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ISLAMABAD: For the first time in history, Pakistan’s Hajj mission will have no female Hajj assistant to help women pilgrims perform Hajj in Makkah, a private TV channel reported on Wednesday.
The report said that every year, some officials, including women, from the religious affairs ministry accompany the pilgrims to provide guidance and assistance and respond to emergency situations.
This year more than 80,000 pilgrims from Pakistan would perform Hajj including over 8000 women.
However, Federal Minister of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Maulana Abdul Shakoor has decided not to send women officials with the pilgrims.
The women officers, who were stopped from accompanying the pilgrims have written a letter to Federal Ombudsperson for Protection against Harassment Kashmala Tariq and called the minister’s decision “misogynistic” and “discriminatory”.
In the letter, the women officials claimed they have been subjected to gender discrimination on the directions of the minister who formulated a policy “to ban females from performing Hajj duties.” The report added.
“The illogical ground of this policy is depriving us of our constitutional right of equality, and … resulted in discrimination [and] caused ridicule to all women officers and officials of the ministry,” reads the letter bearing the signature of seven officials.
The officials said Article 7(A)(ii) of Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2022 defines harassment as: “discrimination on basis of gender, which may or may not be sexual in nature, but which may embody discriminatory and prejudicial mindset or notion, resulting in discriminatory behavior on basis of gender against the complainant.”
The officials also complained of the “lack of resistance” demonstrated by the secretary who acts as the administrative head of the ministry.
They added that under the ministry’s Rule of Business, 1973, the secretary is usually bound to implement the minister’s decision. However, if they feel the decision could cause “injustice or undue hardship,” they may ask the minister to reconsider it. In case the minister persists with the decision, the secretary can request the minister to refer the case to the prime minister.
“If the case is not referred to the PM, the secretary shall submit it directly to the prime minister with observations of the Minister-in-Charge,” according to the rules.
However, in this case, the matter was referred to the prime minister’s office which was directed to persist with the minister’s decision.
The women officials said the “competent authorities” in the ministry have surrendered to the “radical mindset” of the minister.