By Javeria Younus
Gender inequality is structural and deeply entrenched in the patriarchal mind-set. According to research conducted by various NGOs throughout the world, a whopping 90% working woman face sexual harassment of various forms. In most of the harassment incidents, the oppressor takes advantage of women’s helplessness, vulnerability and the fact that they don’t raise their voices.
Pakistan was ranked the second worst country for gender disparity and economic participation according to The Global Gender Gap report 2017 with the rank of 143 out of 144 countries, with a score of 0.546. Pakistan continues to rank among the bottom most countries by Global Gender Gap report for many years since its inception in 2006.
Most common forms of workplace harassment in Pakistan includes but are not limited to, sexually suggestive gaze, unnecessary touching, Bullying/verbal harassment, sharing inappropriate content (text, images & videos) or threats
Despite the promulgation of Protection against Harassment of women at the Workplace Act, 2010 and more than 300 organizations in Pakistan having adopted it, studies have shown that most of the working women are unaware of the act or the protection that it affords.
The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act (PAHWA) 2010 defines harassment as “any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature, or sexually demeaning attitudes, causing interference with work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply with such a request or is made a condition for employment”.
Since the Act has come into force in 2010, only 79 women have filed complaints to the ombudsman in Punjab against their male colleagues. As many as 44 complaints were fixed and 35 are under process 14 accused have been convicted and eight were given warnings while 19 cases were withdrawn as complainants agreed on compromise. Three complainants didn’t peruse their cases that were defiled according to the process
The data of the Sindh ombudsman for the protection against harassment of women at the workplace shows that 134 cases were registered in 2016, and most of them have been addressed. Since its establishment in July 2012, the ombudsman has received 292 complaints of harassment; 251 of which have been addressed and 41 are under process.
There is a general lack of lack of comprehensive organizational policies on work place harassment resulting in pervert elements within the organization be it public or private to go unpunished. The penalty for non compliance is also nominal for example if any company does not obey the law there can be a penalty of Rs 50000 to Rs 10000 at max. A pittance if one considers how the organizational heads indulge in the practice with no fear of social or legal repercussions. Many private and public organizations have not made inquiry committees within their offices despite it being mandatory under the law.
Sexual harassment is multi layered issue Firstly, women endeavor to hide harassment due to shame associated with the act and cultural and social restrain. Secondly, once they decide to take action there is a lack of redress at organizational and government level. Finally, once they report the issue they face victimization.
For instance in a case of harassment two female employee of state on TV Channel Pakistan Television (PTV) accused the managing director of harassment, despite a committee being formed to probe the matter as provided Under PAHWA the women were harassed and were forced to resign. The two PTV journalists Tanzeela Mazhar and Yashfeen Jamal had complained in January 2017 that they were harassed by MD PTV Agha Masood Shorish. The women had shared their workplace sexual harassment experience on social media and other TV channels. But the victory did not come easy: the probe against Shorish was supposed to conclude in January; but he was sacked in November, and that too likely because his despicable actions had been highlighted relentlessly by, Tanzeela Mazhar, who had to suffer slut shaming by social media trolls.
Agha Masood Shorish was recently removed from his post at the state-run television channel over multiple accusations which include harassment, nepotism.
Sadly not all cases of harassment have a happy ending.
A Women Member National Assembly (MNA) Ayesha Gullalai was called out for complaining of sexual harassment against Pakisatan’s leading political party Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan. The allegations were made on August 2017 and were followed by a stream of abuse and threats directed against Gulalai online, with some even calling for an acid attack on the lawmaker for ‘defaming’ the PTI chief.
In October 2017, a female employee of the elite Islamabad Club accused a “powerful member” of the club’s management committee of sexually harassing her.
The employee alleged that she was fired immediately after she refused to obey “immoral” orders from the alleged harasser.
In another case of victimization of the victim Syeda Sadia, a former goalkeeper for the women’s national hockey team accused Saeed Khan, the team’s head coach of sexual advances. An investigation committee formed to probe harassment allegations declared the Sadia’s claims “false and unfounded.”
The five-member committee’s report, submitted recently to the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), instead blames Sadia of alleging harassment “because she had been recently dropped from the team.The committee that investigated her allegations included at least one person who had refused from the outset to place any faith in Sadia’s statement, which raises the concern that the investigation may not have been impartial.
The reason behind the unrestrained lechery in the work place is under pinned by the economic stability of the female employee. The thought of a woman being needy for her job, having low self-confidence, being less powerful and employed at a junior work position is what makes the perpetrator confident of his actions not ending up at the complaint office.
The perpetrators of sexual harassment take advantage of their high authoritative positions and find it okay to do as they want. The bitter truth is that they get away with it easily because the victims do not raise their voices, and the unreported acts of harassment actually motivate the harasser to repeat his actions.
The perpetrator remains untouched, and perpetuates similar harassing behavior to his new prey. Such chauvinist and misogynist men equate women in the public sphere with women sexually available to all men who may want them. In the work place as well as inside home who ever has little power is the Lord for women.
The best tools to eliminate sexual harassment are education, training and prevention. Women should be provided with training to deal with such situation and provided with safe working environment and strict internal policies should be made by each organization to function effectively. The state must develop a comprehensive manual to create awareness of the anti harassment law and how women can take the lead in ensuring that their rights are protected. At the same time, Women rights should be implemented practically by the Government of Pakistan.
There is also an urgent need to scrutinize disturbing factors at workplace for Pakistani women. The provincial Ombudsman should review the law in detail and identify the loopholes present in the law. Moreover the implementation of the law should be ensured by strengthening check and monitoring mechanisms at both public and private organizations.
Another step to discourage gender bias would be to encourage women participation in sports this will help boost confidence in women and help them in asserting their individuality.
Eliminating sexual harassment entails that men learn to view women as an equal and not their subordinates. To create harmony between the sexes an open dialogue should be initiated within the society to set out clear limitation of what is decency and which attitude will not tolerated.
Also strict implementation of anti harassment laws should be ensured to discourage the rampant perversion. Ensuring a safe working environment for women is in the best interest of both public and private organization as women have proved their mantel in all professions that were previously dominated by men and in many instances have proved to outclass men. When it comes to recognition sadly women’s contribution are often ignored and instead a man is given the accolade. This discrimination and prejudice must end the society must learn to recognize its heroes and give credit where it is due.
Advocate Javeria Younes: a social activist and legal researcher who endeavours for an egalitarian society free from torture. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org