ISLAMABAD: Aliya Shiraz*, 25, was shocked when she overheard her boss talking to one of his friends two weeks ago: “How can I pay Rs10,000 salary to a girl who is not attractive enough?”
This was not the first time her boss had gauged her looks or acted inappropriately with her. Previously, he had sent her text messages with words like ‘baby’ and ‘sweetheart.’ He would also compliment her profusely when she stepped into his office, and make her serve tea to male guests “with a smile.” When she heard him tell his friend that she was too “plain” to charm donors, right after she had requested for her promised salary, it was the final straw. “I burst into tears and left my job without saying a word to anyone.”
The Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 was signed by President Asif Ali Zardari last month. But question marks still hang over its implementation as experiences similar to the one Shiraz faced continue to occur. Athar Minallah, a senior lawyer, told The Express Tribune that the implementation of the harassment bill would take some time as it was difficult to change the mindset of people. “The law is good, but it’s a male-dominated society. It will take time for people to accept it,” he said.
He also emphasised that it would take time for police personnel to understand and recognise the law. “They are the real players as they are the ones who have to register and process the complaints registered by females,” he said. Another woman, Maheen Rasheed*, shared her experience with The Express Tribune. At 1:30 am, the 25-year-old journalist’s phone rang as she was working on her laptop. “When I picked up, I was puzzled to hear my boss on the other end, saying that he loves me and insisting that I visit him the next day when no one would be in his room,” she said. She was extremely scared and shocked. “I kept on crying the whole night,” she said.
“I told one of my colleagues [the next day], only to find out that she had also received a call from the [same] boss,” she said. Executive Director Women’s Organisation for Rights and Development Aqsa Khan, who is a founding member of the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment, said that the real challenge was implementation of the law. “Simply setting up inquiry committees just to fulfill legal responsibility is not enough,” she said.
“There is a need for more commitment in regard to dealing with cases of sexual harassment and improving organisational culture,” she added. “We need to challenge the myths … our society inappropriately blames the victims … [thinking they are] responsible for provoking and inviting harassment,” she said. Yasmeen Rehman, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Women Development, said that it is too early to talk about hurdles in the implementation of this law. “So far, I do not see any hurdles … NGOs, law enforcement agencies, government officials are cooperating with us,” she said. “There is a need to create awareness among women to understand the importance of this law … [they should] register their complaints without getting scared of anyone,” she added.
*NAMES OF THE WOMEN HAVE BEEN CHANGED TO PROTECT THEIR IDENTITY