A closer look at sexual harassment laws

Published: May 29, 2012
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The writer recently completed her three year term as a member of the 
National Commission on the Status of Women and as the chairperson of the anti sexual harassment watch committee

The writer recently completed her three year term as a member of the National Commission on the Status of Women and as the chairperson of the anti sexual harassment watch committee

Implementation has been one of the weakest links when it comes to our country’s law enforcement. This limitation in our legal structure was seen as a challenge by the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) when it came to the sexual harassment laws signed by the president in March 2010. The prime minister authorised the NCSW to establish an Implementation Watch Committee, under his authority, to ensure that all organisations — government, private sector and NGOs — adhered to both the letter and spirit of the new law.

The Implementation Watch Committee’s final report was released recently to all stakeholders, including parliamentarians. The report states that over a 1,000 sexual harassment cases have been addressed by the inquiry committees formed by organisations across the country. These include universities, government agencies and private sector institutions such as hotels, media groups, factories, large businesses and banks. Over 50 cases were lodged directly with the police under section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), including cases of sexual harassment in public, in offices and in homes, the latter mostly involving harassment by fathers-in-law. Over 50 cases were filed with the federal ombudsperson, either directly or on appeal after an unsatisfactory decision by a local inquiry committee.

In our country, it can often take two to five years to get the rules of a law drafted and passed. In the case of the sexual harassment law, the rules were passed and notified within eight months. Within a year, most federal government departments and several provincial departments had set up their inquiry committees and oriented their staff to the issue of sexual harassment. In the second year, almost all regulatory bodies, like the Auditor General, the State Bank of Pakistan, the Pemra and the NDMA, had sent out instructions to their member organisations to comply with the law.

Despite the rapid institutionalisation of the law, the very fact that women have made use of these rules has been viewed by the media as evidence that the laws are not working. To the contrary, this should be seen as a success indicator. The Implementation Watch Committee report states that we should expect the number of complaints of sexual harassment to continue to increase at an alarming rate now that the law has legitimised women’s right to complain against unwanted behaviour. That is the success of the law.

Unfortunately, the media supported the struggle as long as it was highlighting a problem. After the laws were passed and the government, with the help of the private sector began to resolve the issue, we have only seen criticism from the media. The electronic media, in particular, continues to focus on what has not yet been resolved, generating disillusionment rather than educating people about the potential value of the new laws. The major cases that set the precedents in holding the culprits accountable hardly got any media attention, even when strong resolve was shown in the face of heavy pressure to quash complaints against powerful harassers.

Unfortunately, the implementation of section 509 of the PPC has not seen full implementation. A few senior officials have shown their support but, in general, the police, lawyers and the judiciary are yet to address the issue seriously.

Nevertheless, the implementation of these laws against sexual harassment represents part of a historic shift in many aspects of our society. These laws established a model for partnership in the design and implementation of public policy. Gone are the days when women saw protests with placards in the streets as the only outlet for their frustrations. Women are coming out in public in increasing numbers and will not quietly go back behind the walls of their homes. Our society has been presented with the opportunity to turn women into useful, productive citizens of equal value as men.

Unfortunately, some important members of our society continue to resist this evolution of Pakistan into a modern nation, but their attempts will prove as viable as trying to hold a lid on the top of a volcano.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • adnan khan
    May 29, 2012 - 9:46PM

    Sadly,there is no concept of sexual harassment as a crime in our society.Our public thinks that since a woman has stepped out of her house to work,it is their right to harass her & make her life miserable.To start the cure,first one has to realise that a disease exists,our male population doesn’t regard sexual harassment as a crime,they regard it as one of their fringe benefits in addition to their salaries.The misogyny present in our population is quite shocking.

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  • Sane
    May 29, 2012 - 10:00PM

    There are more crime in west compare to pakistan.

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  • Sane
    May 29, 2012 - 10:35PM

    @adnan khan: We want islamic society and not secular one.

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  • Ejaaz
    May 29, 2012 - 10:45PM

    Yes adnan, Sane is absolutely correct. And I think he means that, a woman has no business outside her house to work, since I do not see what else could he see in your post that would imply that you were wanting a secular society.

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  • Meekal Ahmed
    May 30, 2012 - 12:48AM

    Are the persons who “investigate” reports of harrassment trained? In what field?

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  • sid
    May 30, 2012 - 8:35AM

    i absolutely agree with adnan khan, our culture has tremendously twisted the true religious teachings…..it is a main-dominated society hence they will do everything ‘Islamic’ that will benefit them only :)

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  • sid
    May 30, 2012 - 9:00AM

    and what disgusts me the most is the plain, ignorat attitude of men –> “women shud stay in the house”, if a woman has to go out because there is no mehram to accompany her, for example she needs to go out to get medication for her parents, ailing husband etc etc there could be so many reasons, then what, she goes out, and gets harrased by sexual predators sitting at every corner of the street, assuming that since she got out of her house she is not shareef, lets just harrass her, pathetic pathetic attitude, im not implying that all men are the same, but we have to agree that most of the pakistani women have been harrassed in Pakistan, by perverted comments, behaviour etc We need to change our attitude towards women, we have to give RESPECT, next time you see a woman working or shopping, consider the fact that she may be a DECENT and SHAREEF aurat, and in Islam, men need to lower their gazes and be respectful to women regardless of their faith, appearance and so on …

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  • Ejaaz
    May 30, 2012 - 11:02AM

    @Sid,

    You really should look up the meaning of the word from which the word “awrat” is derived. That will illuminate for you the reason for the attitude embedded towards women. Here start at:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Awrat

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  • Noor
    May 30, 2012 - 12:03PM

    @sid:
    Very Right!

    Islam gives more rights to women than any other religion.

    Barring a few situations, i.e, not being alone with non-mehram, un-islamic dressing, speaking in alluring voice or dialogue, Islam allows anything she wants to do.

    Even Mother of Believers took up trade.

    The problem arises when we don’t take both genders as equal, but the same and want them to behave in the same manner.

    How can a woman ignore her feminism and remain normal?

    We need to treat other women like we would like our sisters & daughters be treated.

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  • Sid
    May 30, 2012 - 12:42PM

    @ejaz that clearly doesn’t make sense to me,
    So a woman who doesn’t do hijab deserves to be
    Sexually harrased?? Or wat u mean to say is that if a
    Woman goes out without hijab and get assaulted, noone
    Shud do anything about it? Wow, we are talking about basic
    Human rights here… It’s about creating a safe
    Environment for our kids and women… Sadly, even Putting a tent
    Around her doesn’t win her any respect in the “Islamic”
    State of Pakistan :(

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  • iamtahir
    May 30, 2012 - 6:07PM

    Sexual harassment is ver common in offices, homes and public places but women are not aware of what now they have the legal power. Fouzia Saeed rightly pointed out that police, lawyers and the judiciary are yet to address the issue seriously. For this we do hope that media will play its role not only to criticize the weaknesses of implementation of laws but to highlight the real incidents.

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  • Faiz Ahmed
    May 30, 2012 - 7:56PM

    I feel for all women in Pakistan that they don’t get liberty and as well as they don’t have their freedom.
    Anyone who feels that women are not equal to men should be hanged without any prosecution what so ever

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  • Tofique
    May 30, 2012 - 8:27PM

    i think most women r pathetic today… y do they dress so exotic that men gets attract towards her when they go out…”its in men’s nature to get attracted to women easily “… my point is Women shud cover all her body as Islam tells her to do… mostly i dunt blame men but the way the women r using this Law is pathetic…mostly, women use men and then blackmail them.. if men obey her then it ok… and if not they go for Law suit against them.. we shud get to the bottom of this social issue… and i think this issue is “Late Marriages”… u dunt come across any case in which age of both men and women r below 20… thing is that all men and women shud get married before reaching the age25… i m sure this problem will be resolved through this method…

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  • leila rage
    May 30, 2012 - 9:13PM

    Tofique: haha. Very amusing comment. If its in men’s “nature” to get attracted to women easily, that’s not the woman’s problem. The man should learn to CONTROL his nature, why should the woman bear the burden of someone else’s perverted nature? Men need to learn self-control and basic tameez (politeness). And how are women “using this law”? By asking to be treated as human beings, and being asked to be respected as such? I don’t see why thats a problem for you. And sadly you seem to live in a deluded world, because in the REAL pakistan that we pakistani women live in, women are USED by men most of the time, not the other way around.
    Also, your late marriage solution is very funny. Basically you are saying that all men are uncontrollable lustful beasts and the only way to stop them from being perverts is to get them married so they can indulge in their lust. Late marriage is not the problem. The problem is with our culture and they way our men are raised and what they are taught by their parents/family.

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  • Disappointed!
    May 31, 2012 - 2:23AM

    I hope some day men like mr toufeeq will
    put their senseless man ego aside and think
    of women as human beings and not just mere objects
    Of desire, for now I can shake my head in
    Disappointment …

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  • Maan sindhi ahyan
    May 31, 2012 - 4:02AM

    Oh Allah! Show us the Truth (As).
    Truth & Give us the Ability .
    to folllow it and Show us The Falsehood(As).
    Falsehood & Give us the Ability to Avoid it.
    Ameen.

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  • Zohair
    Jun 1, 2012 - 4:42PM

    @Sane:
    Speak for yourself. I want a secular society.

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  • murtaza
    Jun 4, 2012 - 3:48PM

    @Sane:
    yes we should increase the number to compete the west ,after all they are our parameters .

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