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Women protection bill: A difficult task to get approved from NA, says Shahnaz Wazir

By: Asma Razaq

ISLAMABAD: It was a difficult task to get approved the Protection against Harassment of Women at Work Place Act 2010′ from the National Assembly, as there were some members of the Lower House who did not want the approval of women protection bill, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Special Assistance to the Prime Minister on Social Sector said while addressing an event about Working Women’s Movement Alliance Against Sexual Harassment here on Wednesday.

The event was launched by Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (AASHA ) to appreciate the efforts made by the Working Women’s Movement Alliance Against Sexual Harassment. The advisor said that the government is committed to promoting and implementing this legislation and has organised a number of activities to promote the law. The Prime Minister’s Secretariat was the first to adopt the code of conduct and constituted the inquiry committee. She requested AASHA to document the struggle as this has paved way for other bills to be passed by the parliament.

She added, “The Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill 2010 is aimed at creating a working environment for women free from harassment, abuse and intimidation. Punishment for the guilty or violators of a code of conduct ranges from censure to dismissal to an unspecified fine. However, women are still resigning from their jobs because of being asked for sexual favours”. Sexual harassment is intimidation, bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours. In some contexts or circumstances, sexual harassment may be illegal. Even though an anti-sexual harassment law is active in Pakistan since March, it appears that working women still brave sexual harassment at their places of work.

Aqsa Khan Executive Director Women’s Organisation for Rights and Development (WORD) and Founding Member AASHA elaborated “The aim of the exhibitions is not just to showcase the work of AASHA but to create awareness on the success of the movement, which through its consistent efforts achieved the goal for bringing about anti-sexual harassment laws. Through these nationwide exhibitions we will strive to strengthen support for working women and victims that come forward with their cases as well as changing perceptions of shifting the blame from the victim to the perpetrator. The exhibitions will involve working women, trade union activists, parliamentarians, government and the business community”.

She maintained that the sexual harassment can happen anywhere – in the street, at a club, at an interview, in a shop, school, college, bazaar, waiting at a red light, bus stop, restaurant, airport, hence any public place, and at work. In Pakistan these incidents are not reported, they are common happenings and each individual has its own way of dealing with it, but please do remember you are not alone.

Dr Fouzia Saeed pioneer of AASHA movement and Chairperson National Implementation Watch Committee said, “AASHA highlighted a problem and gave a solution in the form of anti-sexual harassment legislation the role of CSOs is to give solutions to the problem by working in alliance with the Government. AASHA never had to go in a protest mode such as bashing the Government through targeted press conferences or unnecessary demonstration but considered Government an important partner in the struggle. Without the support of the parliamentarians the law would not have been passed. The cases that are being reported is our achievement, AASHA is facilitating and protecting the mechanism of implementation, cases.

She said, ‘Protection against Harassment of Women at Work place Act 2010’ makes it mandatory for the managements of the organisations to institutionalise a mechanism to deal with the issue of sexual harassment at work place. It instructs organisations to form a 3-member Inquiry Committee with at least one female member to handle cases of sexual harassment and to inform the employees about it. It requires every organization to adopt a Code of Conduct. If an organization fails to abide by law, an employee can hold it accountable by taking it to court where it shall be fined anywhere from Rs 25000 to Rs 100,000.

Bushra Gohar appreciated AASHA’s effort in seeing a window of opportunity with the current Government to get the legislation passed. We are concerned about the effective implementation and wherever there is a need for compliance with the law in organizations we guide them to follow the exact procedure.

She said every day we have been hearing new harassment cases surfacing in different organisations like Punjab University, Peshawar University, Quaid-I-Azam University and Pakistan Television. She said the code of conduct should be displayed in the organisations so that the people should know whom they should contact in such situations. She regretted that the big organisations like PTV and even in National Assembly she did not see the display of the code of conduct that every organization needs to adopt.

A survey conducted by the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment at Workplaces (AASHA), a group of NGOs, has found that a staggering 78.38 per cent of working women had faced sexual harassment at work, while 21 per cent chose not to talk about the topic.

Kishwar Naheed women’s rights activist and renowned poetess eloquently presented her in-depth understanding on the issue relating to specific incidents of sexual harassment.

Source: Business Recorder