PESHAWAR: Screaming for help, 30-year-old Naila Bibi* tried to fend off the sexual predator in her room. The man finally made a run for it when her cries could be heard throughout the FC Block of Lady Reading Hospital (LRH).
Narrating her harrowing tale, Naila recalled it was August 20, 2014, and she was on night duty. “I asked the ward orderly, Atta, to bring me some food and gave him money.” She toldThe Express Tribune, “He later entered the room and tried to sexually harass me.” The nurse remembered it was only after she raised a hue and cry that the orderly left.
“I rushed to the office of the FC Block in charge, but he was not in at the time. When I returned to my room, the orderly entered again and started cursing at me,” said Naila.
“I started crying again and was heard by some student nurses who rushed to my room. That is when he finally disappeared,” she remembered.
Naila said she wrote a complaint to the LRH medical officer, demanding action against the accused individual.
One of many
However, hers is not the only story of sexual harassment. According to the District Nurses Association, Peshawar, eight cases were reported over the last three months. The data showed three of them were from the LRH.
Such incidents not only affected the performance of nurses, but also forced them to reconsider their careers. In the months of June, July and August, apart from those at LRH, three incidents were reported from Khyber Teaching Hospital and two from Hayatabad Medical Complex.
A senior nurse, requesting anonymity, said her peers played a pivotal role in patient treatment and proper health care cannot be provided without their contribution. She added these professionals, who battle to save lives on a daily basis, were targeted not only by doctors and co-workers, but also patients.
The senior health worker said increasing cases of harassment forced many to leave their jobs. She underlined a large number of them belonged to underprivileged backgrounds and were the only source of income for their families.
“The primary objective of the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010 was to create a safe working environment for women, but it is yet to be implemented in our province,” said Peshawar Nurses Association President Farrukh Jalil.
He said sexual harassment had become routine at hospitals and the culprits get away scot free. Jalil added despite several complaints to the K-P health minister and other senior officials, including administrative staff of the hospitals concerned, the association was yet to receive a positive response. The only choice left for nurses was to take to the streets for their rights and boycott duties, he said.
The association president stressed nurses had been fighting for their rights for several years and repeatedly met health ministers of previous governments. However, he believed authorities only seemed interested in fulfilling the demands of doctors and depriving nurses of their rights.
Jalil added according to international standards, one nurse should care for 10 patients, but in Pakistan each one of these medical professionals was looking after 2,000 people or more at hospitals. The issue of vacant posts for nurses was brought to the attention of the health minister on a number of occasions, but there remained an eerie silence over the issue, said the association’s president.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Special Secretary Health Akbar Khan said a committee had been formed in every department of health institutions under the Protection against Harassment of Women Act. He added sexual harassment cases were sent to the relevant departments and authorities of the institutes for further investigation and action against the offenders.
*Name changed to protect identity