No Place for Harassment at Workplace

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Recently, hundreds of students came together and protested against a workplace harassment case at IBA Karachi. This came as a shock because universities and other educational institutes are supposed to be a safe haven for women and young girls. Unfortunately, we as a society have failed to protect our women.

It is surprising to see that getting inside any campus requires proper security checks but it is astonishing that there are no checks and balances to monitor blatant bullying, misogyny, and harassment inside the premises. According to a survey conducted by Dawn in 2018, around 35 percent of women subjected to harassment are asked to remain silent by their colleagues and bosses.

What really constitutes Harassment?

Any unwanted verbal or physical behavior that is inappropriate or violates another person’s (man or woman) dignity constitutes harassment. This can be sexual or psychological as well. However, even now as women comprise half of the workforce in the world, sexual harassment persists in almost every sector from male-dominated to female-dominated industries and from low wages to high-profile jobs.

Harassment is systemic.

Harassment is not something that occurs because of a fleeting moment of desire or circumstance rather it is embedded in the patriarchal society which perpetuates the imbalances in power. Usually, men hold the dominant positions in the job market and are most likely to be supervisors or managers. Moreover, racism and discrimination further add fuel to these systemic power imbalances.

The Effects of Harassment Go Beyond the Harassing Interaction.

Especially for women harassment means the end to their career or worse, negative effects on their self-esteem, mental health, and vocational development. It can reduce self-confidence and further leads to anxiety, depression, and constant fear. even it can have adverse severe adverse effects on the workplace with low productivity, absenteeism and low worker morale.

Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010

Fortunately, public representatives have legislated the most awaited Act on women protection against sexual abuse at the workplace in 2010. This Act broadly defines the term ‘Harassment. However, as a whole, harassment is only covered as sexual harassment which can result in demeaning behavior and a hostile environment towards the complainant. The said Act also defines terms like ‘Employer, Employee, Workplace, and Organization’.

The legislature intends to arrange a self-governing mechanism for all governmental, private, and public organizations. Under this mechanism, each institute is obliged to constitute an inquiry committee and a competent authority. The inquiry committee is responsible to conduct an inquiry once the complaint has been filed whereas the Federal and Provincial Governments are under the duty to appoint an ombudsman, who entertains appeals against the departmental inquiry committees. Such provisions in the law depict protection of the complainant and non-discrimination at the workplace.

Another important aspect of this Act is the Code of Conduct which clearly defines three harassment manifestations and makes it compulsory for the employer to not abuse his authority and to avoid retaliation once the complaint has been filed. Likewise, the said code of conduct assures the confidentiality of the parties.

Punjab, Sindh and KPK have adopted similar piece of legislation. Balochistan is the only province which expanded the scope of the Act through adding ‘blackmailing, physical and mental torture, defamation or threat to defame through modern techniques’. Furthermore, Baluchistan introduced a helpline to guide victim.

Tackling the Harassment:

On the surface, Federal Act might seem as fulfilling its purpose, however, its scope is very limited. It does not address psychological and racial harassment that is more apparent than ever nowadays. Likewise, penalties defined under the Act are vague in nature and require revision. Nevertheless, the law alone is not sufficient to deal with this problem. Tackling harassment requires a collective response. Behavior change at the societal and individual level is needed because only then we would be able to eradicate this evil of harassment.

Authors: Javaria Nisar, Zoya Chaudary & Atif (Fellows at Anthro Insights)

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