KARACHI: Women parliamentarians and representatives of Sindh-based non-governmental organisations at a consultative meeting on Monday called for swift implementation of laws against harassment of women at their workplaces.
They also called for more laws to curb anti-women practices.
They urged the provincial women development department to disseminate the salient features of the ‘Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010’ among members of all forums and establishments in order to check and discourage perpetrators of crimes against women.
Expressing her ignorance about the existence of any complaint cell or inquiry committee set up under the Act, MPA Humera Alwani said she wondered where to lodge a complaint in case she or any of her woman colleagues was harassed by a male colleague within the house.
The meeting was convened and presided over by Sindh Minister for Women Development Tauqeer Fatima Bhutto to seek opinion of women leaders on various private bills relating to women protection and empowerment, gender discrimination, harassment, domestic violence and trafficking.
Opening the forum, the minister expressed her dismay over a very thin attendance of women MPAs and NGO activists at the meeting.
“At a time which I personally feel is ideal for lawmaking on women welfare and empowerment, we the parliamentarians need to get together with other stakeholders to expedite the process,” she remarked.
She further said that different sets of laws were already in place either at the federal or provincial level but they were needed to be studied in depth to avoid any duplication and to ensure more effective and timely introduction of laws.
The minister stressed the need for making laws against women trafficking, domestic violence against women and children and violence against housemaids. She also called for standardising the age for first marriage of a woman, and observed that if it was fixed at 18 years as the minimum, a large number of girls could be saved from being left out of the education and development mainstream. This could also save them from undergoing an early childbirth and greater vulnerability to reproductive health complications and other customary practices. The meeting was attended by MPAs Nusrat Sehar Abbasi, Najma Saeed Chawla and Humera Alwani, Zarin Majeed, ex-MPA Nasreen Chandio, retired justice Majida Rizvi, Rubina Brohi and Tahira Pachuho (a law consultant).
Women development department’s additional secretary M. Aslam Shaikh told the participants that various district governments had constituted inquiry committees to handle cases of harassment of women at workplaces. Every departmental committee was headed by a grade-19 official and included two members including a woman, he added.
He explained that “under the relevant Act of 2010, ‘harassment’ means any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours 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 attempt to punish a complainant for refusal to comply with such a request or making it a condition for employment; ‘workplace’ means the place of work or the premises where an organisation or employer operates and includes building, factory, open area or a larger geographical area where activities of an organisation or employer are carried out and includes any situation that is linked to official work or official activity outside the office.”
He further informed the audience that the law defined the word ‘organisation’ as “a federal or provincial government ministry, division or department, a corporation or any autonomous or semiautonomous body, educational institute, medical facility established or controlled by the federal or provincial government or district government or a registered civil society association or a privately managed commercial or industrial establishment or institution, a company as defined in the Companies Ordinance, 1984 and includes any other registered private sector organisation or institution”.