Recently, there has been some attention drawn to a long-standing issue that many women face in the workplace and at other institutions. The issue highlights the fact that the mainstream working society in Pakistan is still not accustomed to working with female colleagues. However, the issue is not just that men are estranged from the concept of having women in the workplace; it is that they sometimes act as superiors thinking that it is acceptable to harass a woman, sexually, physically or even verbally. Shamefully, the legislation to protect women against harassment at the workplace is only three years old, as we had ignored the problem — which itself has been occurring for much longer — for all that time previous. Nonetheless, now that the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 by parliament is in place, those in the corridors of power, as well as employers and institutions, should work to make the law accessible to employees in the workplace.
One of the primary issues is that many women do not have an executive body to report such issues in the workplace. As per the Act, all institutions, government and private, are required to have a committee with, at least, three members and, at least, one woman to oversee harassment matters and report to provincial ombudsmen for ruling. As of now, the provinces of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa do not have provincial ombudsmen and institutions in all provinces lack governing committees. To tackle these dilemmas, there needs to be a countrywide awareness campaign. This should include posters explaining the Act hung in every workplace to inform women and men of their rights to seek harassment charges should they feel they have been wronged. This way, both offenders and potential victims — including bosses, employees and even visitors to the workplace — will be made aware of the repercussions. We also need to address issues at the higher level with legislators, rights activists, NGOs and all institutions working in unison to spread awareness and implement these laws when the need arises. Until people face consequences for their wrongful actions and are made examples out of, harassment issues against women in institutions will continue to occur at their current frequency.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2013.
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