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Workplace harassment laws

Workplace harassment laws

Women have not had much of a break ever in this country. Although open sexual harassment in public has diminished, verbal assault and other forms of harassment have persisted. Harassment in the workplace has also continued to thrive, prompting the Supreme Court, upon rehashing a case from 2016 in which a federal ombudsperson and a judge fought against each other exercising their powers, to express its stance on the issue. The SC maintains that if provincial governments amend the law on harassment of women in the workplace, the law should not be weakened. There is peculiarity about this position; laws are rarely amended to be diluted and seek to improve the delivery of justice. Nonetheless, the caution by the Court is welcome for a society that has a weak legal framework and poor implementation.

While a developed country can expend resources on modifying laws to ensure that the delivery of justice is not tilted towards any gender, Pakistan needs to focus more on securing justice for women separately. Caution that laws could be abused by women is plausible but given the strict treatment in the past of women facing harassment of various forms, especially rape, the former argument is almost a non-issue at this time. Our systems have never been ones that support and protect women in coming forth with harassment claims. The police, in charge of registering FIRs, have historically been negligent in taking complaints forward.

Systemic overhaul is needed to favour women in the current climate and while abuse of power and law by any gender is unacceptable in any society, that should not be the main focus. Workplaces need to implement their own harassment laws for which governments need to hold them accountable. The dilemma here, however, is that 80% of harassment claims come from within the government sector. This is the first area that the Court should target and ensure that accountability works top-down.

The Express Tribune

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