Women fear reporting workplace sexual harassment


Lahore: In Pakistan, almost 93 percent women face sexual harassment of various forms but most of them are afraid to complain because responses are always stalled, according to rights organizations and activists.

Since the inception of Anti-Harassment Act for Women Protection at Workplace passed in 2010, only 79 women have filed complaints to the ombudsman in Punjab against their male colleagues.

Asim Ali Sadiq, Legal Assistant for Woman Ombudsman Punjab Office, told News Lens Pakistan, “As many as 44 complaints were fixed and 35 are under process.”

Fourteen of those accused have been convicted and eight were given warnings while 19 cases were withdrawn as complainants agreed on compromise, he said. The other three complainants didn’t pursue their cases, he added.

Women rights activist Farzana Bari said that making the law against harassment is a milestone but the Law Ministry and Women Ombudsman Office need to work hard to protect the working women.

“The office environment is not friendly for women and harassment at workplace happens with most of the working ladies,” she said.

According to the most recent research conducted by ‘Alliance against Sexual Harassment’ (AASHA) in 2009, almost 93% of Pakistani women confront different forms of sexual harassment at their workplace in both private and public sector organizations.

Statistics obtained from Ministry of Planning and Development show that while women constitute about 51 percent of the total population, they make up only 22.7 percent of the labor force. Pakistan was ranked 123rd of 148 countries for gender-based inequalities in the 2012 Index (United Nations Human Development Report 2012).

Mumtaz Mughal, Resident Director of Aurat Foundation Lahore, said that the working environment is slightly better in the private sector but the situation is really alarming in the government sector offices.

“Most of the female employees of the government organizations face sexual harassment at workplace and they don’t even come out to raise voice against it,” she said.

Sadiq told News Lens Pakistan that enforcement of such laws is difficult in Pakistani society. Women also avoid getting into such matters. “Usually educated women complain but less educated women from backward areas fear society. They do not come out because of the stigma attached to harassment,” he added.

Rukhsana Kausar, Director of Institute of Applied Psychology, Punjab University, is of the view that working women avoid any legal action against the harassment because of the fear of losing their jobs.

“Even after filing the complaint women have to work under the same administration. The inquiry committees made within the organizations are not properly trained to deal with the matter of harassment in the workplace,” she told News Lens Pakistan in an interview.

“Women who are sexually harassed and cannot complain suffer from serious psychological problems. Mostly women go into depression,” Kauser said. “The victim needs counseling to get back to normality in most of the cases.”

Nadia Ali (not her real name) told News Lens Pakistan that she used to work in an NGO as field worker in Lahore. “One day when I returned office from field work, my director called me in his room and offered me a managerial post saying that field work is very hard.

“I was happy after hearing about my promotion but right after that the director started touching my private parts. I tried to stop but he captured me. I saved myself somehow and made a narrow escape.”

Nadia said that the director sent a bad report of her performance to the head office in Islamabad. “I did complain but all proved futile and I resigned.”

No inquiry committee exists in her office. “I belong to a poor family and still jobless. I am now scared of going out to find another job. That incident just shattered my confidence,” she said, shedding tears.

Sadiq says that the law is not yet implemented properly even in Lahore because most of the employers have not made inquiry committees within their offices despite being mandatory under the law.

Secretary Ombudsman Punjab, Dr Ahmed Affnan, said, “We have issued notification about the formation of inquiry committees so many times. If any company does not obey the law there can be a penalty of Rs 50000 to Rs 10000.”

According to official figures released by the Ministry of Human Rights, 8,648 incidents of human rights violation were reported in the country from January 2012 to September 15, 2015. Of those, 268 cases were related to sexual assault/harassment.

“Women are not yet fully aware of this problem, even the government does not seem serious in solving it. By only setting up office of ombudsman is not enough. There is need of funds as well,” said Mughal of Aurat Foundation.

Affnan says, “Recently Ombudsman Punjab Office launched a campaign to educate women about the Harassment Law at workplace through a massive public service campaign on media. We demanded Rs 32 million from Punjab government for the campaign but only Rs 15 million were granted.

“We are doing our best with only four staff members and Rs 2.21 million budget per year.”

Kausar said that in this modern age, women who take part in the economic race alongside men are taken as a commodity.

“Any women raising her voice against harassment is considered as a bad character women and that is the biggest reason the women withdraw complaints,” Kausar said.

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