Harassment Of Women At Workplace And Beyond
Women in Pakistan often feel socially insecure and uncomfortable outside the privacy of their homes. This is mainly due to the sexual harassment that they are victims of. Such victimization not only thrives on streets and bazaars, but the offices in our society are also full of salacious men who create an uncomfortable environment for their fellow female employees. Frequently these women become prey to inappropriate gazes, the casual groping, the unwanted messages and the invitations to meet for lunch or dinner with the reward of promotion.
In most cases these out of line perversions go unreported because women have future employment to worry about in the extremely competitive work environment of Pakistan, their reputation in the society if the issue is promoted, and the lack of a guarantee of reparation. Hence, many women continue to resign to their fate as victims of harassment.
Recently, a leading female cricket player committed suicide when her complaint against sexual harassment was not taken seriously and instead she was sued for defamation by the harasser. This illustrates that there is no escape available in our society and instead, quite paradoxically, the harassed are treated as the culpable.
There have been several laws passed in Pakistan as safeguards against the harassment of women. The Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010, defines harassment as “any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours 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”.
This Act required for the code of conduct to be observed at the workplace. There are also detailed requirements set out in the Act for the establishment of an investigative committee, ombudspersons, etc. who have the authority to resolve the issues arising under said legislation.
This was seen as progressive legislation in Pakistan that would eventually change the culture of the workplace where harassment of women would be curbed by stringent pieces of legislation.
Furthermore, Section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code (1860) recognises harassment occurring in “public place, including, but not limited to, markets, public transport, streets or parks, or it might occur in private places including, but not limited to work places, private gatherings, or homes”. Hence, providing legal protection to women against harassment outside of the workplace.
However, even with all these laws in place not much has changed. Harassment is still prevalent due to the lack of implementation on the part of authorities mandated with ensuring the effectiveness of the law.
Pakistani women still find themselves to be socially inferior even in today’s advanced society. They do not know where to register the complaint, how effective registering will be, or how they need to protect themselves if there is no authority available. As in the end the harasser, usually a man, remains untouched and the harassed woman faces all the public humiliation and bashing from the society.
Recently, The Commons Court, which is a platform that seeks to bring together members of the civil society and public at large to discuss and analyze socio-political issues and subsequently work on initiatives to resolve them, conducted a ‘Conference Against the Harassment of Women’ where a panel of experts discussed this prevalent issue in order to create awareness and try to overcome it.
The panel of experts included Bushra Khaliq, the Executive Director at ‘Women in Struggle for Empowerment’, who highlighted the importance of the 2010 legislation and its effectiveness in providing a remedy to women. Moreover, she pointed towards these issues being resolved through the creation of awareness. Women should be aware of the legislative authorities available, they must complain to the ombudsperson, who will call for an enquiry of the complaint, and eventually it will be forwarded to the Governor’s office. The women should maintain a record of such acts, which could be used to support the complaint. This may be in the form of a diary or even by sending an email to the harasser stating what they did.
Gul Bukhari, an active human rights worker and women rights activist, focused on the need for gender sensitization to improve the culture of the workplace. The misogyny embedded in Pakistan has two forms, one sees sexual harassment as a sign that women should not be in the workplace at all, the other labeling itself as liberal wrongfully imagines to have a licence to harass. Gender sensitization training should be given to both the old and new employees in order to overcome such misogyny. In order to improve the implementation of legislation, the government must require companies to certify the policies required. Moreover, the government should introduce a gender sensitization course in the syllabi of schools and colleges. A culture with gender sensitization will not face the problem of harassment. Gul Bukhari’s views illustrated that law alone cannot change society, there need to be other measures taken alongside legislation in order to support it and to ‘cure the disease’.
A panel of experts can help a layperson realise the sheer gravity and magnitude of the situation and help them overcome it. Issues such as sexual harassment require awareness to be created as well as collaborations between different arms of the civil society in order to be eliminated from society. Hence, there is a need for further dialogues to be conducted in order to analyse the socio-political issues and to take initiatives to resolve them.
This article was previously published in Qanoon by NILS and is being republished here with permission.
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.