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‘Gender ombudspersons to check sexual harassment’

ISLAMABAD, Oct 31: The government plans to introduce a bill to check incidents of sexual harassment under which “gender ombudspersons” will be appointed at provincial as well as federal level to decide the cases and award punishment to culprits, said a women’s rights activist.

Talking to Dawn after attending a meeting between representatives of civil society organisations (CSOs) and Federal Minister for Women Development Sherry Rehman on Friday, Dr Farzana Bari said the meetng reviewed the proposed draft of the “Protection from Harassment Act 2008” and suggested some amendments to improve it.

Under the act, she said, it would be mandatory for all public and private institutions to constitute committees to hold inquiry into reported incidents of sexual harassment and to suggest punishments to culprits.

Giving details, she said, the committee would comprise representatives from the management and the employees, but it had been given in the draft bill that there should be at least one woman member in the committee. She maintained that all employees of any organisation would have the right to make a complaint with the committee. Dr Farzana said the committee would be authorised to recommend “minor and major punishments” and the management of that institution would be bound to implement its recommendations. However, she disclosed, if any one — the victim of sexual harassment or the culprit — was not satisfied with the committee’s findings, he or she would have the right to take the matter to an ombudspersons.

She said the purpose of appointing gender ombudspersons was that if any high official was involved in the crime and if there was a feeling that he or she could influence the committee’s proceedings, the victim could also take the matter direct to the ombudspersons.

Elaborating on minor and major punishments, she said the committee could suggest withholding of increments or promotions for a specific period; recovery of the compensation amount to be paid to the victim from the salary of the accused and suspension for a specific period as minor punishments and compulsory retirement, removal from service, reduction to a lower post and imposition of fine, a part of which could be used for payment of compensation.

Dr Farzana further said that with the introduction of the anti-sexual harassment bill, the criminal procedure code (CrPC) would also be amended to bring sexual harassment incidents under the ambit of criminal acts.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Sherry Rehman said harassment at workplace was a very sensitive matter and any legislation seeking to deal with the issue must incorporate the element of safety as well as ensure maximum assurance of justice to the victim.

Ms Rehman pointed out that the purpose of her ministry’s continued consultation on the bill with civil society organisations over the bill was to ensure that the draft law was clear in its contents and there was no room for any lapses.

“We have broadened the ambit of law, extending it to cover harassment against both women and men. Harassment is a common phenomenon at work, and men could be as much of a target as women are,” she said, adding that her stress on the protection factor in the legislation had come from her own experience of dealing with women who had been victims of gender harassment at workplace.

“A woman finds her career as well as her reputation at stake when she reports sexual harassment. We want the legislation to provide maximum security to the complainant to encourage her/him to pursue the case at an official level.

“The victim must have an expanded range of choices in terms of authorities dealing with the complaint. We have, therefore, included an inquiry commission as well as an ombudsperson to ensure that there is an internal as well as an external setup to address the grievance,” she added.
Source: Dawn
Date:11/1/2008

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