How blackmail, harassment forced Pakistani women from university

Many parents pull out their daughters from Balochistan University after CCTV footage was used to blackmail students.


By Iman Sultan


Al Jazeera (09.01.2020) – – Rahila* had missed the deadline to submit her application for admission to Balochistan University, and feared she would now have to wait months before being able to apply again.


A teacher at the pharmacy department, however, offered to help her submit her forms and gain admission to the university, the main institute for higher education in the southwestern Pakistani province after which it is named.


After she filled out the forms, however, she alleges the same teacher began to harass her by sending her text messages, mostly at night, and threatened to cancel her admission when she did not reply to him.


“From his words, I could tell his intentions were not good,” Rahila, 20, said. “I felt so strange about it. I used to call him ‘sir’ with so much respect to his face, and he turned out to be this creepy, inappropriate person. At that point, I lost confidence in myself.”


Rahila’s experience is just one of many cases of alleged sexual harassment at this government-run university, where allegations have been made that university officials used CCTV footage of male and female students mingling to extort and blackmail them.


Balochistan has a female literacy rate of 33.5 percent, and the danger of harassment is often cited by parents who refuse to send their daughters to school. Only 5.07 percent of Pakistan’s roughly 102 million women ever complete university, according to the country’s bureau of statistics.


In October last year, the Balochistan High Court directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to investigate the allegations against university officials, directing officials to submit a full report on the blackmail allegations.


News of the scandal led Javed Iqbal, the university’s vice-chancellor, to step down, and many parents pulled their daughters out of the university.


“All the struggle people did for women’s education has suffered a setback of 20 or 30 years because of this scandal,” said Shain Taj Raisani, 26, an MPhil student at the university.


“Girls who were coming into the education field with their opinions now feel threatened.”


Education a key battleground


Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest but least populated province, is rich in mineral resources and is home to a port at the heart of China’s $60bn China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project that runs through the country.


The province is, however, one of the least developed parts of the country, with its vast, rugged terrain only sparsely populated by small towns and villages.


Education is a key battleground. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, less than 12 percent women in Balochistan made it past primary school.


Many say the recent scandal has led to even more parents pulling their daughters out of higher education.


“A [university] hostel is like a home […] if your daughter isn’t safe at school, then her parents won’t let her study at the university,” Mahrang Baloch, 25, a student at Bolan Medical College located in the provincial capital Quetta, added.


Security on campus


Home to about 10,000 students, Balochistan University is not your typical university campus. Located on Sariab Road in the southern quarter of Quetta, the area has often been the site of suicide bombings or targeted attacks against security forces or, on occasion, university officials.


“Many professors have fallen victim to this terrorism in the past 12 years,” said a senior FIA official investigating the video scandal case. “Both professors and students have been martyred. We’ve lost too many people,” the officer, who wished to remain anonyous, told Al Jazeera.


CCTV cameras have been installed all over the campus to safeguard students and faculty against that threat, and both police and paramilitary soldiers are stationed across the university.


Students, however, fear that the pervasive security on campus had undermined their learning experience. Others say it has contributed to the atmosphere of harassment at the university.


“When I was at university, [the paramilitary Frontier Corps] had made its checkpoints everywhere. They would harass and throw their numbers [written on pieces of paper] at women,” Yassir Baloch, 27, who graduated from the university in 2017, said.


“And they’d sexually harass and blackmail young men, who had just come from college and were 20 or 21 years old. Sometimes, [security and university officials] would catch couples too. They’d tell them we’ll show this video to your parents. If you give us Rs 50,000 [roughly $320], we’ll delete the video.”


Wali Rehman, the registrar of the university, however, said paramilitary soldiers don’t interfere in the “academic blocks”, but pass through “university-regulated areas, grounds, sports area and colony”.


“Frontier Corps isn’t there to tell students what to do or not to do. They only come if there’s danger,” he told Al Jazeera.


In November, security forces agreed to vacate the university after a parliamentary committee recommended universities reevaluate the deployment of security forces amid public pressure in the wake of the CCTV scandal.


The misuse of cameras


The university currently has 56 CCTV cameras in operation, down from 94 cameras, three of which did not work. According to the registrar, the university disconnected “unnecessary” cameras, referring to the installation of CCTV in “unauthorised” places.


“At the direction of the court, we disconnected 37 cameras. Cameras that were in places where they were not needed were uninstalled,” Rehman, the registrar, told Al Jazeera.


During the investigation into the video scandal, the FIA obtained university and security officials’ laptops and mobile phones, and Saifullah Langove, the head of the security control room, was removed from his post.


The senior FIA official investigating the case said there was no standard operating procedure for how the data collected on them would be used.


“Cameras wouldn’t have been misused if the protocol was defined,” he said.


The university said it is now developing a new policy for how the cameras will be used and who controls them.


There, is, however, scepticism among digital rights activists on the effectiveness of such surveillance systems, and their effects.


“Technology will enable universities to see their students on all corners and regulate them. When you feel you are being watched, you’ll start to behave how authority wants you to,” said Shmyla Khan, a project manager for Digital Rights Foundation.


Meanwhile, a sexual harassment committee has been set up in the university, headed by Sobiah Ramzan of the Institute of Management Sciences. The local provincial committee is also investigating the affair.


An ongoing investigation


Women who have faced harassment at the university may be too scared to come forward because of the shame associated with sexual assault in a tribal society.


“If something happened to me, even if I wanted to come forward, I wouldn’t be able to confess because we live in a tribal society,” Sadia Baloch, a 19-year-old student at the university’s law college, said. “On account of our families, we can’t even talk about it.”


The FIA officer said that he had been investigating the case for months, and the media had, in fact, frightened away victims, who may have otherwise come forward to assist with the investigation.


“We live in a very conservative society [in Balochistan]. If there are victims, they don’t want to come forward anymore,” he said.


Students who claim to be in contact with sexual harassment victims confirmed to Al Jazeera that many “girls are scared” and do not trust that their privacy would be protected through the investigation process.


“Who can guarantee if a girl comes forward, her information won’t be leaked?” Mahrang Baloch told Al Jazeera.

SAUDI ARABIA: Repressive site for Dakar Rally

As Amaury Sport Race proceeds, women activists sit in prison.


HRW (03.01.2020) – – The Amaury Sport Organisation should use its decision to move the Dakar Rally to Saudi Arabia to denounce the persecution of women’s rights advocates in the country, Human Rights Watch, MENA Rights Group, and 11 other international human rights organizations said today. The 2020 Dakar Rally – formerly known as the Paris-Dakar Rally – will begin on January 5, 2020, in Jeddah, and finish on January 17, 2020, 9,000 kilometers later, in Al-Qiddiya.


“The Amaury Sport Organisation and race drivers at the Dakar Rally should speak out about the Saudi government’s mistreatment of women’s rights activists for advocating for the right to drive,” said Minky Worden, global initiatives director at Human Rights Watch. “Fans, media, and race teams shouldn’t be blinded by the rally’s spectacle while Saudi Arabia ‘sports-washes’ the kingdom’s jailing of peaceful critics.”


The Dakar Rally is an annual off-road endurance race organized by the French Amaury Sport Organisation. In April, the company announced that the 2020 rally would be held throughout Saudi Arabia as part of a five-year partnership with its government.


Sponsors, broadcasters, and athletes are affected by sports organizations’ choices to hold major events in countries that violate basic human rights, the groups said. By agreeing to a five-year relationship with Saudi Arabia, the Amaury Sport Organisation should also agree to adopt and carry out a human rights policy that would identify risks and make use of its leverage to promote respect for human rights in Saudi Arabia and across its operations. FIFA, the global football organization, and other major companies have adopted such policies in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.


Since the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, Saudi Arabia has faced increased international criticism over its human rights record – particularly its lack of transparency regarding the investigation of Khashoggi’s murder and its leading role in a military coalition responsible for serious violations of the laws of war in Yemen.


Saudi Arabia has also created one of the most hostile environments for human rights defenders in recent years, arbitrarily detaining dozens of rights advocates. They include Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, and Nouf Abdulaziz, who advocated women’s right to drive and an end to the discriminatory male guardianship system. While some others have been temporarily released, they and the four who remain in detention are still on trial for their peaceful activism. Several activists have alleged that they were tortured in detention, including with electric shocks, flogging, sexual threats, and other ill-treatment.


“More than a dozen women drivers will take part in the Dakar Rally while Saudi women activists languish in jail for promoting the right to drive,” said Inès Osman, director of MENA Rights Group. “Saudi Arabia should not get a free lane because it is hosting a prominent sporting event like the Dakar Rally.”


Human Rights Watch, MENA Rights Group, and various other groups urge Dakar organizers, participants, and official broadcasters to press Saudi authorities to immediately release all detained Saudi women’s rights defenders and drop the charges against them. The Amaury Sport Organisation should engage with human rights advocates and adopt a human rights policy to ensure that its operations do not contribute to human rights violations.


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises outline companies’ duties to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts resulting from business operations. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide that business enterprises have a responsibility to “avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities,” “address such impacts when they occur,” and “seek to prevent them.”


“The Amaury Sport Organisation has an opportunity to join other sporting bodies in advancing respect for human rights where they hold events,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Adopting and abiding by a human rights policy will mean avoiding having to endorse a repressive host country’s abusive record.”

WORLD: Ruled out of work: Refugee women’s legal right to work

By Daphne Jayasinghe


International Rescue Committee (15.12.2019) – – Refugee women seeking jobs and economic opportunities must navigate a labor market mired in complex and gender discriminatory rules and regulations. Burdened with the effects of violence, trauma and displacement and the responsibility of building a new life in a new country, they find their ambitions and their potential thwarted.


This briefing assesses the impact of the law on refugee women’s right to work and access economic opportunities in high refugee hosting countries. We find that laws governing women’s opportunities to get a job or start a business are far from gender equal. For example five out of 10 of the highest refugee hosting countries impose legal barriers in the majority of areas measured by the World Bank’s Women Business and the Law index.  Dig deeper into the data and we find that women suffer particularly high legal barriers in certain areas: Just two of the 10 highest refugee hosting countries mandate equal pay for work of equal value; just three of the top 10 mandate equal rights to inherit assets; and seven of the top 10 restrict women’s participation in certain industries.


We worked with a team of lawyers to assess the legal framework for refugees’ participation in the economy in four different contexts—Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan and Uganda—and found a complex set of rules and requirements affecting refugees’ opportunities such as onerous requirements for work permits, limitations on freedom of movement and constraints on the ability to establish a business. These laws affect men and women refugees differently and we find refugee women suffer economic exclusion and marginalization as a consequence.


Click here for the full report.

ECOWAS court deems Sierra Leone pregnant girl ban discriminatory

Sierra Leone government policy banning pregnant girls from attending school breaches the right of girls to access education, according to a ruling handed down by the Economic Community of Economic State (ECOWAS) Court of Justice on Thursday, and said that this policy is discriminatory– a victory for young girls.


By Laura Angela Bagnetto


Radio France Internationale (12.12.2019) – – “We hope this decision has an impact across Africa,” said Judy Gitau, Africa Regional Coordinator at Equality Now, who has worked on the case from the beginning and was present in the Abuja courtroom when the verdict was read.


“It not only sets out how such a practice is discriminatory, but it allows people to actually see how they’re relegating the young girls to a cycle of poverty and indignity,” she told RFI after the verdict.


A number of human rights groups, including Child Welfare Society, Equality Now and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IRHDA) and WAVES, a Sierra Leonean non-governmental organization, filed the case with the ECOWAS court in May 2018.


In court, the judges outlined the issues and succinctly answered each issue, said Gitau.


Discriminatory policy


The ECOWAS court said that Sierra Leone had an actual policy in place that banned school-age girls who fell pregnant. The government had argued that it was only an unfortunate statement from a minister, and not a policy. RFI reported on the issue back in 2015, where the chairman of the Conference of Principals indicated that it was a policy that was carried out in Sierra Leonean schools.


The court said that the ban was discriminatory and ordered the government to lift the ban with immediate effect.


The court also ordered the government to carry out four distinct measures in order to reduce teenage pregnancies in school. Providing sexual reproductive education, sensitising the communities on issues of discrimination, and abolishing the parallel, inadequate schools for pregnant girls.


The schools had been created by non-state actors, who only taught four subjects, three times a week, not in line with the Sierra Leone educational standards.


Vulnerable girls pay the price


The previous government had put this policy banning pregnant girls in place, but the advent of Ebola worsened the situation, according to Gitau.


A spike in teen pregnancies arose during and after the Ebola crisis.


“The majority of these girls were victims of sexual violence on account that their caregivers and guardians died and were no longer available,” said Gitau.


A decision with impact


Human rights groups hope that this ban will push other African countries who discriminate to change their stance.


“This delivers a clear message to other African governments who have similar bans, such as Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea, or may be contemplating them, that they should follow this groundbreaking ruling and take steps to allow pregnant girls access to education in line with their own human rights obligations,” said Marta Colomer, Amnesty International’s West Africa deputy campaign director.

Unnao rape case: Indian woman set on fire on way to hearing dies

An Indian woman who was set on fire on her way to testify against her alleged rapists has died of her injuries.


BBC News (07.12.2019) – – The 23-year-old died late on Friday after suffering cardiac arrest at a Delhi hospital. She had 90% burns.


She was attacked on Thursday as she was walking to a hearing in the rape case she filed against two men in March in Unnao, in northern Uttar Pradesh state.


Five men, including the alleged rapists, have been arrested, Indian police say.


The sister of the victim, whose name has not been released, told the BBC that she wanted the death penalty for the pair.


She said the family would continue to fight the case against them in court.


Rape and sexual violence against women have been in focus in India since the December 2012 gang-rape and murder of a young woman on a bus in the capital, Delhi.


But there has been no sign that crimes against women are abating.


According to government figures, police registered 33,658 cases of rape in India in 2017, an average of 92 rapes every day.


Unnao district has itself been in the news over another rape case.


Police opened a murder investigation against a ruling party lawmaker in July after a woman who accused him of rape was seriously injured in a car crash. Two of her aunts were killed and her lawyer was injured.


Separately, on Friday, Indian police shot dead four men suspected of raping and killing a young female vet in the southern city of Hyderabad last week.


That case sparked widespread outrage, and the killing of the suspects, in what rights activists believe may have been an extra-judicial killing, sparked jubilation among local residents.

WORLD: Women and climate change: the challenges women face to be considered as key actors

By Priti Darooka


The Land Portal (04.12.2019) – – I want to thank IWRAW Asia Pacific for organising a two day strategic dialogue on Women Human Rights and Climate Justice. Some of the points shared here are points discussed at this dialogue in Bangkok in November 2019.


I also want to thank contributions by Feminist Land Platform members, especially Farida Akhter of Bangladesh.


The Feminist Land Platform echoes and endorses the relevant issues raised by the author Priti Darooka, who is a founder member of the Platform. The paper was presented during the International Land Coalition Africa meeting in Abidjan, on the 23rd November 2019.


Climate change impacts women differently


Climate change impacts everyone. However, the impact of climate change is experienced differently based on one’s socio-economic position. It is important to realize that women and men are impacted differently, not only as users of energy, water etc. but also as workers and contributors.


Women are the food producers of the world. (According to FAO women produce more than 50% of global food). Natural calamities such as droughts, floods, hurricane, cyclones, earthquake, landslides etc. due to climate change particularly impact women producers, indigenous women, rural women, women from marginalised groups, whose lives and livelihoods rely on natural resources such as land, water and forest. Millions of women who are in agriculture, the informal economy or are self-employed are exposed to toxic chemicals, extractives, and development projects adopted by countries. They are in the bottom most tier of the supply chain, taking up hazardous occupations with precarious working conditions. Therefore, climate crisis impacts women most critically.


From vulnerable group to active actors


In climate debates, women are profiled as victims or vulnerable groups—severely impacted. However, these platforms generally don’t recognise women as active climate actors with knowledge and agency. Women’s unequal participation in decision-making processes, including land and natural resource management, and in paid labour market continues to prevent them from being part of climate related planning, policy making and implementation. The question to raise is whether the role of women or the concerns and priorities of women in their multiple realities are taken into account in the climate solutions, in just transition to green economy or green Jobs. Women are often affected by the change and have a more active role to play.


The capitalist and neoliberal model takes nature for granted. It unfortunately believes that nature is a bottomless pit and will continue to sustain this excessive consumption with exploitative patterns of production forever. The same model also renders women’s work invisible, especially the unpaid care work and unpaid work in  subsistence forms of livelihood. In market economy if you consume what you produce you have not produced at all. Production only has value if it is for the market. Most of women’s work, especially in global South is for self-consumption. Hence, most of women’s work is of less or no value. The current economic policies is built on women’s labour but considers women’s labour as the same bottomless pit that will absorb all adversities and continue to provide care and subsistence limitlessly, and always.


Claiming for Climate Justice


The irony of current climate debates is that we want to change nothing, but we want climate change or climate justice. We are not willing to change our consumption patterns or lifestyle. Transition from fossil fuel to renewables for example is not going to resolve the climate crisis. There also needs to be changes in consumption and lifestyles.


The solutions to address climate crisis are sort through science and technology – renewables or reduction in carbon emission through climate change adaptations. The solutions are not human centric but science centric. Women due to their gendered role and cultural norms do have indigenous knowledge in sustainable resource management. The knowledge held by women at community level is scientific but is not valued. For example, in several agricultural communities, seeds are maintained by women and proper gene pool is ensured. This is an in-depth scientific knowledge that is passed from one generation to another – mother to daughters and within the community of women.  And if women’s leadership is engaged to address climate crisis there would surely be sustainable, inclusive and ‘scientific’ solutions.


Climate change effects are aggravated through loss of biodiversity that affects poor women and their food from the common resources and common land.


It is also ironic that the top 10 richest countries of the world are the top countries in global philanthropy. Developed countries hold technical solution and continue to pressure less developing countries to have climate adaptation solutions. Through philanthropic grants these rich countries also provide west based consultants to provide technical support to governments and institutions in the South. This whole process also renders local knowledge, especially held by women on the ground regarding traditional resilience practices absolutely irrelevant and useless.


These same rich countries, however, have their multinationals and brands exploit labour, and environment in these developing countries.


By leaving women out from the solutions, most climate change solutions directly or indirectly further contribute towards gender inequalities. For example, with all the noise around shift towards renewables, governments have not provided women with clean, green energy for cooking. Women still in most parts of the world, especially in the global South, continue to burn biomass for cooking.


Climate change debates and solutions therefore need to recognise women’s role as workers and producers and as guardians of environment and nature and ensure they are at the centre of all discussions and solutions as key stakeholders.