Sexual Harassment – Abuse Of Authority At Workplace
Gender inequality is structural and deeply entrenched in the patriarchal mindset. According to research conducted by various NGOs in Pakistan, a whopping 90% working woman face sexual harassment in various forms. In most of these cases, the oppressor takes advantage of women’s helplessness, vulnerability and the fact that they don’t raise their voices.
Pakistan was ranked the second worst country for gender disparity and economic participation. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2017, it was ranked at 143 out of 144 countries, with a score of 0.546. Pakistan has continued to rank lowest in the Global Gender Gap Report for many years since the report’s inception in 2006.
Th most common forms of workplace harassment in Pakistan include, but are not limited to, sexually suggestive gaze, unnecessary touching, bullying/verbal harassment, sharing of inappropriate content (text, images and videos) or threats.
Despite the promulgation of Protection Against Harassment of Women At The Workplace Act, 2010 and with more than 300 organizations in Pakistan having adopted it, studies have shown that most of the working women are unaware of the Act or the protection that it affords.
The Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act (PAHWA) 2010 defines harassment as the following:
“Any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature, or sexually demeaning attitudes, causing interference with work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply with such a request or is made a condition for employment.”
Ever since the Act has come into force (in 2010), only 79 women have filed complaints to the Ombudsperson in Punjab against their male colleagues. As far as statistics are concerned, 44 complaints have been resolved, 35 are under process and 14 accused have been convicted, while eight others have been given warnings. Almost 19 cases have been withdrawn as complainants agreed to settle/compromise. Three complainants did not peruse their cases that were then defiled according to the process.
The data of the Sindh Ombudsperson regarding Protection Against Harassment of Women At The Workplace shows that 134 cases were registered in 2016, and most of them have been addressed. Since its establishment in July 2012, the Ombudsperson has received 292 complaints of harassment out of which 251 been addressed and 41 are under process.
There is a general lack of lack of comprehensive organizational policies on workplace harassment and as a result pervert elements within the organization, be it public or private, go unpunished. The penalty for non-compliance is also nominal, for example, if a company does not obey the law, there can be a penalty of PKR 50,000 to PKR 10,000 at the most. Many private and public organizations have not made inquiry committees within their offices, despite them being mandatory under the law.
Sexual harassment is a multi-layered issue. Firstly, women endeavor to hide harassment due to fear of ‘shame’ associated with the act along with cultural and social restraints. Secondly, once they decide to take action, there is a lack of redress at organizational and government levels. Finally, once they report the issue, they face victimization.
For illustration, one can look at the example of two former female employees of Pakistan Television (PTV) who accused the managing director of harassment. Even though a committee was formed to probe the matter as provided under PAHWA, the women were harassed further and forced to resign. The two PTV journalists, Tanzeela Mazhar and Yashfeen Jamal had complained in January 2017 about harassment against MD PTV Agha Masood Shorish. The women had shared their experience of workplace sexual harassment on social media and other TV channels. But the victory did not come easy as he was only sacked when his despicable actions had been highlighted relentlessly by Tanzeela Mazhar, who had to suffer ‘slut’ shaming by social media trolls.
A female member of the National Assembly, Ayesha Gulalai was called out for complaining about sexual harassment against Pakistan’s leading political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s chief, Imran Khan. The allegations were made in August 2017 and were followed by a stream of abuse and threats directed against Gulalai online, with some even calling for acid attacks on the lawmaker for ‘defaming’ the PTI chief.
In October 2017, a female employee of the elite Islamabad Club accused a “powerful member” of the club’s management committee of sexually harassing her. The employee alleged that she was fired immediately after she refused to obey “immoral” orders from the alleged harasser.
In another case of victimization, a former goalkeeper of the women’s national hockey team accused Saeed Khan, the team’s head coach of sexual advances. An investigation committee formed to probe harassment allegations declared the claims as “false and unfounded.” The five-member committee’s report, submitted recently to the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), instead blamed Sadia of alleging harassment because she had been recently dropped from the team. The committee that investigated her allegations included at least one person who had refused from the outset to place any faith in Sadia’s statement, which raises the concern that the investigation may not have been impartial.
The reason behind the unrestrained lechery in the workplace is underpinned by the economic stability of the female employee. The thought of a woman being needy for her job, having low self-confidence, being less powerful and employed at a junior work position makes the perpetrator confident of his actions not ending up at the complaint office. The perpetrators of sexual harassment take advantage of their high authoritative positions and find it okay to do as they want. The perpetrator remains untouched and perpetuates similar harassing behavior towards his new prey.
The best tools to eliminate sexual harassment are education, training and prevention. Women should be given the training to deal with such situations. There should be a safe working environment and strict internal policies. The state must develop a comprehensive manual to create awareness of the anti-harassment law and how women can take the lead in ensuring that their rights are protected. At the same time, women’s rights should be implemented practically by the Government of Pakistan.
There is also an urgent need to scrutinize disturbing factors at the workplace for Pakistani women. The provincial Ombudsperson should review the law in detail and identify the loopholes present in the law. Moreover, the implementation of the law should be ensured by strengthening checks and monitoring mechanisms in both public and private organizations.
Another step to discourage gender bias would be to encourage women participation in sports, as this will help boost confidence in women and assert their individuality.
Eliminating sexual harassment entails that men learn to view women as equals and not their subordinates. To create harmony between the sexes, an open dialogue should be initiated within the society to set out clear limitations of what is decency and what kind of attitude will not be tolerated.
Moreover, a stricter implementation of anti-harassment laws and policies should be ensured to discourage the rampant perversion. Ensuring a safe working environment for women is in the best interests of both public and private organizations as women have proven their mettle in all professions that have previously been dominated by men, and in many instances have proven to outclass men. When it comes to recognition, sadly women’s contributions are often ignored and a man is often given the accolades instead. This discrimination and prejudice must end. The society must learn to recognize its heroes, or ‘sheroes’ and give credit where it is due.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which she might be associated.
To report workplace harassment, visit our website mohtasib.pk and automatically file a complaint for free.