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Empowering women

Finally the National Assembly passed the Protection Against Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2009 after the Criminal Law Amendment Bill was adopted by the Senate.

The latter was part of the comprehensive bill passed by the National Assembly on workplace harassment and had been passed there in November 2009 but due to the opposition of the religious parties in the Senate, it faced some delay.

The religious parties wanted women to observe an ‘Islamic dress code’ at workplaces to safeguard and protect their modesty. The absurd opposition to this bill is indeed reflective of the anti-women mindset of these so-called ‘religious’ parties. Though the bill had the overwhelming support of all political parties, the religious parties and some ministers, including Law Minister Babar Awan, were involved in obstructing its passage in both houses of parliament. The women parliamentarians had to continuously lobby for the bill. Some religious leaders were of the view that the NGOs were “behind this amendment…[and] after the passage of this bill, our society will be transformed into a European society” and that Islamic principles will be “bulldozed”. It seems as if these so-called guardians of Islam have not actually understood Islam. Our religion is one of the most progressive religions in the world and has a liberating message, especially for women. Not only does it give women the right to inheritance and divorce, it tells women to educate themselves and be an integral part of society. The religious leaders today are hell bent on bringing about anti-women laws. At the same time, these ‘leaders’ seem to be obsessed with women and sex. They think that the root cause of ‘immorality’ is the fairer sex, which is not only obnoxious but also highly degrading for women. If they think that by observing an ‘Islamic dress code’, men would stop being lecherous, they need to be reminded that even in a country like Saudi Arabia where the women are forced to wear hijab, the incidence of rape is quite high. If men cannot control their ‘urges’ and turn into monsters, it is not the fault of the women or their dress sense. We would also like to make it clear here that the criticism against the NGOs for ‘vulgarising’ society is utterly wrong and baseless. The NGOs have worked for the cause of women’s rights for years in this country, which is why the anti-women lot in this country have had a problem with them and castigated them.

Sexual harassment is a commonplace occurrence and it was high time that the government did something about it. We have to remember that 51 percent of Pakistan’s population is female. Whether we acknowledge this fact or not, we are a majority female society but the irony of the situation is that male chauvinism still rules the Pakistani mindset. Due to inflation and the ongoing economic crisis, many women have started working. This alone is not the reason. With the advent of the 21st century, there has been an increase in the education of women, especially among the urban middle class of Pakistan. More and more women have come out of the shackles of ‘chadar aur chaar-divari’ and stepped out into the public space to make a mark. The passage of this bill will provide protection to women against sexual harassment at the workplace and make them feel safe. A country cannot develop in real terms unless and until there is equality amongst the genders and this can only be brought about by the actual implementation of pro-women’s rights laws. *

Source: Daily Times


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