Harassment against women at the workplace is a persistent issue in Pakistan, with studies showing that over 50% of women face some form of harassment at work. To address this, Pakistan passed The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act in 2010. This post analyzes the key features and scope of this important legislation.
The Act provides a broad definition of harassment, covering unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, verbal/written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature, and sexually demeaning attitudes. This aligns with definitions from CEDAW and covers the major forms of sexual harassment.
Scope of the Law
The law covers all organizations in both public and private sectors across Pakistan. Educational institutions are also included. The definition of “workplace” covers not just the office premises but also outside work activities linked to the job. However, it does not explicitly cover transportation or domestic workers.
Role of Inquiry Committees
The law mandates all organizations to set up internal Inquiry Committees to receive and investigate harassment complaints. This decentralized approach makes reporting accessible. Inquiry Committees have powers to summon witnesses, receive evidence, recommend penalties, and maintain confidentiality.
Oversight by Ombudsmen
Parties unsatisfied with the Committee’s decision can appeal to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman has the powers of a civil court for investigation and oversight. This provides an impartial quasi-judicial body for redressal. Ombudsmen have interpreted the law progressively in some cases.
Employers have a major role in implementing the Act’s provisions, including displaying the Code of Conduct, properly constituting the Inquiry Committee, and making adjustments to separate the complainant and accused during the investigation. This engages them in creating a safe workplace.
Shortcomings and Recommendations
Some definitions like “workplace” could be expanded, and regular harassment monitoring assessments mandated. Discrimination in salaries and opportunities should also be covered. More awareness campaigns are needed. Overall though, the law is a major step forward in protecting women’s right to work in Pakistan against harassment.
The 2010 Act provides a comprehensive legal framework for addressing the long-standing issue of workplace harassment of women in Pakistan. Proper enforcement and positive interpretation by courts will strengthen its effectiveness in creating safe, just and inclusive workplaces where women can equally participate.