Female literacy in Sindh declines sharply as girls seek to escape ‘unfriendly atmosphere’
Karachi: Civil society activists working to promote girls education in Sindh have observed a sharp decline in admissions to colleges, as well as an increase in the drop-out rate due to what students claim is an “unfriendly atmosphere” in public institutions.

Frequent interactions with female students and professors from University of Sindh, lawyers and women rights activists, which have been organised by Sindh Community Foundation (SCF), a youth-led initiative for confidence building and promoting youth education and skills in marginalised communities in the province, revealed that cat-calling, teasing, the objectionable attitude of teachers, and other similar actions are considered to be the primary reasons which compel rural girls to abandon their pursuit of education.

One of these interactions was held recently, where women who had completed their degrees and were associated with different organisations shared their experience with younger women. Rights activists, lawyers, 30 university students and teachers also took active part in the discussion to find a way out how the recently introduced Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill could be made effective to protect girl students in their institutes and women employees at their workplaces, streets, public transport and markets.

According to the observations, parents belonging to traditional backgrounds in Sindh have historically shown a reluctance to send their daughters to pursue higher education or employment. In the recent past, things had gradually become better, but any positive change in parents’ attitude declines when they see their daughters depressed. Moreover, this situated is exacerbated when mariage proposals are refused, which in turn, causes a disturbance for the entire family.

Amar Sindhu, a women rights activist, who also teaches Philosophy in University of Sindh, Jamshoro, said that women in rural Sindh are the most oppressed segment of the society. Disrespect for their social status, religion and political affiliation , as well as the fact that they are women translates into being dealt indifferently in their atmosphere. Talking about the significance of the Women Protection Bill against Sexual Harassment, Sindhu said that before this ordinance, sexual harassment was not considered a crime, but now it is declared and women may feel safe anywhere in the society.

Students Sumaira Chandio, Raheela Khaskheli, Asma Jokhio, Nazia Nizamani, Raheela Junejo and others also took part in the discussion. They emphasised the need to take the issue positively to avoid the destruction of the future of those girls who belong to traditionally rigid families. They were convinced that once these girls won the trust of their parents to reach universities and professional institutes, they must take decisions promptly with courage for their better future.

Facilitators of interaction included Advocate Muhammad Essa Bhan, Amar Sindhu, HRCP Sindh Taskforce Coordinator Dr Ashothama Lohano, Shahnaz Sheedi, Shazia Rajpar and Javed Soz. They provided basic information to the girls about the legal aspects of the law, and code of conduct, complain mechanism, and its minor and major punishments. Speakers said that this act protects women rights and considers any back noising to woman, threatening them psychologically, verbal or non verbal, as a crime.

The lawyers said the victim may move an application against any harassment by male colleague to the head of department, and he/she has to take a decision against the alleged person. Furthermore, they said, if a complainant is not satisfied by the action taken against the accused, another application can be moved to the local ombudsmen so the matter can be addressed properly.

During the discussion, they pointed out that male domination is the main reason of this kind of violence, which begins from the family itself. This harassment pushes victim women in depression, and many of them are seen reluctant to join mainstream political, economical and social activism.

Discussing the sensitivity of the traditional society, lawyers suggested that every company and institute should develop a code of conduct for women members and ensure their protection.

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