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Laws against harassment at workplace remain impotent

Laws against harassment at workplace remain impotent

By: Umer Farooq

PESHAWAR: Although the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 exists for the people, victims of related incidents are running from pillar to post for protection.

Unable to fend off their tormentors, many are forced to simply quit their much-needed jobs.

Even five years after the introduction of the law and formation of committees, the practice continues unabated.

A government employee who was the victim in a case sought protection from her department’s seniors. However, when she learnt they had no intentions coming to her defence, the Khyber Teaching Hospital staffer filed an application before the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Human Rights Directorate (HRD).

“It is requested that appropriate action be taken according to the law against sexual harassment to protect me,” read her application with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Human Rights Directorate.

Their worst nightmare

The KTH employee at the physiotherapy department stated she is a married woman and mother to a seven-year old son. She was working as a junior technician alongside a senior who was making unwanted advances.

The application, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, read Shireen* did not want a confrontation and tried to solve the matter on her own. However, Sohail* was continuously harassing her and even tried character assassination tactics in front of her colleagues. This left her with no choice but to file an application in February 2015.

“Even when I left the department, he continued to harass me and has been doing so for the last eight months. The man has left me with little choice but to quit the job,” Shireen told The Express Tribune. “Now I just hope someone can help me out.”

“He calls and threatens me with dire consequences if I refuse his advances,” the woman explained, adding she was more worried Sohail might harm her son.

Naturally, Shireen’s family was worried and asked her to quit her job as there seemed to be no action forthcoming from the KTH human resources director. The KTH employee said the senior technician even resorted to making false claims to people; such as spending Rs2 million on her.

“I am unable to continue my job and he has put me in such a situation that I cannot face my colleagues,” Shireen said. The harassment victim said she would be left with no choice but to approach the Chief Minister’s Complaint Cell if the matter was not resolved.

When contacted, HRD Director Noor Zaman Khattak told The Express Tribune they have taken up the issue and directions were given to probe the matter within three days. “The relevant committee was astonishingly unaware of the law which was something shocking for us,” Khattak said. He said this was the reason a three-day timeframe was allowed.

“I had to quit my job twice when I was asked out on a date after just a few days [of joining],” recalled Batool*, a University of Peshawar graduate who started working at a local welfare organisation.

The employee said she left her jobs because she refused to wilt to the pressure, yet felt insecure at the same time, “I could not share it with my family as I knew there would be repercussions,” she said. “The only way out was to quit.”

Social activist Khursheed Bano said after the Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010, committees were formed to tackle such cases. However, theory and practice remained two different matters.

“After almost five years, I don’t see the implementation of the act as committee members do not know how to resolve such cases. We have yet to fill the position of the provincial Ombudsman’s,” Bano said. The social activist added a large number of these cases occur in the health and education sectors over postings. “If you accept the offer, you are posted at a desirable location,” Bano said.

Express Tribune

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