Trigger Warning: The content of this article talks about sexual harassment, sexual abuse, assault, and trauma.
If you’ve been active on social media for the past week or so, there is no doubt that you’ve seen the hashtag #TimesUp at least once on your newsfeed. A movement now being led by students, Time’s Up aimed to highlight a monumental issue which has been thrown under the rug for far too long: sexual harassment.
Students shared incidents of sexual harassment perpetrated by their fellow classmates and even by their teachers – all in an educational setting.
It all began when an ex-student of Cedar College outed one of her classmates for harassing her. Multiple other girls came out in her support and shared their experiences of being either harassed by the same guy, or by various others in their respective schools.
Soon, many students started sharing their incidents. Additionally, a subsequent amount of people started to narrate their stories anonymously via their friend’s profiles.
Therefore a couple of high-schoolers from Karachi got together to start a page called Times Up. They posted stories from across the nation, shaking everyone to the core.
It was surprising for many people to see how various individuals were being accused of harassing people on multiple occasions. Scores of narratives were shared by not just women, but countless men who faced the brutality at the hands of their teachers or other fellow students.
The movement went ahead to call for a nation-wide institutional policy reform. Schools were asked to include anti-harassment and anti-abuse clauses to their disciplinary and conduct policies.
The students also asked that the accused should face appropriate repercussions for their deeds and the victims should not be ignored the way the have been for all this time. During all of this time, many of the accused also deleted their social media profiles so as to escape from all of the backlash that followed.
Although the outcry stemmed from Karachi, it quickly went on to include Islamabad.
Two students shared their accounts regarding a famous Biology instructor who taught at their academy.
While many students chose to stay anonymous, there were plenty who spoke up using their own profiles and called their harassers out openly.
Among these was Esha, an ex-student of the Defence Authority Public School (DAPS) Karachi, who shared multiple narratives of the times she was harassed and bullied by her instructors and classmates.
We reached out to her to ask what she thought about the recent unfolding of events and why she chose to publicly address this issue head-on. Here’s what she said:
“There are two components of this campaign. One, to highlight how deeply rooted this normalization of violating consent is. We think harrowing instances of sexual assault and violence are perpetrated by psychopaths or monsters; outliers of society. Men (and some women) who are just evil, but that’s not the case.”
“They are part of the larger problem and that is how parents, educational institutes and all of society just looks the other way when boys harass girls or bully them or try to shame them.”
“These small acts that teachers, parents or adult laugh off as “light humor” or “boys will be boys” is what normalizes them to assume that they can simply bypass how women feel about being treated this way.”
“The other is to hold schools accountable. The fact that all of these instances are brushed under the rug because they damage schools’ reputations just further proves how this is all about admissions, fees, and rapport rather than actually protecting the most vulnerable in this whole scenario: the children. This is about demanding action.”
While anonymity provided courage to a lot of victims, there were people who criticized the power that anonymity came with.
Many had a concern about how people could misuse the power of anonymity and have been slandering people out of personal vendetta.
Daniyal, another student of Cedar, submitted fake narratives with fake evidence to somehow prove this.
His aim was to challenge the structure through which these cases were handled. Subsequently, he reported the page to the CIA and Cybercrime and believed that the legal system is the best way to go about the resolution of these cases.
Here’s what he had to say:
“It took me 3 days to take this action, I had 3 A levels during this time and I actually discussed this issue with several women including my own sister and others who’ve been victims etc. I just thought that if a system is wrong if you [sometimes] have to shoot someone just to save 9 others – so I reported it so that the legal officials can decide for themselves.”
“Also, [all of these students] they were blaming my school [Cedar College] for all this. I can assure you it’s probably the only school that cares about what kids think and it’s the first one to actually hold sessions regarding sexual harassment cases etc. It provides the friendliest environment all over Pakistan and these students take it for granted. Cedar is literally trying everything it can to make up for the fault and they realize that a mistake has been made. I just felt all of this smearing needed something to counter it.”
Daniyal’s actions received a mixed reaction. However, the following was found:
Reportedly, among the ~40 confessions posted on the Times Up Facebook page, 5 were allegedly proven to be false, 2 lacked credibility and 3 were posted to check the authenticity of screening on the page.
Anjum, an ex-student of IBA Karachi, shared his views in a Facebook post:
“Anonymity does more harm than good. It’s true that false allegations of abuse/assault in western countries are 2-6% but they have a proper awareness system and a mechanism to prevent and punish false allegations. Unfortunately, we have neither, and false allegations go as unpunished as perpetrators of abuse/assault.”
He, among many, suggest that an all accessible platform should be made which is inclusive of all members of the society and educational system including the teachers, students, principals, law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, doctors etc, who can offer genuine help and support, instead of having a platform that has been and can be misused to dangerous extents.
However, Omer – a student of Beaconhouse School System and an active supporter of the movement – provided another argument against the claims for false accusations:
“A lot of people have reservations regarding the movement because of the possibility of misuse to further an individual’s personal agenda. To an extent, the concern is genuine. However, to the people reading these stories, I hope you understand that your first reaction should be, to believe them. Why? Well, statistically speaking out of all the cases reported in the UK and the US, 4%, and 2-6% respectively, were found to be or suspected to be false. That figure declines significantly in our society due to fear of speaking up, victim blaming and the backward nature of our society. Hence, I hope you believe the people coming forward.”
There are many who believe that there will always be people who will try and stop real change. However, they believe in the power of social media. Moreover, they have faith in the bravery of the victims and the support of the volunteers. They believe that the movement will lead to change.
Mehvish, who’s also a student at Cedar, has been an active proponent of the movement since the beginning. Here’s what she had to say:
“For years women have been told to stay silent about harassment and they are blamed for whatever happens to them against their consent. With movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp we make sure these women have a voice and they can tell their stories without having to worry about log kya kaheinge.”
“Change is underway in my own institution, and it has only been possible because of the people who were brave enough to come forward.”
“My school acknowledges the power of such movements on social media. Just consider where we would be if we hadn’t shamed victims for years? Kyunke log tou kehtey rahenge, mujhey bataayen aap kia karenge? These movements have been immensely successful and are just firsts of many movements to come.”
“#TimesUp just made real change happen while you are still stuck at ‘what if a woman is lying and falsely accusing a guy?’ Where were you when our judicial system made it impossible for women to prove their claims? #TimesUp is the start of a revolution.”
“Change is here, change is now.”
While the debate around how a student-led movement can lack credibility at times continues, it can also be seen that the same student-led movement has been able to bring about a monumental change – in perception and in policy – across the nation. Following the accusations against faculty and students, Cedar College in Karachi, and SuperNova and Khaldunia in Islamabad have been among the firsts to take direct action against the accused and/or issue a new policy.
Cedar is actively making changes in the policy against harassment and abuse. Further investigation into the cases have started, too. Reportedly, the college has also hired lawyers to make sure that the cases are dealt with in the fairest way possible.
Cedar is a community committed to providing our students with a positive, healthy and safe academic environment in which…
Moreover, Khaldunia and Super Nova terminated the employment of the accused teacher Sarfaraz Qazi with immediate effect.
Khaldunia issued a statement to ensure the safety and well-being of their student body. However, SuperNova only announced the hiring of the new staff to replace the accused instructor. Whatever the approach, the change has been monumental and has set precedent for schools all across Pakistan.
KHS strongly believes in a safe and enriching environment for students under the guidance of a highly committed faculty…
Dear All,This is to inform you that Ms.Talat Feroze and Dr. Shabana Khan will teach Biology O/A level from the new session, starting from June 20, 2018 onwards. Regards,Admin,Super Nova Academy.
According to various sources, Nixor and The City School – PAF Chapter in Karachi have also said that they will be investigating the allegations and will actively seek to counter any future incidences. However, a formal statement hasn’t been issued as of yet.
There are multiple students who are still waiting for justice and countless others who are yet to come out with their stories. One of the few people who chose to share their narrative alongside Marium’s (and wishes to stay anonymous) said:
“I am proud of the fact that talking about sexual harassment isn’t a taboo anymore and we have given the strength, power and encouragement to people who have faced sexual harassment in different institutions or our society as a whole. It’s amazing how the courage of one person has led to it become an entire movement, it’s a revolution! Moreover, it’s also amazing to see that our society has been supportive. Instead of shaming the victim, they’re uniting to seek justice. I hope this encourages and provides strength to all those victims who have suffered and reminds every single person that sexual harassment isn’t okay and justice shall be sought no matter what.”
Social media has been able to bring about monumental changes in people’s lives. While the pros and cons of the same are debated throughout – movements like #TimesUp continue to show how the platform can be used to bring about a revolution.
The victims who have managed to come forward are incredibly brave and showed us how rampant the horrors of sexual harassment and abuse are in our society, and how best these issues can be countered.
All these students ask for a little bit more attention to the underlying system and a change in policy, while subsequently acknowledging the fact that predators can be found everywhere, even in spaces that we consider the safest. The movement calls for more vigilance and support, and it has been refreshing to see how the Pakistani society and the students have come together to fight an evil off so bravely.
What do you think about this movement? Are you with the victims? Let us know in the comments.
School Students In Karachi Are Exposing Sexual Harassers & Forcing Institutes To Take Action Against Harassment