Accounts of sexual harassment that were shared on social media last month by students of Lahore Grammar School’s (LGS) 1A1 branch were harrowing to say the least.
Four male staffers were subsequently terminated while the principal, administrator and coordinator were suspended as they have been accused of covering up the scandal.
We must say that it was very brave of the victims to recount their trauma and raise this issue on social media when all other avenues failed. More power to these girls who did not back down for demanding justice for themselves and their fellow students.
To think that this had been going on for four years under the administration’s nose makes one wonder why senior members of the administration did not pay any heed to multiple complaints by students. Sexual harassers are of course the main culprits here and they must be punished according to the law but those who abetted them by covering up their crimes cannot shirk responsibility either. Once a student had approached the administration to report sexual harassment, it should have been investigated right away and proper measures should have been taken instead of blaming and shaming underage girls for ‘leading on’ these predators.
Victim-blaming is not just mentally damaging and demeaning, in this case it was downright criminal. The commitment of Punjab Education Minister Murad Raas as well as Federal Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari to the LGS case is commendable. However, Raas’s suggestion that only female teachers should teach at all-girls’ schools is a stop-gap arrangement of sorts. This policy cannot be dictated and it should not be implemented either. By this token, do we think that any man who teaches girls in schools cannot control himself? What about all-boys schools where male teachers have abused? This sort of messaging is not appropriate. Male teachers must be taught to treat their students as ‘students’ and not any sexual beings. Parents send their children to school for education, believing they are sending them to a safe environment where they will be looked after by the school management just like families look after their own.
A school is quite literally a child’s second home where he or she learns, makes friends and prepares for their future. It should never have been a place where underage girls were sexually harassed by faculty members with unwanted and inappropriate pictures, messages, etc.
Educational institutions – from schools and colleges to universities – should have a proper and clear policy on sexual harassment. This policy should be public and awareness sessions should also take place regarding this issue. Psychologists should also be hired by educational institutions to provide free counselling to children and not just for sexual harassment but also for other issues they might be facing. Just like some schools have career counselling, there should be counsellors – like ombudspersons – to hear complaints about sexual harassment at schools. These are just the basic things that all educational institutions must comply with.