There is no nation on earth that has been able to eliminate the sexual harassment of women, but most recognise it as a significant social problem and try to do something about it by way of punitive legislation and raising public awareness as to its inappropriateness. In Pakistan, sexual harassment is often portrayed as something of a joke and described as ‘eve teasing’ — it is far from a joke and is often profoundly damaging to the young women who are on the receiving end.
Workplace harassment is an area of particular concern, the more so as more women are entering the workplace as a result of the need for an extra earning hand and an increased number of women choose to have a career. There is legislation but it remains un-implemented. The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act of 2010 is supposed to provide a measure of both protection and legal recourse, but women are unwilling to report instances of harassment because of the social stigma attached to so doing.
Gender-based violence — which is what sexual harassment is — is a serious human rights crime and it is time that Pakistan woke up to that reality. Some banks and large international corporations have internal protocols in place to take up the cases of women who have been harassed at work, but for the most part, women either suffer in silence or walk away from the job. Many countries teach their schoolchildren about how to respond to sexual harassment and there is no reason why schools in Pakistan should not teach a similar awareness. Indeed, it may now be the time for the government to add cyber crime to the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act of 2010, as with an exploding online population, women are exposed to yet another opportunity for men to abuse them.
Women are becoming more, not less, vulnerable to abuse and an attitudinal change is decades overdue. Sexual harassment is a crime and it is time to start prosecuting it.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2013.