This paper endeavors to explore sexual harassment encountered by women leaders in Pakistani academia. An in-depth interview method was used to gain insight from women academic administrators working in coeducational universities in two cities of Pakistan. The interviews were analyzed using Foucauldian discourse analysis. The findings highlight that women leaders were sexually harassed by men at positions of power as well as co-workers and subordinates. The acts of harassment were expressed mostly through the use of inappropriate language such as jokes, demeaning comments and sexual remarks, undue offers of promotion for exchange of favors, and use of traditional words instead of their official titles as in the case of men. The subordinates often took advantage of their old age to defy women’s positions of power. Young and single women were more likely to experience sexual harassment and were considered ‘available.’ The participants perceived such acts as a means of control through which men strengthen the gender-based power relations in the academia. The fact that women are discouraged to report acts of harassment shows that the dominant masculine discourses legitimize and defend the acts of male harassment at the workplace. Since women are aware of this normalization of harassment, they engaged in culturally appropriate strategies to cope with the violence such as keeping their distance, and through loud and harsh tones in response. The paper recommends the need for non-hierarchical, consultative, and gender-sensitive approaches in universities to combat sexual harassment and increase the representation of women at top leadership positions.

Note on the Author

Aisha Bhatti (Ph.D.) works as an Assistant Professor at Rawalpindi Women University, Pakistan. Her research interests include gender and leadership, gender and health, phenomenology, and discourse analysis. She can be reached at: absoc@f.rwu.edu.pk ; Rabia Ali (Ph.D.) (Corresponding Author) works as Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the International Islamic University Islamabad. She specializes in Sociology of Gender and some of her research interests include women’s empowerment, gender discrimination at work and leadership. She can be reached at rabia.gul@iiu.edu.pk.