The Balochistan Assembly recently passed the Protection of Women from Harassment at Workplace 2016. Other bills in the pipeline include the Protection of Women from Acid Attacks and Protection of Women from Domestic Violence.
MPA Dr Shama Ishaq, who chairs the provincial assembly’s Standing Committee on Social Welfare, Women Development and Youth Affairs, is one of the most vocal advocates of women’s rights in the provincial legislature.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Dr Ishaq said women in the province have been suffering at their workplaces for decades, adding that the bill in question will help put an end to the violence and brutality they are subjected to. “In the next phase, the provincial government will introduce a helpline for women facing violence,” she added.
Director of the Women Development Department, Salma Qureshi shared that the provincial government drafted the Women Harassment at Work Places Bill in 2011 and it was finally passed in January this year, becoming an act following the governor’s signature.
“The government came up with the domestic violence bill in 2014 and is working on the rules,” said Qureshi, adding the government is also deliberating over bills on acid attacks and child marriages.
Qureshi said the Balochistan government is making a professional commission for the implementation of these bills in the province’s 32 districts. She added the committee will comprise 25 members of 19-grade officers, with a woman as its chairperson. “We have trained 200 nurses regarding the harassment bill and are making an awareness brochure for it as well.”
There are, however, limitations. Dr Jawahir Habib, who works for an international organisation, said they are still waiting to know what the bill entails, stressing that the government should initiate an awareness campaign to inform the public, particularly working women. “We have seen many incidents where women are being harassed at workplaces, and they need to know their rights,” she claimed.
On the other hand, the legislature also has to deal with the opposition benches, occupied by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), a vehement critic of the domestic violence and child marriage bills.
“The provincial assembly is introducing these bills through committees [which is why] we are boycotting committee meetings,” said MPA Shahida Rauf, who added she did not know what the Women Harassment at Workplaces bill contained.
Yet, there are a few determined MPAs like Dr Ruqayya Hashmi who have vowed to support every move to shield women against physical and mental humiliation. “I will throw my weight behind all the bills for the protection of women in this highly patriarchal society.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2016.