IT may be too early to say the tide is turning when it comes to penalising sexual harassment, but ripples have certainly been created. How far these ripples extend and whether they can lead to a cultural shift can only be judged in time, but setting precedents and drawing clear lines regarding what is and is not acceptable behaviour at the workplace is an important start. This Thursday, the Sindh ombudsman for the protection against harassment of women at the workplace imposed a fine of Rs100,000 on one employee of the Sindh health department, while promotions for another have been stopped for three years. The two men were found guilty of harassing a colleague of theirs. Similarly, just a few days earlier, three government employees were fired from their jobs for harassing the women they worked with.
As more women enter the job market, employers will need to ensure that they are upholding the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act in letter and spirit. Many women struggle to even step inside organisations and are forced to fight battles both within and outside their homes just to be ‘allowed’ a chance at financial independence — only to be dissuaded by a needlessly hostile and sometimes dangerous work environment. According to the law, all workplaces must prominently display the code of conduct; set up an inquiry committee of three members, consisting of at least one woman; proceed with an investigation within three days of receiving a written complaint; and then submit their findings within 30 days. For years, women have remained silent about the harassment, abuse and intimidation they have had to put up with, fearing that speaking out will only make them more of a target, or they will be made to leave their jobs, or be subjected to character assassination that will haunt them beyond the workplace. That some are now speaking out and receiving support is encouraging for others, and will help pave the way for a more equitable society in the long run.’