In their enthusiasm for raising an outcry against injustice, parliamentarians often overlook existing laws which provide specific legal cover.
Musarrat Hilali, the first federal ombusdwoman to provide a legal forum to women to lodge complains about sexual harassment, said provincial ministers who lashed out at female parliamentarians during the infamous two-day Punjab Assembly session on June 20-21 should be prosecuted in her court.
Voicing concerns over the shoe-throwing, abusive assembly session, Hilali said the female parliamentarians in question should have sought cover under the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010.
However, Samina Khawar Hayat, Sajida Mir and Khadija Umar Farooqi chose to register a criminal case against Sheikh Alauddin and Zulfiqar Dhillon with the Qila Gujar Singh Police Station, Lahore, instead.
Hilali said that under the relevant act, she is empowered to impose an “unlimited amount of fine” if the accused are proven guilty. “I am surprised the women lawmakers are not aware of the federal ombudsman’s court, which is established to protect the sanctity of working women and is functioning in Islamabad under an act of parliament.”
“It is sheer ignorance on the part of rights activists and provincial legislators who are not aware of existing laws,” she said, referring to all those in Sindh and Punjab who protested against the mistreatment of women in the Punjab Assembly session.
Some Sindh Assembly members also urged Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to take suo moto notice of the matter. Hilali lamented that the legislators should have advised the aggrieved MPAs to approach her court. The spar erupted when members of the treasury bench, particularly Dhillon, used abusive and vulgar retorts to counter the sloganeering by some women parliamentarians in the opposition bench. The episode turned uglier as the women started hurling shoes to get even.
MPA Sheikh Alauddin was also accused of using inappropriate language with PML-Q’s Seemal Kamran. Samina Khawar tried to approach the speaker’s dais, but members of the treasury bench intercepted her and one MPA grabbed a chair for intimidation. Khadija Farooqi was even said to have been slapped by women from the treasury bench.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2012.
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