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MPA welcomes amendments to draft bill on gender harassment

Suggestions and amendments proposed by various NGOs, legal experts, local councilors and MPAs were invited during a roundtable discussion on Monday by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) MPA Humera Alwani, who recently announced the passage of the Prevention of Gender Harassment At the Workplace Bill in the Sindh Assembly.

The discussion on the proposed draft bill was facilitated by the Aurat Foundation in the presence of Justice (Retd) Majida Rizvi, who put forward legal recommendations to improve the bill before presenting it in the assembly.

“Harassment was not even categorized as an offence earlier and there was no legislation on immoral acts and gestures that made the working environment hostile for women. The proposed law aims to ensure a secure workplace for women so they can come to the forefront in all sectors, including politics,” Alwani said, while making a special reference at her colleague, MPA Shazia Marri, who was reportedly harassed inside the assembly last year.

“If a woman can be harassed in an esteemed place like the assembly house, one does not need proof to understand what women in other sectors are going through,” she sa’d.

Alwani’s effort and the proposed draft bill (which not only consisted of legal ambiguities, but spelling and grammatical errors as well) was, however, acknowledged by all participants, and a number of suggestions were made to improve the draft.

MPA Farheen Mughal’s suggestion, seconded by MPA Shazia Batool of the Awami National Party (ANP), was that the bill should not be restricted to the female gender and sexual harassment of children should also be included, especially those in prison. This suggestion was also welcomed by all.

“Juvenile prisoners are often sexually assaulted by older prisoners but due to the absence of an effective justice system, their plea remains unheard. The law should address this issue as well and the offence of incest should be included too,” Mughal said.

Offering her suggestion on the procedure of the complaint, Justice (Retd) Rizvi recommended that the jurisdiction of the appeal should be with the Civil Judge and not the District Judge (as proposed in the draft bill) so the case is handled by a civil court and the redressal of grievances is relatively quicker. However, Mangla Sharma, ex-City Councilor and President Pak-Hindu Welfare Association was of the opinion that a link should be established with female councillors at UCs who are more aware of the social issues in their vicinity and can provide better assistance in the complaint procedure.

Some participants also suggested that from the proposed amount of fine (upto Rs50, 000), 50 percent of the recovered fine should be given to the complainant as compensation, while the remaining amount be used for service charges for filing the complaint. The judicial proceedings shall be conducted under section 193 of the PPC.

Nausheen Noor, a research psychologist from Pakistan Association For Mental Health, said the term ‘sexual’ should be excluded and the draft bill should address the issue of harassment from a broader perspective that includes verbal misconduct, derogatory comments, visual harassment and other offensive gestures that are equally distressing.

Another participant Farhat Parveen, said harassment of workers in the informal labour force like domestic workers should also be accommodated in the bill, whose rights are often neglected because they are not registered as a labour force in the country. However, majority of the participants were of the opinion that it is the implementation of the law, not formulation, that is essential and the MPA should work towards that. Speakers included representatives from War Against Rape, Working Women Organisation, and Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment, among others.
Source: The News
Date:7/1/2008

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