With the objective for creating awareness among the public, especially among women, about protecting women against harassment at workplace, recently a seminar was organized at Deputy Commissioner Office, Shikarpur by the Provincial Ombudsman office Sindh. The Ombudsman and other concerned officials highlighted the issue and expressed grief on the existence of this curse in our society.

On March 8, the celebration of International Women’s Day aimed to inspire women and girls across the world to achieve their ambitions; call for gender-balanced leadership, respect and value difference; and develop more inclusive and flexible cultures or root out workplace bias. There is no doubt that women play vital role in social, economic, cultural and political development. In spite of that they have been denied parity in every field of life. They have been deprived of their due honour and value which they must enjoy in the society.

Amidst other incidents of human rights violations which take place in our society, the incidents of violation of rights and honour of women have been happening rampantly. It has gotten difficult for our daughters and sisters to breathe a sigh of relief in the male dominated structure of society. At every workplace women are harassed but mostly the incidents of harassment against women occur in health and education sectors and in private factories and industries. It is observed that at workplaces women are usually harassed by acquaintances, co-workers, customers, clients or patients. As a result, due to the existence of this immoral activity, many women are finding no other way out but to relinquish their jobs. Furthermore, what further complicates the situation is that they cannot discuss this, due to repercussions in their lives in the future.

Syed Pir Ali Shah, the first provincial Ombudsman Sindh for the Protection against harassment of women at the workplace said:

“A great​ number of cases of harassment against women were registered from all over Sindh and all the victims of the incidents have been provided relief. To dispense justice to the victims at their door step, the Requisite Inquiry Committees, each consisting of three members including at least one women member will be constituted in public sector institutions, organizations and managements to deal with the cases related to harassment against women in all districts of Sindh province. All the cases related to harassment against women will be finalized within the period of one month.”

He further said: 

“I want a safe working environment for women, which is free of harassment, abuse and intimidation with a view toward fulfillment of their right to work with dignity in Sindh.”

It is pertinent to mention here that the deviant behaviours at workplace such as any unwelcome sexual advance; request for sexual favour 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 – come in the sphere of harassment against women.

To prevent sexual harassment against women, the Government of Pakistan enacted a new law titled The Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010 and also amended section 509 of Pakistan Penal Code 1860. Surprisingly, this is the first time sexual harassment has been defined through a legislative instrument because before this enactment, there was no clear definition of harassment, whether in public, private or at the workplace. 

Under the amended 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, which may extend to 3 years or fine up to Rs.500,000 (5 lac) or with both. Regrettably, the section still contains loopholes because this crime is bail-able and compoundable. Furthermore, due to lack of implementation on the Act and the section, the practice carries on unimpeded in our society.   After being disappointed in getting justice, even after running from pillar to post, the victimized women quit their much-needed jobs.

Harassment against women not only exists in Pakistan but the issue is also experienced by women worldwide commonly. Even in the USA the issue persists on a large scale. ABC News/Washington Post’s survey finds that one in four women experience workplace sexual harassment and one in ten men also experience it. Overall, 64 percent sexual harassment as a problem persists in the country, soaring to 88 percent of women who have been harassed.  Four in 10 women having experienced harassment, did not report being concerned about the consequences of making a report or did not think it would do any good. And only 56 percent women report it thinking it would be handled fairly.   

In the male dominated patriarchal structure society which we live in, males are deemed to be of a superior gender and females are supposed to do household duties and to stay home.  The perception of male superiority gives them confidence to treat women offensively without fear of consequences and accountability.

The gloomy situation is this: the Act was enacted in 210 and the committees were formed in the aftermath of the enactment of the law but no satisfactory results have been brought about so far. To achieve fruitful results, effective mechanism of implementation is to be brought about in order to provide security to women at work places and create harassment free environment not only in Sindh but all over the country.