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Sexual harassment at workplaces

Karachi:Reinforcement of law against sexual harassment at workplace should be made mandatory in all public and private sector organisations and a code of conduct should be adopted to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for women at workplaces, said speakers at a seminar organised by Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (AASHA) on Thursday.

Women also need to be more assertive instead of giving confused signals to their male colleagues who take advantage of their vulnerability and harass them, said Anis Haroon, Director Aurat Foundation, during her speech.

Shamim Kazmi, Chairperson Association of Business, Professional and Agricultural Women, mentioned that intimidation and harassment through text messages has also increased in the formal sector. However, she was of the view that women in the informal sector, including the labour force, are more vulnerable to their male colleagues.

“This makes them uncomfortable and in turn affects their productivity and the country’s economy in the long term. They are not able to concentrate on their work due to the psychological impact which goes unnoticed,” she said, adding that quitting is never an option for such women because they work out of compulsion in order to support their families financially.

Sharing his experiences Nasir Mansoor of Labour Education Foundation informed that women were not just physically harassed by their senior male colleagues in factories but were also being exploited in terms of wages. “They are made to work 12 hours at a stretch for a minimal amount of 1,800 rupees and because there is no concept of female labour unions in factories their issues often go unaddressed,” he said.

Najma Sadiq of Shirkat Gah pointed out that harassment was not just limited to the workplace, saying that she had come across several cases of sexual harassment by the drivers of school and college vans.

Discussing the 33 per cent representation of women in the parliament, PPP MPA Farheen Mughal said that laws like Women Protection Bill and CEDAW could not be implemented unless there was an attitude change. “PPP established the First Women’s Bank and women police stations but things have still not changed, as even female police constables continue to be harassed by their male counterparts.

These laws will make no difference unless the men become more accepting towards women at workplaces,” she added.

Endorsing Mughal’s views, speakers felt that formulation of a code of conduct to this effect would merely be confined to papers just like the state’s constitution that guarantees equal rights to all and discourages discrimination against women. “What is needed is awareness, guidance and counselling on such sensitive issues that most women are hesitant to discuss,” stressed the speakers.

Asad Iqbal Butt of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and human rights activist Sadia Baloch also spoke on the occasion.

Source: The News

Date:9/28/2007

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