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Govt torpedoes women MPAs’ private bills: Sexual harassment

KARACHI, Nov 10: The Sindh government has returned a couple of private bills relating to gender harassment submitted by two women treasury members of the provincial assembly saying that the bills are not required as the crime has already been covered by Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), it has been learnt here reliably.

According to sources, there seems to be a ‘communication gap’ between the federal and the provincial governments – ironically both the governments are dominated by the Pakistan People’s Party – as the federal cabinet has already approved legislation to protect female workers while the provincial government thinks that the existing laws are sufficient and no new legislation is required.

The sources said that the Sindh law department in its Nov 5, 2008 communication – NO.S.Legis:16(02)/2006 – to the secretary of the provincial assembly on the subject of “private bills moved by Ms Humaira Alwani and Ms Farheen Mughal, MPAs, entitled the Sindh Prevention of Gender Harassment at Workplace Bills 2008” returning the bills says that: “Kindly refer to your letters No. PAS/Legis-PB-01/2008/4698 and 4699 both dated 17th September, 2008 and letters No. PAS/Legis-PB-01/2008/5123 and 5124 both dated 28th October, 2008 on the subject noted above.

“At the onset the subject bills are private bills and the question of their vetting at this stage does not arise. More so, the subject matter of the bills pertains to the Women Development Department and may be passed on to that department in accordance with rule 47 of the Rules of Business.

“However, as to the introduction of the bill in the assembly it is pointed out that the intent and purpose of the bill is to provide protection to women at their working places from unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favour and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which are already covered by Section 354 of the PPC (assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and Section 509 of the PPC (act intended to insult the modesty of a woman).

“Since the PPC falls in the Concurrent Legislative List of the Fourth Schedule to the Constitution, the Parliament and the Provincial assembly can enact in respect thereof.

“But a provincial law, if it is repugnant to any provision of Act of Parliament or to any provision of existing law with respect to any matter relating to the Concurrent Legislative List then Act of the Parliament shall prevail and the Act of provincial assembly shall, to extent of repugnancy, be void.

“Since the provisions of the bill under reference are repugnant to sections 354 and 509 of the PPC, and if it is enacted, the enactment will be void and hence the bill cannot be introduced.

“More so, the subject bill is also hit by the Article 115 of the Constitution as no consent of the provincial government has been obtained before sending the bill for vetting to this department,” concludes the Sindh law department deputy secretary (regulation), Manzoor Khamisani.

The sources said that on the same day, Nov 5, 2008 when Mr Khamisani was writing this letter, Federal Information Minister Sherry Rehman briefing the media regarding the decisions taken in a cabinet meeting held in Islamabad on that day as reported in the media said that “the cabinet approved on Wednesday a bill for protecting women against harassment at workplaces”.

She said: “The legislation titled Protection from Harassment at Workplace Act also includes amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code to enhance the punishment for offences relating to harassment of women and that the legislation would provide women a safe working environment.”

She said that internal committees would be set up in government and private organisations to take action if women were made a target of harassment.

The sources said that while the federal government was taking steps to formulate laws to provide protection to women, the Sindh government had returned the bills submitted on the similar subject for legislation in the provincial assembly.
Source: Dawn