Harassment at the workplace: Fear, inertia keep women’s protection law under wraps

Pakistani women, when faced with sexual harassment, are clueless about where to report and know nothing about the laws

Pakistani women, when faced with sexual harassment, are clueless about where to report and know nothing about the laws. DESIGN: SAMRA AAMIR


What does a student do at a crossroads when her two options are either to allow herself to be sexually harassed or to fail in her exams if she refuses to cooperate? Sara*, a management sciences student of Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences and Technology, Islamabad, is facing this dilemma, and doesn’t know whom to report to as there is no sexual harassment committee at the university. 

Sara is one of thousands of women who are daily harassed at different institutions, government and private offices. There is currently no platform to report these advances, nor is there enough awareness about related laws.

Three years have passed since the passage of the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 by parliament. As per rules, it has to be acted upon with the help of ombudsmen offices in provinces. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan do not have ombudsmen yet.

Most of the public and private organisations’ employees and bosses remain unaware of regarding the act. They also don’t know which forums to approach in case of harassment-related issues.

As per the legislation, all organisations, including federal and provincial government ministries, departments, corporations, educational institutions, private commercial organisations and registered civil society associations, will be required to form inquiry committees of at least three members each - one of them a woman - to probe complaints and give their findings within 30 days to the competent authority concerned, that will award recommended penalties.

No action at the provinces

“Here, we are dealing with the federal capital area, and we facilitate offices in provinces which are connected with the centre,” said Aziz Iqbal, an official at the Federal Ombudsman for sexual harassment office in Islamabad.

Aziz said that so far, their office has received only 139 applications and appeals since its inception, of which 130 have been disposed of and nine are under process.

The situation is no better at the provincial level. K-P’s organisations and institutions have not as yet followed the orders as per the Act and establish three-member committees.

Balochistan’s situation is similar, where the Women’s Development Department is looking to enact its own law. The law is currently with the law ministry for vetting.

Salma Qureshi, the focal person and additional secretary at the Department, Quetta, said that as the law is yet to be passed by the provincial assembly.

“People can go to the district court against any department and person violating the act or not implementing the provisions,” she said, adding that they have not received any application of harassment since constitution of the body. In Qureshi’s opinion, the environment in the province is generally respectful for women and incidences of harassment are isolated.

The province of Sindh does have an ombudsman while Kinnaird College Lahore’s former principal, Dr Mira Phailbus, has been appointed the Punjab ombudswoman.

Another official at the office, on condition of anonymity, said they receive dozens of complaints from females about sexual harassment but don’t want to be named for fear of action.

Member, Alliance Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace (AASHA), Maleeha Hussain said that “if people see any violation of law, they should report to lower courts, as the offices of ombudsperson have not been formed by some provinces.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2013.


Maliha Husain | 10 years ago | Reply

The students 3rd option is to report the case to the Inquiry Committee of her university. And if she does not know the Committee members, she needs to contact the management for information. It is time to speak out. Those days are gone when they either failed their exam or complied. By not reporting, we actually encourage harassers to continue their behavior. Let's join hand and help those who want to report and stand by them in support!!!

Let this be our good deed for the day!

Maliha Husain | 10 years ago | Reply

We need to stop complaining and see what we can do to make a difference. It is very easy to point fingers at what the others are doing wrong; it is time to ask ourselves, what we are doing to change the situation. The Parliament passed 2 laws against sexual harassment in March of 2010 and they ARE BEING IMPLEMENTED. Thousands of women have reported their cases in their organizations that were resolved in a very responsible manner. The organizations that have not complied with the law yet, one of their employees or a group of them can get together and report their management to the court. If you can actually prove that they have not complied, they will be fined. We have a Federal Ombudsperson appointed just for the implementation of this law and two provinces have them too as mentioned in the article above. Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa are still in the process, but instead of complaining, we can put pressure on them to do so. Provincial Implementation Watch Committees have been formed that are facilitating and monitoring effective implementation. Gilgit Baltistan has also extended this law to their province and as soon as the Governor signs it, their government is ready to start the implementation process formally. Informally it is already happening there through AKRSP. So, please be a part of the positive change! The more people join in, the more good we can do together! There is strength in numbers ....

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