Op-ed

Menace of Sexual Harassment

Azhar Saeed Hashmi

 

According to a research conducted by UNISON, more than 50% working women face sexual harassment in Pakistan. An increasing number of violence cases are filed every day and there is an even bigger number of incidents which go unreported. A total of 24119 of violence against women cases were reported during 2008-10 among which only 520 workplace harassment cases were filed. Haleema Rafique, a talented fast bowler committed suicide due to sexual harassment. A flag carrier air hostess filed a case against PIA Chairperson for sexually harassing her. Daewoo hostess kidnapped and raped in Sialkot in 2010. 7,733 cases of violence against women were reported in the media in 2013. 1,516 were murdered while 472 were killed for reasons of ‘honor’. The country has notoriously failed to curb the flow of harassment cases. Being a part of a society where sexual harassment is a serious issue, it is imperative to take measures to spread awareness among the female gender as well as the male gender. 68% of the girls are subject to this heinous crime in our country compelling these shattered souls to think of themselves as outcasts of the society.

 

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. Girls studying in universities and colleges refrain from communicating such issues to their parents for the fear of their educational careers being jeopardized. Many harassment victims are hushed down just because they are looked down upon in the society and no legal reports are filed. Most women are unaware of the fact that the law of Pakistan gives them full protection against sexual harassment. It has become very crucial that efforts should be made to spread this awareness so that every single female gets to know what harassment really is and how to handle such issues by self-protection and by the means of law enforcement. If all the women of Pakistan start acknowledging their rights and decide to stand up to sexual harassment, more than 80 percent of the issues will be resolved or might not even take place.

There is a dire need of providing a protected environment to women and to run active campaigns to aware them of ways to counter such issues as well as how to deal with the consequences. Instead of giving up on life there are ways to salvage them from this distress. Having to abandon their jobs and education and being considered as a social taboo is the rising concern of those talented girls who can’t utilize their talent despite having immense potential of taking part in the progress of the country and those struggling women who are fighting against poverty to support their families.

 

In 2010 the Protection against Harassment of women at the Workplace Act was brought into action and was signed by the then Prime Minister, Yousaf  Raza Gillani, with a motive to create a safe working environment for women which is free of harassment, abuse and intimidation allowing them to work with dignity. This act complies with the Government’s commitment to high international labor standards and empowerment of women. It requires all public and private organizations to adopt an internal Code of Conduct and a complaint/appeal mechanism allowing them to report the offensive behavior of any kind immediately. The act 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 to such a request or is made a condition for employment.’

If a complaint is filed and the inquiry committee finds the accused to be guilty, the authorities can impose a number of penalties on that person including censure, suspension from the job, withholding promotion, a heavy fine used as compensation for the complainant or even retirement or removal from the service. Retaliation from the accused party is strictly monitored. It is imperative that the employer of an organization makes necessary changes to accommodate the victim.

Not many people are aware of this act. The vision is to bring this into common knowledge so that the number of sufferers is decreased. The culprits are supposed to be publicly admonished. It will increase women empowerment and not the number of reprieve resignations. The voice of one victim saves many others from becoming a victim. Seeing injustice and remaining silent makes you an alliance of the culprit. There is a need to encourage this cause to free Pakistani women from this menace.