Teacher sacked over sexual harassment film


Calls are growing for the reinstatement of Dr Rula Qawas who was dismissed from her post as dean of the languages faculty at the University of Jordan over a film complaining about sexual harassment on the campus.

Last year, students from Qawas's feminist theory class made a two-and-a-half-minute video (above). Filmed mainly on the campus, it shows a series of female students holding up handwritten signs that reflect the language of sexual harassment: "Where did you get that pair?", "Give me a ride", "Strawberry lips", "Juicy bottom", etc.

The project was supervised by Qawas and her name appears in the credits at the end of the video. 

In June this year – more than six months after the film was made – someone posted it on YouTube and a fuss broke out in the Jordanian media. Critics accused the filmmakers of "promoting vice and stripping the society of its values" according to al-Arabiya, and the university's vice-president, concerned about damage to the institution's reputation, demanded an explanation from Qawas.

In September, according to the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), Qawas learned from the newspapers that she had been removed from her post as dean, halfway through her appointed term.

The president of the university, Khleif al-Tarawneh, has claimed that her dismissal was "a purely administrative decision" but apart from the video there appear to have been no complaints about Qawas's abilities or performance. 

In a letter to Tarawneh, MESA says:

"In the absence of any documentation of poor performance of her administrative duties, and given the timing of Prof Qawas’s unseemly dismissal, we can only conclude that she was terminated as dean as a result of her work with the women in her class on the video on sexual harassment. 

"The University of Jordan has recently touted its intention to enter the ranks of the top 500 universities in the world. We respectfully submit that in order to do so, arbitrary dismissals such as that of Dean Qawas, as well as the systematic and unpunished sexual harassment of female students on the university campus, must come to an end. 

"We, therefore, call upon you to ensure that not only the norms of academic freedom, but also the basic human dignity of all students and faculty on the University of Jordan campus, will henceforth be respected and protected.

The Egyptian-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has also taken up her case, calling on the university to "return her to her job and stop any arbitrary practices against her". In addition, it urges the university "to seriously address the growing phenomenon of harassment in the campus, through open confrontation of the problem instead of burying their heads in the sand".

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 22 November 2012