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Protecting working women

THIS is apropos of Humera Alwani’s letter, ‘Protecting working women’ (March 1). The writer has depicted a correct picture of gender discrimination and harassment at workplaces. It was also disappointing to learn that as a legislator in 2006 she proposed a law on gender harassment in the Sindh Assembly but no heed was paid by the government.

Sexual harassment at workplaces is a common problem everywhere in the world and it occurs in every section of society. In the developed countries sexual harassment has, however, been recognised as a crime, for example, in the United States sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that validates “Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964’. In the United States harassment is a legal term, created for the purpose of ending harassment and discrimination against women at the workplace.

In Japan, “Seku-hara”, a Japanese slang for sexual harassment, became a word feared in corporate and government offices since 1989, when Japan’s first Seku-hara case was brought to the court. Since then there were about 100 sexual harassment cases in which women sued their employers under this law.

Merely by making laws and legislation against sexual harassment at the workplace, it will not be eliminated. There are laws in every country against rape, gang-rape, murder and various other crimes, yet these crimes are committed and people are victimised.

Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment at the workplace. In this regard a major role has to be played by the employers for preventing sexual harassment in the organisation/workplace.

First, it is important to understand the types of sexual harassment. According to United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there are two distinct types of sexual harassment.

a. “Quid pro quo” sexual harassment: which occurs when an individual’s submission to or rejection of sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature is used as the basis for employment decisions.

b. “Hostile environment” sexual harassment: Occurs when unwelcome sexual conduct unreasonably interferes with an individual’s job performance or creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment even though the harassment may not result in tangible or economic job consequences.

The hostile environment sexual harassment constitutes repeated requests for sexual favours, demanding inquiries and vulgarities, offensive language, offensive, explicit or sexist signs, cartoons, calendars, literatures or photographs displayed in the plain view, unwanted physical conduct, vulgar comments and jokes, etc.

In this regard employers have to play a major role in preventing sexual harassment in their organisation/workplace. An employer’s obligations with regard to sexual harassment arise before any act of sexual harassment occurs. Society demands two mutually exclusive things from employers.

First, the workplace has become a place where workers bring much of their personal lives, as a central point of their existence. However, the workplace environment is not permitted to cross ill-defined lines: allegations of medical discrimination, age discrimination, sexual harassment, or other forms of unlawful conduct can be made.

Employers must walk a tightrope between an emotionally rich environment and a legally prohibited one. A proper sexual harassment policy that is consistently enforced can help maintain that fine distinction.

Similarly, female employees should use their instinct and judge the person they are dealing or working with and should take preventive measures to avoid becoming a victim of sexual harassment.

If they notice any sexual advances, they should be sure to say ‘NO’ clearly, firmly and without smiling. They must be firm in saying that they are offended.
Source: Dawn
Date:4/17/2008

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