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February 18, 2019

Harassment at work


February 18, 2019

The order by the Supreme Court to governments to make the law against the harassment of women in the workplace stronger and to simplify the process of lodging complaints is welcome. We all know that harassment is a commonplace phenomenon at all workplaces in our country and also at other places. The SC issued the order after receiving reports about the weakness of the existing law, which dates back to 2010.

Recently, at a meeting attended by the federal ombudsperson for sexual harassment and organised by the Asma Jahangir legal aid cell, it was pointed out that this law was too weak and should be extended to women everywhere, not just those in the workplace. Participants also argued that even in the presence of a weak law, workplaces currently do not do enough to protect women. Legal workplaces were in particular mentioned as places where harassment occurred despite the presence of laws.

We all know that laws alone will not stop harassment. But a law with more teeth would certainly help move towards this. The social situation in our country and the stigma attached to women who bring charges of harassment means that most women who work avoid making charges so as to ward off social victimisation and also criticism from their own families. There is no tally of the number of women who may have given up work or, more commonly, suffered in silence after incidents of harassment by colleagues or those superior to them in their offices, factories or educational institutions. It is also unclear how many have attempted to complain but been silenced. Women need to be made aware that sexual harassment is a crime under the laws of Pakistan. At workplaces, committees to examine it need to be set up and every institution compelled to set up such a body. Strengthening the law will help in this matter. But this must be combined with efforts to empower women and build within all workplaces an understanding that sexual harassment will not be tolerated no matter in which form it comes or by whom it is committed.

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