Dr Mira Phailbus Sitara-e-Imtiaz Punjab Ombudsperson Against Harassment of Women at Workplace
“Numerous working women in public and private sector are still oblivious of their due rights”
Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): In the light of your invaluably long experience in the field of education, what are the major flaws in our education system?
Mira Phailbus (MP): I think there are a number of flaws but the major drawback that has thwarted our country’s development is the sheer lack of an effective teacher-training mechanism. Though, we do have some training courses at certain levels, those cannot be considered a true training mechanism. See, we have Pakistan Military Academy for the training of army officers and the Civil Service Academy for that of the civil servants, but none proper institution is there to impart training to the teachers. It is a harsh fact that in our country, if a person fails his attempts to get a good job, he or she joins the teaching profession let alone the aptitude for teaching or the required caliber and will to go for this noble profession.
JWT: You are also heading the institution “Ombudsperson of Punjab Against Harassment of Women at Workplace.” What is the contribution of this institution to the protection of working women in Punjab?
MP: The office of “Ombudsperson of Punjab Against Harassment of Women at Workplace” was established to protect the rights of working women in the province. The Punjab provincial Assembly passed Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act in 2010 and some amendments were made to it in 2013. Since March 2013, this office is fully functional and has emerged as a source of security as well as encouragement for working ladies. To guard our women against all sorts of discrimination or maltreatment, initially, we have written letters to all public and private sector organizations to get special committees established in order to deal with the women-related issues. It is a relatively new office and people aren’t well aware of its utilities and functions. We are putting in lot of efforts to create awareness among people regarding this institution. I have personally visited almost the entire province to meet with the civil society activists, officials of NGOs to make the services of ombudsman more and more people-oriented. We also maintain our liaison with the DCOs of all the districts. Despite paucity of funds, we have been involved in a mass awareness campaign for substantial improvement as well as to highlight the provincial government’s vision and initiative for creating a harassment-free working environment for women.
MP: Yes, we are soon going to launch our new project namely Harassment Awareness Volunteer Program (HAVP) in this regard. In fact, it’s a joint effort of Women Development Department and the Ombudsperson Punjab to disseminate information and awareness among the working women. Actually, working women’s ignorance of their legal rights as well as social taboos along with their lack of confidence in the system, prevent them from reporting any act of harassment at the workplace. On the other hand, numerous working women in public and private sector are still oblivious of their due rights. They don’t even know what type of behaviour at the workplace amounts to sexual harassment or what is the legal mechanism and procedure to get justice from enquiry committees at department or at district or organization level. Nor do they know about the office of the Ombudsperson.
Dr Mira Phailbus, an educationist par excellence, and a Pakistani known across the globe for her services to the betterment of Pakistan’s educational sector, is a source of inspiration to the millions of Pakistani women. For over forty years, she has served as the principal of Kinnaird College for Women Lahore, where she kept the original ethos of the college at their peak. Owing to the groundwork that she did, the college successfully made a transition to achieve a university status. People who know Dr Phailbus see her as a steel magnolia.
Dr Phailbus has made a wide-ranging contribution to women’s development and education in Pakistan. In recognition of her services, the Government of Pakistan had conferred Sitara-e-Imtiaz on her.
Dr Phailbus has also served as the Minister for Education and Minority Affairs in the caretaker government of the Punjab.
She is the first, and incumbent, Ombudsperson for Protection against Harassment of Women, Punjab.
JWT: What Pakistan must do to empower the women of the country?
MP: I think a number of steps by the Punjab government are a whiff of fresh air in this regard. Establishment of the office of Ombudsperson Punjab is one instance and, you know, there is always room for improvement but one thing that must be done at the earliest is to change the collective conscience and thinking of Pakistan’s patriarchal society. This is inevitable and through this effort only, we can empower our women and give them their due constitutional rights. Only the making of law by the legislature and their implementation by the executive is not sufficient. Unless society supports these efforts, and we change the mentality of people through education by improving our curriculum and training of teachers, this cherished dream shall remain elusive.
JWT: Recently, the cases of torture on maids, especially the girls, have soared quite alarmingly. What the victims should do to get justice and ensuring that the culprits are punished befittingly.
MP: I agree that the women workers, employed at homes or offices, are facing sexual harassment. I also admit that cases of abuse of and torture on such women have soared. But, regrettably, sexual harassment cases are least reported by the victims due to social taboos as well as trust deficit. However, we have established provincial liaison offices at Sargodha, Rawalpindi and Multan, besides Lahore central office. Such victims may contact any of these offices to lodge complaints and get their grievances redressed. They can also send us their complaints by post or through e-mail.
JWT: What are your future plans to make this institution more effective?
MP: I think it is my responsibility to provide protection to women workers as per the mandate given to me by the Women Harassment Act-2012 which prescribes my role as semi-judicial.
We have complains regarding the exploitation of women in jails, especially that of the female inmates who are subjected to mental torture and other kind of exploitation. I would, shortly, visit all jails across the province to ascertain factual position and resolve problems faced by women during imprisonment.