The law against workplace harassment exists, now what?

Published: April 25, 2010

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.


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Reader Comments (14)

  • Apr 26, 2010 - 3:20AM

    Sehrish i really appreciate you writting this article,it would have been better if you mention the name of the bosses as well,and yes such people should be punished,if there is anything that i can do for such cause to save my sisters pls let me knw,

    Waqar AliRecommend

  • sheraz khan
    Apr 26, 2010 - 1:01PM

    Male Dominated Society??? O Please my whole life i’ve been watching women get the best treatment, separate line to pay the bills or submit forms, good salaries, pick and drop service from the company, no nights shifts, no late working hours etc…my god which world do u live in? i mean sexual harassment is a serious issue and im all in favor of stoning the felons but please dont use a cliche line like “Its a Male Dominated Society” just to create drama.Recommend

  • Apr 26, 2010 - 11:01PM

    Approximately 10 to 25% of the harrased women are reluctant to report such acts due to the following reasons:
    (a)Fear of loosing a job
    (b)Fear of career
    (C)Fear of not being believed
    (d)Fear of shamefullnessRecommend

  • Apr 27, 2010 - 12:31AM

    Way to go Sehrish Wasif..atleast you are talking on the real issues rather than Sania and Shoaib Malik..keep it up TribuneRecommend

  • Eman Waseem
    Apr 27, 2010 - 1:38AM

    I’m so proud of you sehrish. You did it. Coming out of the closet with the taboo topic. This menace has been there for decades. and these grouchy, filthy men all around us? with their disgusted looks towards us… Recommend

  • Kanza Athar
    Apr 27, 2010 - 2:53AM

    I congratulate both the writer and the newspaper for hilighting this sensitive issue still considered to be taboo in some parts of our society. Recommend

  • Apr 27, 2010 - 3:19AM

    I would never have wondered that writers like Miss Sehrish wasif,and a daring gal like Sadaf would come forward to raise issues,am glad that not only in Europe,but in Pakistan also people like them fight for their rights and point out such delicate issues.
    Way to go gals,Cheers TribuneRecommend

  • Naureen A. Ghaffar
    Apr 27, 2010 - 9:44AM

    I am not surprised by the behavior of the females as it is very difficult for most of the working females to fight strongly against these harassment issues. The most important thing in order to overcome the harassment’s issue, one should understand whether male or female to develop professionalism in the working environment. For a country like Pakistan, where these days all the members of the family have to earn their living in order to meet the high cost of living standard. In my view specifically a female cannot sit home merely on the reason that she cannot fight the sexual harassment.
    Sehrish I am honored that the issue is raised but it is not enough the important thing is try to fix this issue my providing all the females/males proper guideline to tackle the situation. If I can be of any help will be more than obliged to support you.
    All the best with whatever good you are trying to do.Recommend

  • Abrar
    Apr 27, 2010 - 12:21PM

    Upon special requests by my fan followers, a lot on my wall. Im convinced to criticize on the above topic. the news that I`m being updated with…. currently is a feel of shame and pity for my country. this has a very bad i8mapct on the society and my general youth parliament Of Pakistan. I’m even running an org from the past fifteen years but never thought of it in general.
    Moreover, I shall really appreciate the efforts made by the young lad Sehrish Wasif on an awakening project and give her an opportunity to come and discuss the issue in personal with me so that we can underlay efforts to protect the rights of working girls and to promote this to our country.

    And a tribute to tribune as well for doing a courageously well job.

    I am glad to congratulate you on having such a good writer and the authority to allow let the world know the parts of truth!
    Best of Luck.Recommend

  • Apr 27, 2010 - 1:36PM

    In Pakistan regarding women rights many harangued claims, Planning and Commission have been made and constituted but thrown into the cold storage. Our leaders are planning like Shakespearan’s Hamlet while have no an iota of action. All and sundry aware of the facts but due to dominating of male-society no concrete policy has been framed and implemented. It is pertinent to mention that all these are tantamount to the moral corruption. So, we must make our conducts and characters in every moment on disciplined manners and with concerted efforts we can succeeds to make our country like congenial environment.Recommend

  • Sara Asif
    Apr 28, 2010 - 6:43PM

    Congratulations to Miss. Sehrish Wasif for Highlighting the major issue of our Society…..Recommend

  • saadia khalid
    Apr 28, 2010 - 11:33PM

    well done sehrish! i am really proud of you…. keep it up!
    such stories needs to be highlighted not only to unveil the faces of such corrupt people who are looting money by blackmailing others emotionally but also to create awareness among young girls who fell prey of such fraudsters.Recommend

  • Rida Ali
    May 4, 2010 - 2:58PM

    It was great to see someone finally talking about the major issue of sexual harassment but I am very sorry sehrish this article is very loosely put! Stories like my boss called saying that he loves me and come to his room is not big of a deal as oppose to women who are being fondled by men at a workplace…The article would have come out really well only if you would have researched a bit more and come up with real life stories that would have actually touched the viewers heart!

    my message to all the women out there is to please be strong I know it is hard when you are in such a situation but you can protect yourself not just by law but by setting your boundaries and learning to put people in their place. Believe me people who are morally corrupted do not have the guts to talk crap with you once you tell them that you not going to take any of it!

    as for tribune I am sorry guys but you really need to improve the quality of your articles and writers! Recommend

  • SadafFayyaz
    May 21, 2010 - 10:56PM

    yes This is an on-going issue these days, due to which most of the females do not like to work… but it needs to be dealt more seriously and realistically.. Boss calling in office and showing interest is a scene that almost,, every woman goes throuh… if i am not wrong….No one wants to leave a cake pie that is there in the offices. In case if the woman is extremely ugly or bad-looking,, a normal female goes through such behavior from peers too.. I have examples of young male teachers showing an odd attitude to beautiful female students and giving them good grades.. Eye witness to such things and events,,,, aankhon dekhey….Sexual harrassment is a very wide term…. saying only babe and darling tak mehdood nahi hey…
    It includes:
    Examples of Sexual Harassment

    Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of situations. These are examples of sexual harassment, not intended to be all inclusive.
    Unwanted jokes, gestures, offensive words on clothing, and unwelcome comments and repartee.
    Touching and any other bodily contact such as scratching or patting a coworker’s back, grabbing an employee around the waiste, or interfering with an employee’s ability to move.
    Repeated requests for dates that are turned down or unwanted flirting.
    Transmitting or posting emails or pictures of a sexual or other harassment-related nature.
    Displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, or posters.
    Playing sexually suggestive music.
    @Sehrish you have only dealt with a part of sexual h… I shall be glad if you write more openly on this topic……but a good attempt by you.. At least you have written on it…Recommend

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