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Interpreting harassment

Interpreting harassment

The amended Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act is now a law. The widely welcomed bill was initiated and drafted by the Federal Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR) led by Minister Shireen Mazari, with consultation and input from women’s rights activists and lawyers. Redefining harassment and placing it under a broader spectrum, the new law, unlike the 2010 Act, no longer regards harassment as only sexual harassment or harassment based around sexual gestures towards women, but as an act which in any way places pressure or hampers a person from working on the basis of their gender or their sexual orientation and identity. This is a big step especially for the transgender community which has consistently suffered bullying and harassment in formal and informal work.

The new amendment lays down in clear terms that the law applies to harassment at any workplace, whether it is within the home, at school, at an open space such as a sporting event, at a public venue, or elsewhere. Before this, the law on harassment had defined the workplace mainly as an office or a factory. With the definition of ’employee’ also having been broadened to include students, domestic workers, home-based workers, and artists or athletes etc, the law will hopefully go a long way in protecting those who have till now been quietly bearing the brunt of hostile workplaces — no matter what form they come in. Given the cases that have come up in recent years, it is crucial that educational institutions be covered by the law and students of all ages spared the harassment they have suffered. It is also sensible that people are made to understand that harassment does not mean sexual discrimination or sexual gestures, but any kind of act which makes a person feel uncomfortable or pressurised or discriminated against. The law also removes from the complainant the need to establish a pattern of harassment, with even one offence enough to determine a case.

This is a hugely important development, notably for the women in Pakistan who study or work in public and private institutions. Till now many have had no protection at all. The real challenge, however, is to make people more aware of what is involved in the legislation and to ensure they understand its meaning. Even more important, in an age where the MeToo movement has made many younger women far more aware of speaking up for their rights at the workplace, is the need to make sure that this right as given in the law does not remain merely a feel-good piece of legislation and is actively implemented — without fear of termination of service from one’s workplace or any other discrimination. Perhaps this is one step towards a work culture that does not use gender, sexual identity, religion, ethnicity or class to indulge in workplace bullying or discrimination or sexual harassment.

Source: The News (Editorial)

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