Tuesday July 16, 2024

Sexual harassment at workplace: Lack of awareness lets harassers go scot free

By Mobarik A Virk
October 30, 2017

Islamabad: ‘Mehergarh: A Center for Learning’, a non-governmental organisation, headed by Ms Maliha Hussain, arranged a day-long training on ‘The Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010’ and ‘Amendment to the Pakistan Penal Code, Section 509’ for the journalists in collaboration with the National Press Club (NPC) at latter’s premises on Sunday.

It was over a decade long struggle by Dr Fauzia Saeed (the sitting Executive Director of Lok Virsa), which eventually materialized in passing of appropriate legislation aimed at preventing sexual harassment of women at workplaces on March 10, 2010 when the then President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, signed the Bill in the Presidency in presence of over 100 women activists from all over the country.

Earlier, on January 31, 2010, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani also had approved and signed the amendment in the Section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code, titled ‘Insulting modesty or causing sexual harassment’, thus making it a punishable crime under the law.

Both, the Bill as well as the amendment in the Section 509 of the PPC are in place to protect women against harassment at workplaces (or anywhere) but the fact remains that this sexual harassment of women at workplaces still continues because of lack of awareness.

There were not as many journalists present as one would have liked to see to be aware of such an important issue, which is nagging our society. But still over a couple of dozen journalists, both female and male, turned up and sat patiently through the proceedings.

Maliha Hussain remained on her feet throughout the session, which lasted for over four-and-a-half hours, explaining the legislation and the law and how it could be effectively used to protect the women workers and prevent men harassing them at workplaces.

“It is a very effective legislation made in the Constitution of Pakistan, aimed at protecting the women workers from sexual harassment. But the fact is that many of the women are still not aware as to how they can use it to protect themselves from sexual harassment at workplaces,” Ms Maliha Hussain pointed out.

“What we need to do is to create awareness. The guidelines are clearly laid down and the good thing is that a victim need not go to the police or to the court of law to seek relief. The law has made it mandatory to form a three-member committee, with at least one female member, by the management of the organisation by the management as soon as a case of sexual harassment is reported.

“The victim has to identify herself and harasser and clearly state the act of harassment and present the evidence(s) that she has following which the committee will initiate its proceedings and will eventually decide the matter in accordance with the law,” Ms Maliha Hussain explained to the benefit of the participants of the training.

However, Ms Maliha Hussain may have found out that it was not as smooth a proceeding as she would have anticipated because the participants kept rocking the boat, dragging the dialogue in all directions! But she never swayed and held her ground.

“Before the legislation was passed and the amendment was made in the PPC, there were very few reported cases of sexual harassment at workplaces, which could be counted on finger tips. Since passing of the legislation and the amendment in the PPC the numbers of reported cases of sexual harassment at workplaces have increased to hundreds,” she pointed out.

“But we have reason to believe that many victims are still shy of reporting such cases and prefer to stay quiet, either out of fear of losing the job even if they won the case and be branded as ‘trouble maker’, effectively preventing them getting employment in any other organisation. Or, they would avoid reporting the matter because of the fear of her and her family’s honor being put at stake if the matter is leaked out,” Ms Maliha Hussain said.

“So,” she stressed, “there is even greater need to create awareness at all levels about this law and how the women at workplaces can use it to protect themselves and prevent the male harassers from making advances.”

At the end of the training session, Ms Maliha Hussain, along with the President of the National Press Club (NPC), Shakeel Anjun, and Gen (Retd) Abdul Qayum Mian, a patron and staunch supporter of ‘Mehergarh’ jointly presented the ‘Certificates’ to the participants.