While there has been progress in terms of increased reporting of sexual harassment cases, legal experts and human rights defenders gathered at a local hotel here Saturday evening to discuss and suggest amendments that would further improve its implementation.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Secretary General IA Rehman explained that while the law was crafted in 2010 after years of consultation, it was the only law which had a component of implementation. “We make laws in Pakistan and never look at the flaws in them,” he said.
Rehman said harassment acts as an obstacle for growth and progression in any society and Pakistan continues to face the issue. Due to this very reason, the country was bearing the economic cost of women not working, which needed to be evaluated, he said.
Maliha Hussain of Mehergarh explained that the process of consultation and alliance against sexual harassment started with specific objectives in 2001. She explained that the national implementation framework was developed and shared with all stakeholders and donor interest ignited the desire to keep the work going.
She said the Code of Conduct for Gender Justice was developed in 2002 and the Protection Against Harassment at Workplace Act was passed in 2010, noting that it is being implemented at banks and other organisations. Also in 2010, the Prime Minister’s Secretariat issued a notification to all government bodies to comply with the act.
More than 1,000 cases were registered in the first year, a number that has risen to 3,000 cases so far. She said half the cases came from workplaces while the other half came from within homes. “Incest is a serious issue in our society which people are still not willing to talk about,” said Hussain.
Hussain said that the challenges include the implementation of laws on social issues needs an understanding of the different aspects of the issue. Our law enforcing agencies neglect to see that. Moreover, departments that were created as to implement these laws are not operating effectively.
Incidentally, the Standing Committee on Law and Justice has taken up a recent case and suggested an amendment in the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act.
Experts suggested including college and university students as the law states “accused” as an employee or employer of an organisation against whom a complaint has been made under this act. Senator Farhatullah Babar suggested that the present bill should be amended and students should also be protected under the legislation. He also suggested that ombudspersons must obtain the right to take suo motu notice if needed.
Speaking on legal aspects of the bill, lawyer Babar Sattar said that while the law was a great first step, it was important to keep reexamining it. He said the law was conceptually framed in a narrow manner. He explained that diversity in various professions has improved over time. “The times have been changing and the right of work is affected by the environment amenable to women working there”.
He said the debate on the law has to be framed in a broader way and the scope has to be widened. Defining one of the key issues, he said the law has been framed in the context of labour legislation in which the informal sector, where most women work, is left out.
While commenting on the mechanism of the inquiry committee, Sattar said that out of the three members, one member should be considered from outside the organisation to create a suitable environment for investigation. He said this also leaves out the possibility of smaller organisations that might not even consider forming a committee. “What happens if there is no committee?” He asked.
Sattar also noted that under the law, the offense was a civil one.
“Changing behavior through laws is extremely complex and difficult” he said. Moreover, there was vagueness within the law, he said, explaining that interpretations of the law were based on biases.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2014.
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