Stand Against Harassment
Harassment is a word we hear often and typically disregard it as if it is insignificant, despite of the fact that this word is often associated with stories of trepidation and crime. Being a woman and especially a working professional, I am aware of what harassment, and sexual harassment, means, as well as what women are being confronted with in their everyday lives. Harassment literally denotes aggressive pressure or intimidation. Under the Pakistani law harassment, it is defined as:
“The act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group, including threats and demands. The purposes may vary,including racial prejudice, personal malice, an attempt to force someone to quit a job or grant sexual favors, apply illegal pressure to collect a bill, or merely gain sadistic pleasure from making someone fearful or anxious. Such activities may be the basis for a lawsuit if due to discrimination based on race or sex, a violation on the statutory limitations on collection agencies, involve revenge by an ex spouse, or be shown to be a form of blackmail (“I’ll stop bothering you, if you’ll go to bed with me”).
We are living in a century where we have freedom to interact with the inverse sex. At work or educational institutions, we usually observe friendly relations between the associates and class fellows without any segregation. This companionship may sometimes transform into a romantic relation; for a few people, it may even result in a long term commitment; for some it may not work out, while for most, these relationships entail suffering from blackmail or sexual harassment. Most women endure such pain because of the fact that they are not aware of their rights and protection that law provides for them. Other women, however, choose to stay quiet and bear such traumatic harassment because they think such complains will affect their families’ prestige and cause them disgrace in society. I believe that now is the time to resist such extortion provocation against women.
In Pakistan, The Protection against Harassment of Women At Workplace Act 2010 was passed and implemented on 9th March 2010. This act seeks to provide protection to women at their workplace against any harassment. Harassment defined under the act as,
“Harassment means 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 to such a request or is made a condition for employment”
Each organization is directed to constitute an inquiry committee, consisting of 3 members, out of which one member has to be a woman. On March 30th 2012, a letter issued by the Federal Ombudsperson, asked all government and private sector companies to display the code of conduct for protection of women against sexual harassment inside the offices and submit the implementation report within a fortnight. So, if a woman is working in an organization where she doesn’t find the code of conduct being practiced, she has all the rights to question and make a complaint against the organization.
The procedure to make a complaint against such harassment is very simple. The victim files a complaint against the accused before the inquiry committee and the inquiry committee then, within 3 days of written complaint, shall communicate with the accused. The accused is directed to submit a written defense within 7 days and the inquiry committee then, examines the evidence and cross examines the witnesses presented at the part of both parties. In the Act, there are minor and major penalties for the accused, if found guilty. The Act also safeguards parties if either of the parties are not satisfied, giving the option to file an appeal before the Ombudsperson. In case anyone is aggrieved by a decision of the ombudsperson, he or she can make a representation to president and governor within 30 days of the decision. Thus, this protection act provides women with complete protection against any sexual harassment or blackmailing. No one is allowed to extort or harass a woman at any expense, despite how friendly of a relation she holds with her partner, relative, classmates or colleagues.
Women should not blame themselves, nor think that speaking out about being harassed will disrespect them. We are humans, and as social creatures who are in constant interaction with the outer world, we usually meet new people, trust them and become friends with them. Women ought to think about their rights and the laws that shield them from such incidents.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which she might be associated.