Workplace harassment: ‘Stop blaming the victim’

Working Women’s Helpline holds orientation on new anti-harassment laws.

Saleha Rauf May 06, 2011


Sexual harassment at the workplace is a crime like any other and people need to stop questioning the victim’s role in the offence, the audience was told at an orientation on recently passed anti-harassment laws on Thursday.

“When there is a robbery people don’t ask whether the victim encouraged the robbers by carrying a lot of money or by not taking adequate security measures, because everybody thinks of robbery as a crime. Unfortunately, this is not so with sexual harassment,” said Saleha Javed of Working Women’s Helpline, a non-governmental organisation that encourages women to enter the workforce and counsels victims of harassment.

Javed sought to debunk the common perception that sexual harassment is inevitable when men and women work together. She said that instead of blaming the victim, people should concentrate on improving the workplace environment.

Javed introduced character sketches at the presentation that she said had been developed after research into the behaviour of men who harass women. One character was Mogambo Blackmailer, who harasses women and blackmails them.

Keecher Teacher is a character that preys on his students. Javed mentioned Punjab University and Government College University professors who have been accused of raping female students. is an Internet predator that specialises in chatting with unsuspecting women online, unearthing their secrets and then using them against them. Javed said there were also some women who invited harassment. The Dukhayari Madhobala is a character that exaggerates her weaknesses and problems to exploit the male urge to help damsels in distress.

After the presentation a documentary titled Hamara Taqaddus was screened in which victims of harassment shared their experience of trying to pursue legal remedy. Experts on the subject then gave their views on the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010.

The speakers said all organisations must implement the law and educate their employees about it. Under the act, an organisation getting a complaint of harassment must issue a notice to the accused. If the accused does not respond within 10 days, he or she is assumed to have accepted guilt. If he defends himself, an inquiry team must find the facts of the case within 30 days. The accused can be punished by dismissal or a pay cut. If the victim is not satisfied with the decision, she/he can file an appeal with the ombudsperson, who must decide the appeal within 45 days.

Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf vice president Shahid Zulfiqar said laws promising to protect women from sexual harassment were useless unless they were implemented, and this required greater political engagement.

“Almost 99% of women have been victims of sexual harassment,” said Farooq Tariq of the Labour Party Pakistan. “This issue cannot be addressed in isolation. There is a dire need to eradicate religious extremism from our society. We need to modify society’s behaviour through education.”

Dr Humala S Khalid, dean of humanities and Islamic and Oriental learning at Lahore College for Women University, spoke about the history of anti-harassment laws.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2011.


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