Pakistan has always struggled and tried hard to bring human rights, especially women’s rights, in line with international standards.
The result of this is that according to the changing system of the world, women have come out of their homes and are working side by side with men, but Pakistani women had to pay a huge price to come from the old system to the new system and they are still paying this price again and again.
According to White Ribbon Pakistan, between 2004 and 2016, 4,734 women were subjected to individual or collective sexual violence in Pakistan and more than 15,000 cases of honour killing or maiming of women were registered.
According to another report, in the first three months of 2022, there has been a 200% increase in incidents of violence against women in Pakistan.
If we look at the data of sexual harassment of women from 2016 to 2022 according to the published reports, it can be understood that it has increased alarmingly every year.
In the year 2022, the incident of gang rape of an American blogger girl in Punjab was such a shameful incident for the whole of Pakistan which made all Pakistanis ashamed in front of the world.
In Pakistan, the ugliness that women are currently facing is sexual harassment in the workplace and offices.
A survey conducted on workplace harassment of women revealed that nearly 93% of women working in the public and private sectors have been accused of sexual harassment.
In these cases of sexual harassment, officers and employees of private institutions are more involved as they threaten to expel women from their institutions and terminate their jobs.
If there was a regulatory mechanism in place in Pakistan, perhaps such incidents would have been less.
Statistics from the Federal Ombudsman Secretariat for Protection Against Harassment (FOSPAH) show that the rate of complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace has increased by 25% in just three years, despite the fact that a significant number of women do not report incidents of harassment, because they have to face their family and society.
According to the following figures in the FOSPAH Annual Report 2022, the total number of complaints between 2018 to 2022 was 2169, among them, 582 complaints were filed by women and 148 men in the govt sector, while 994 complaints were received from women and 445 from men in the private sector.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) defines sexual harassment as follows: Forcing women to commit adultery, forcing them to have sex against their will, describing their beauty, speaking sexually to them, making noises at them, making noises behind their backs or making sexual gestures to them.
These provisions are contained in Article 6 of the ICESCR and Article 11 of CEDAW. In fact, workplace harassment not only violates the fundamental right to work, but also tramples on other related rights.
On the other hand harassment also seriously affects the mental state of women and makes it discrimination based on gender.
Denial of secure rights to work, freedom from discrimination in the workplace or fair and favourable working conditions, is a denial of the well-respected right to dignity, but in countries like Pakistan, women are either harassed at their workplace or exploited on the basis of their gender.
The State is held accountable not only for its failure to discourage gender-based discrimination, but also for its failure to properly implement its international commitments.
There has also been a long trend of online harassment in Pakistan since last few years. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) enforces PECA, and its cyber crime wing specifically investigates complaints from women, but in a country of 34 million internet users, the cyber crime wing has a team of only 500 people, of which 400 were inducted last year.
Harassment reports from the FIA are also alarming, stating that between 2018 and 2019 it received 8,500 complaints from women experiencing online harassment.
PECA is problematic in relation to Pakistan’s international human rights obligations as it criminalises the transmission of defamatory information. and restricts the right of expression of survivors of sexual harassment.
Pakistan has passed the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2010 to protect its international obligations and women’s rights which clearly complies with the requirements of Article 23(1) of the UDHR and CEDAW.
The definition of harassment used by Pakistan is also similar to that given by the CEDAW Committee, which reflects the legislature’s commitment to its international obligations.
The latest Amendment Bill of 2022 broadens its scope to include both formal and informal workplaces, but Pakistan is yet to ratify it.
A draft of this amendment has been prepared in Pakistan and may be approved soon. It will now also include domestic workers, who were previously excluded under the law despite their high risk of harassment.
All public and private institutions are required under the provisions of this Act to adopt an internal code of conduct and a grievance and appeals procedure.
The aim of which is to establish a safe working environment for women. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure the implementation of this Act, which is including but not limited to incorporating the Code of Conduct as part of its management policy.
The management is also directed to display copies of the Code of Conduct at a prominent place in the organization and workplace.
Failure of the employer to comply with this provision shall make the employer liable to a fine which may extend to one lakh rupees but shall not be less than twenty five thousand rupees.
The Act is based on the principles of equal opportunities for men and women and their right to earn a living without discrimination as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan.
What is needed now is that this law should be implemented in Pakistan in real sense and the current government should show sincerity in its strict implementation, while the people of Pakistan also have the responsibility to cooperate with the government in the implementation of this law and not to give an opportunity to the wild beasts in the society to show more brutality.
Mothers and sisters belong to everyone, so if today we remain silent on the harassment of someone else’s mother and sister, then tomorrow the women of our house will be also treated in the same way. Pakistan Zindabad
—The writer is contributing columnist.