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Women put their heads together for new bill on sexual harassment at work

KARACHI: A draft copy of a bill “Sindh Prevention of Gender Harassment at Workplace Bill 2008’ was unveiled by MPA Humera Alwani during a discussion organized by the Aurat Foundation Karachi on Monday.

Panelists included MPAs Farheen Mughal and Nusrat Abbasi, along with renowned female judge Justice (retd) Majida Rizvi. Numerous human rights activists and civil society members were also present.

According to data provided by the Aurat Foundation, 113 cases of sexual harassment have been reported in Pakistan during the first quarter (Jan-March) 2008. A breakup of these figures shows that in Sindh, 14 cases of rape, 10 of gang rape and six of sexual assault had been reported. According to Aurat Foundation spokesman Lala Hassan, a large number of cases are never registered due to patriarchal mindsets, according to which a rape survivor is accused of dishonoring her family by reporting to the police, and no one bothers to spend energy catching the culprit.

Alwani said that she felt it was time that the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace was dealt with in a legal way. She said that she wanted to involve civil society and the media who should give input as public opinion should be a major stakeholder in the drafting of any law.

According to the draft copy of the bill, “sexual harassment” is defined as “… unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, and other verbal/written or physical conduct of a sexual nature…” While referring to the method of lodging a complaint, Alwani said that the complainant will have to approach a district judge in whose jurisdiction the workplace is situated. The judge will then direct the local nazim to form a committee and investigate the allegations. The report of the inquiry will be submitted back to the judge who will then make a decision in 30 days. The bill allows a culprit to go free the first time after writing an apology. However, the next time he flies off the handle, his employer will have to demote/sack him. Alwani said that this will encourage more women to lodge complaints against culprits as they will now be assured their case is speedily dealt with, as envisaged in this bill.

Majida Rizvi pointed out a large number of technical issues that will have to be addressed before this bill could be sent to the assembly. The definition of “sexual harassment” needs further improvement and must incorporate harassment through e-mail and SMS as well. She also asked whether streets, buses and shopping centers were considered “workplaces” or not, because these are seem to be the places where women are most harassed. She also discussed the legal issues involved in authorizing district judges to take up harassment cases. As a solution, she proposed that a committee be set up to improve the legal language and some definitions in the draft bill.

One point that PPP MPA Farheen Mughal and most of the audience stressed was implementation. It was agreed that as long as the bill is not implemented in letter and spirit, all discussions or seminars will be a waste of time.

Humaira Qureshi of the Working Women’s Organisation suggested that the bill should enable ordinary, domestically employed women to especially benefit from this bill, as they are the ones who suffer harassment day and night.

It was also agreed upon that women councilors will now become more active, so that they handle most of the cases at a local level. In this way, only the most serious cases will proceed to the district judges, who will then initiate proper inquiries.
Source: Daily Times
Date:7/1/2008

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