ISLAMABAD: The Attorney General’s (AG) office moved a petition before the Supreme Court on Friday to seek review of a July 6 judgement in which the court had held that the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act of 2010 (PAHWWA) was a cosmetic legislation that blinkered in its application.
Filed through Deputy Attorney General Syed Nayab Hussain Gardezi, the petitioner defended the PAHWWA by stating that it was an important piece of welfare legislation enacted by parliament for the protection of working women in pursuance of a constitutional mandate under Articles 14, 25(2) and 34 of the Constitution.
Since the July 6 judgement sought to curb gender-based harassment at the workplace in all its manifestation, it should be recalled by the court, the petitioner argued.
The petition explained that the AG office was seeking review only to the extent of the legal questions and was not concerned with particular facts.
The petitioner contended the judgement had adopted an “unduly restrictive” interpretation of ‘harassment’, as defined in Section 2(h) of the PAHWWA, and it would significantly affect the objective behind enactment of the act.
While deciding the matter of Nadia Naz, who was appointed on a temporary basis as Resource Person at the Pakistan Television Corporation on Sept 4, 2007, Justice Mushir Alam had held that when the anti-harassment law (PAHWWA) was examined, it did not live up to the expectations raised by its title and the preamble to the act.
The Attorney General’s office pleaded in the review petition that while interpreting certain provisions of PAHWWA, the Supreme Court did not issue notice to the Attorney General, a requirement under the rules, and that the verdict failed to give effect to the words, “sexually demeaning attitudes” — the words incorporated by the legislature in its definition of harassment in section 2(h) of the act. It was an independent category and would constitute harassment on its own, the petition argued.
The act is neither a cosmetic legislation nor is it “blinkered in its application”, an observation made in the judgement, the review petition contended.
The law was not restricted to wrongdoing at the workplace, the petitioner said, adding that it was an undeniable reality that women were victims of harassment not only at the workplace but also in every sphere of life.
It is apparent that the language of the statute is not restricted to sexual misdemeanors, as has been held in the judgement, the review petition said.
It reminded the court that if a female employee is subjected to a “demeaning attitude” at the workplace owning to her gender, it amounts to harassment within the definition given in Section 2(h). The word ‘sexually’ here must relate to her gender rather than in the narrow sense of ‘sexual advancement’ or ‘sexual orientation’.
The July 6 verdict was based on a misconception as it confines its application to “sexualized forms of conduct”. This is an incorrect appreciation of the language as well as the object and purpose of the legislation, the petition contended.
The petitioner observed that the act was enacted primarily to provide protection and relief to women at the workplace. “Undoubtedly, men and women both do suffer harm and prejudice not only in the workplace but in all spheres of life, yet the fundamental reality remains that men suffer in spite of being men and women suffer on account of being women.”
If the act is interpreted in its proper perspective and context keeping in view the ‘real mischief’ that is sought to be redressed by parliament, the interpretation of harassment may yield a different, wider meaning, the petition said.
The law was a part of welfare legislation aimed at curbing entrenched practices and attitudes aimed at subjugation of women. The July judgement has treated PAHWWA as a criminal statute where the perpetrator, and not the victim, was accorded safeguards, the petition said.
The petition asked the court to examine the jurisprudence developed in other countries since sexual harassment at the workplace was not specific to Pakistan but a universal phenomenon.