Sexual Harassment In The Workplace; The state in Pakistan.
Dr Meher A Zaidi.
Pakistan is a country of 170 million people, out of which women constitute some roughly 50% of the population. As some 25% of population is between ages 14- 30 years, a large chunk is young people. Many are in schools, colleges, and many are working in industry, offices, schools, clinics, hospitals, service sector like hotels, restaurants, banks and other financial institutions and organizations , colleges, universities, households like maids, cooks, drivers, ‘chowkidars’ or watchmen, transport sector like, school vans and buses, private bus and coach service, public sector buses and institutional transport like university and college buses. In the transport sector a large number of boys are employed where they work as conductors, cleaners and helper boys. Sometimes especially in associated work services of transport minor boys are also seen working. In rural areas where a large agricultural workforce is present, both men and women are employed as farm/field workers, and children as helpers. Other agriculture services support are also employed such as mechanics for repair of tools and machinery, tractors and other motors, plumbers etc. The labor laws do provide some safeguards regarding work and employment but no laws concerning sexual harassment are there in Pakistan.
As a large number is working and going to schools , colleges ,clinics , hospitals factories, offices in urban areas, sexual harassment issue has to be tackled in a more decisive and concrete manner in order to give a safe working environment to all concerned. In Europe and USA the issue of sexual harassment in workplace was finally settled after much advocacy, debate and struggle for rights as far back as 1967. Large corporations, industries, organizations, government departments , schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, clinics ,adopted the implementation of the laws, provided an intra organizational training and policy, and facilitated a work environment free of sexual harassment. The laws of gender discrimination are incorporated in these statuettes in USA as they are protected against in the constitution. In Pakistan in order to reach a more egalitarian approach to work opportunities and environment, AASHA (Alliance against Sexual Harassment) has incorporated the gender discrimination with the section against sexual harassment in it’s “Code Of Conduct” for organizations. (http://www.aasha.org.pk/)
In Pakistan the issue of gender discrimination and sexual harassment is confused and mixed with religious, traditional and masochistic attitudes and prejudices. There is a large need for media and civil society to clarify these attitudes and create awareness on these issues.
In Pakistan the “Sexual Harassment Bill” has only been recently ratified and passed both by the Senate and the National Assembly. President Asif Zardari has to sign it and it is widely known that he is in favor of creating a workplace environment free of harassment and gender discrimination in order to increase employability and productivity of Pakistani workforce. He will sign willingly. The resistance initially offered by Mr Babar Awan, a stalwart of the ruling PPP has been mellowed by an amendment to the bill to replace the word ‘women’ with both men and women and a punishment to a fine upto Rs.500,000 and jail punishment upto 3years. Ms. Sherry Rehman has played a pivotal role in getting this bill passed. This bill was move by Dr. Attiya Inayatullah although initially Mufti Muhammad Ajmal (JUI) was the initiator but due to absence could not table.
According to Dawn newspaper in an article dated 22nd January ;” The draft defines harassment as ‘ any unwelcome advance , request for sexual favors, or other, verbal and written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes, causing interference with the work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, or the attempt to punish the complainant, for refusal to comply to such a request or is made a condition for employment.
All organizations, including federal and provincial government ministries, departments, corporations, educational institutions, private commercial organizations and registered civil society associations, will be requested to constitute inquiry committees of at least three members, each, one of them being a woman, to probe complaints and give their findings within 30 days to concerned , competent authority that will award recommended penalties.
Minor penalties are; censure, withholding for specified periods of promotion or increment and stoppage at an efficiency bar in the time-scale, otherwise than for fitness to cross such bar, and recovery of compensation payable to a complainant from pay or any other source of the accused.
Major penalties include; reduction to a lower post in time-scale or to a lower stage in a time-scale, compulsory retirement, removal from service, and fine, a part of which can be used as compensation for the complainant. In case of owner found guilty, the fine shall be payable to the complainant.
An inquiry committee may recommend to an ombudsperson for appropriate action against a complainant whose allegations are found to be false and made with malafide intentions while a party aggrieved by decision of competent authority may prefer appeal to the ombudsperson to be appointed by the federal or provincial govt. Appeals against the decisions of the ombudsperson at the federal level can be made to the president and at the provincial level to the governor’
As information provided on AASHA website shows a great deal of networking , advocacy, research, lobbying and owning by persons like Dr Attiya Inayatullah, over the last decade , finally gave a ‘Code Of Conduct’ to organizations both private and civil society whereby a ‘Zero Tolerance’ to sexual harassment was agreed upon. These ‘ Brave New People’ who adopted the Code for their enterprises and organizations .
As an example of violations and sexual harassment complaints in the journalistic sphere by senior female journalist shows how important it is for Pakistan to implement the laws against sexual harassment. She suffered a lot and was unable to file a suit and was derided, ostracized, ridiculed for no fault of hers. Her open letter is available on the net .
It has been proven in studies that majority of victims are women but men and children also suffer. In Pakistan, due to a large unorganized work force, traditional and religious taboos and dogmas, most cases of sexual harassment go unreported. This bill may be helpful in providing a large chunk of working persons with redressal and help in prevention and containment of this menace , but there is a need to bring the unorganized sectors into it’s ambit also. I do hope that Women’s and Labor, Human rights’ organizations also look into this aspect.
Bieng a doctor , I have personally witnessed nurses, young female doctors, students bieng harassed in all sort of ways by senior doctors, hospital, clinic administrators, professors, male doctors working in wards innumerable times. The implementation of this law will greatly curb this menace in hospitals and clinics. Many cases of patient abuse by doctors are also prevalent. I am not sure if this bill will cover that. In North Carolina, the employee is also defined as a vendor or contractor who may not work on the premesis of the employer.
There are many such issues and categories which need to be included in this law eventually as the passage of the bill was just a primary step towards removing gender discrimination in employment.
In Pakistan, there is a need to spread awareness and implementation mechanisms have to be put in place. All large organizations, corporations, universities, colleges, schools, government departments, industries need to develop a training program and implement a Code Of Conduct . The media needs to spread awareness and associations and organizations to the grass root level should participate. The lawyer community should play a very active role in helping the victims.
What Is A Policy?
As North Carolina says “ The policy of the state of North Carolina is that no state employee may engage in conduct that falls under the definition of unlawful workplace harassment indicated below. All employees are guaranteed the right to work in an environment free from unlawful work place harassment and retaliation.
What Are The Definitions?
Unlawful Workplace Harassment:
It is unwelcome and unsolicited speech or conduct based upon race, sex, creed , religion, national origin, age, color, handicapping condition as defined by GS 168A.3 that creates hostile work environment or circumstances involving quid pro quo.(North Carolina State).
In Pakistan AASHA(http://www.aasha.org.pk/) Code of Conduct document states that ;
Gender harassment includes any unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, causing interference with work performance, is made a condition for employment or creates an intimidating hostile or offensive work environment or the attempt to punish the refusal to comply to such a request. The intimidating behavior or act can be of a person in authority, who controls conditions of the complainants’ employment or from a co-worker, who as result of intimidation can make the work environment hostile for the complainant.
What Is Hostile Work Environment?
It is one that both a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive and one that the particular person who is the object of harassment perceives to be hostile or abusive. Hostile work environment is determined by looking at all of the circumstances including frequency of the allegedly harassing conduct, it’s severity, whether it is physically threatening or humiliating and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.
What Is Quid Pro Quo?
Quid Pro Quo harassment consists of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors , or other verbal or physical conduct when
1) submission to such a conduct is either made explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment.
2) Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis of employment decisions affecting such individual.
What Is Retaliation?
It is the adverse treatment which occurs because of opposition to unlawful work place harassment.
In Pakistan such a case is available to study in the form of a letter of a female journalist working with a private tv channel (http://pkpolitics.com/2009/06/24/sexual-harassment-of-female-journalist/). This case study shows the disadvantages both to the reputation , work environment , integrity of the organization in failure to adopt the Zero Tolerance policy against sexual harassment at the organizational level and discrimination and loss to a senior female journalist.
How To Act?
· Make and implement a Code Of conduct for your organization, institution, department.
· Make a reporting system and put manuals and mechanisms in place.
· Training and awareness at all levels should be adopted.
· Put procedural SOPs in place and easy access to complainant.
· Make network with legal help, other organizations for facilitation at all levels.
(Ref: Dawn newspaper, internet, AASHA, State of North Carolina website).
PS: President Zardari signed the bill on 29-1-2010 making it into law. now we should all safeguard and work for it's implementation. The bill includes harrassment of women on gender basis in any form including, verbal, physical, innuendo, instigating others to tease etc and sexual harassment in any form.