THE Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Bill has, after much dillydallying, been adopted by the Senate, making it just a step away from becoming law. It now has to be signed by the president.
It was passed by the National Assembly in January. While this is a positive step, the flood of women-related legislation – a major achievement of women parliamentarians – in the two houses of parliament can leave one in a state of puzzlement. No doubt there has been some progress for women. The amendment bill pertaining to harassment that was signed into law by the president last month was important because it enhanced the punishment for offences the definition of which was expanded. The latest bill sets up a mechanism to address harassment cases at the workplace and would save women the hassle of going to the police. Inquiry committees set up by employers, the ombudsman appointed by the government and specified procedures for complaints and appeals institutionalise the process of protection against sexual harassment so far missing in Pakistan, although the number of women in the workforce has risen phenomenally.
However, there is another significant bill with far-reaching implications awaiting action and that must be addressed soon. That is the Domestic Violence Bill that went through the Assembly with great ease in August but was stalled thereafter because of opposition from the religious lobby. It was not even taken up in the Senate. It has now lapsed but there is no reason why it should not be revived and adopted by both houses. Members of Islamic parties have traditionally objected to legislation supporting women’s rights. In the debate on the bill adopted on Thursday, their stance was no different. One legislator went so far as to declare that women were forbidden from working outside their homes, while another implied that women invited harassment by their conduct and appearance. Mercifully, the male majority did not share such bigoted and obscurantist views. It is therefore important that the domestic violence law be adopted so that the next phase of translating it into reality on the ground can be undertaken.