for defamation), 501 (printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory), and 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) of the Pakistan Penal Code, and Section 25 (intentionally damaging or tampering with telegraphs) of the Federal Investigation Agency’s Telegraph Act.

Last week, reports of a school teacher and administration harassing female students at a private school in Lahore had emerged. Administration Officer Aitzaz, Accountant Omar, a chowkidar named Shehzad and chemistry teacher Zahid Warraich were accused of harassment by female students, some of whom had left school a few years ago and others who were still studying there.

Students said that they had lodged various sexual harassment complaints over the years against the accused but no action had been taken by the administration. Hence, some of them were forced to leave the school and seek admission in others.

The administration said that after receiving evidence against the accused, which included videos, photographs and indecent messages sent by them to students, all four persons involved were shown the door.

The students revealed that the chemistry teacher, Warraich, used to harass them by staring and trying to touch them inappropriately. They also said that he tried to sit with them in a manner that made it very uncomfortable for the students to study.

They also spoke of a female teacher in the school who told them about how she was also a victim of harassment by one of the staff members at the institute but instead of taking action against the harassers, she told the students to remain silent.

Earlier, Punjab government spokesperson Musarrat Cheema had said the provincial government would hand exemplary punishments to the perpetrators of the Lahore private school harassment incident.

Cheema said that the government has taken action against the harassment case reported in the private school.

However, she emphasised that the government will come to know about such incidents only when they are reported as Punjab has a population of 110 million hence it is impossible for the provincial government to know about every harassment incident.

Cheema said that as soon as the girls spoke up, the school administration took action and the Punjab education minister and the chief minister took notice of the incident as well.

She added that an inquiry committee has also been formed to investigate the incident.

“I appeal to all children that God forbid if you go through something like this then you need to point it out as currently there are a lot of harassment laws under which the culprits can be punished,” Cheema, said, adding that whatever decision the committee takes will be shared with the nation.

“Yes, these culprits will not only have to let go of their jobs but they will also be punished according to the circumstances,” Cheema added.