Workplace harassment can significantly impede women’s financial and economic independence
istorically, women have been disadvantaged financially and in access to education. This affects their ability to manage risks and harms. Improving how risk and safety issues are communicated to women and sharing ways in which their other counterparts have taken actions will contribute significantly to efforts to win greater equality.
The European Economic and Social Committee, 2015, has held that gender-based violence at the workplace is a serious violation of human rights and an attack on a person’s dignity and physical and psychological integrity. Across the world, 35 percent of women fall victim to direct violence at the workplace. Of these, between 40 percent and 50 percent are subjected to forced physical contact. Globally, the World Risk Poll found that nearly 11 percent of female workers had experienced workplace violence and harassment. It is a widespread and major detriment to women’s enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms.
The ILO has established new global standards aimed at ending violence and harassment in the world of work. ILO Convention No 190 (C-190 for short) is the first international treaty to recognise the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment. The convention was adopted in June 2019 by the International Labour Conference of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and came into force on June 25, 2021. Governments that ratify C190 will be required to put in place the necessary laws and policy measures to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work. The convention represents a historic opportunity to shape a future of work based on dignity and respect for all.
The ILO is now embarking on a global campaign to build support for C-190. It is inviting constituents, stakeholders and civil society actors to get involved. The end goal is for the convention to be ratified and implemented by national governments and legislative assemblies around the world. The new convention will combat violence and harassment at the workplace. It recognises that it “can constitute a human rights violation or abuse.”
Sexual harassment at the workplace remains under-reported because of fear of disbelief, blame and social or professional retaliation. Discrimination and harassment claims may arise when workplace violence is motivated by a protected characteristic such as race, religion, faith, caste, class and colour.
Sexual harassment at the workplace remains under-reported because of fear of disbelief, blame and social or professional retaliation. Discrimination and harassment claims may arise when workplace violence is motivated by a protected characteristic such as race, religion, faith, caste, class and colour. Additionally, gender-based violence causes physical and mental harm that may incapacitate a victim and increase absence or decrease workplace productivity. Even a minor physical injury or bruising may cause a victim to skip work in order to avoid the shame or embarrassment of inquiries from co-workers.
According to a survey, the highest incidences of violence against women occur in the labour class. Industrial workers form a huge group, and are often at risk of violence and harassment at their workplace. Poverty, low literacy rate, social pressures and a particular mindset about women and girls have resulted in a bounded attitude as a routine in their culture. Sexual harassment in the private sector is more frequent than in public sector. Harassment mostly takes place in the form of verbal abuse, mental torture and threats. Mostly bosses and senior management staff harass junior women clerks at the workplace. To secure a job, most of the working women, particularly those who are the sole bread earners in their families, are unwilling to take any action.
The annual growth rate of participation of women in the workforce has increased since 1990. It was 13.2 percent in 1990 and reached to 22.4 percent in 2017. Still, women‘s work participation is very low in comparison with other countries in South Asia. Women in Pakistan constitute nearly a fourth of the labour force. Two major factors preclude women from entering the paid labour force; socio-culture norms and sexual harassment at workplace.
The Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010, defines sexual harassment. Under Section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code, insulting the modesty of women or sexually harassing them is a crime. The perpetrator of this crime may be punished with imprisonment that may extend to 3 years or a fine up to Rs 500,000 or with both.
Section 3 of the Act requires employers to set up an inquiry committee that must consist of three members, with at least one female member. Further, Section 11 of the Act requires an employer to display and circulate a code of conduct on sexual harassment in English and Urdu. However, there is no provision for checks on behalf of the government to ensure that all organisations have established such a code of conduct. Sexual harassment at the workplace can also take place through online modes. This has not been covered explicitly in the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010.
The writer is a playwright and freelance journalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and his blogging site: soulandland.com