Protection against harassment of women at workplace

By Mufakhra Rao

“Nothing in the world is ever completely wrong. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.” — Paulo Coelho

Even a child could realise the tenebrous sign of harassment but he or she may not know how to react or raise their voice for safety. Fear, confusion and weakness may harness their voice which could sharpen the teeth of the offender. The curse grasps the individual and travels safely from one victim to another.

That’s how personal stories breed everywhere in society, regardless of class differences. Victims can be anyone and the offenders can be everywhere.

The factor which is elevating the number of offenders is fear and lack of knowledge about an institutional framework to protect the marginalised strata; the fear of being segregated by society, the fear of separation from cheerful companions, and the fear to face the strange behaviour of parents and relatives. This fear brings resentment to every heart, no matter how old the victim is.

A middle-class girl begins her practical journey after her long and expensive educational process; enters into a job to raise her economic status and outshine herself in her own eyes and before her parents. It is not always a matter of bread and butter; it can encompass self-esteem, self-recognition and self-respect. She enters the working place with a promising, confident and self-structured personality. The journey begins with a restless schedule and no rewards by the end of the month except the salary, just equal to the monthly fare. After three or four months, the burden doubles and one day approaches with an offer. This is the moment she visualizes herself in a better position with him or saying goodbye to this job and searching for another.

Blackmailing starts with her acceptance and such sort of blackmailing tactics are everywhere in many shapes. There was a dire need for some strong institutional restraints, restrictions, hammers, rules, laws and a resounding voice for working women’s protection.

I heard that voice in the shape of Federal Ombudsman Against Harassment (FOSPAH) Mrs Kashmala Tariq who was invited to address the lawyers gathering at Islamabad High Court the other day. She introduced herself as a federal ombudsman to deal with harassment issues of all kinds at workplaces.

She said that her office is an autonomous, quasi-judicial, statutory body working under the ambit of Act No-IV of 2010 for the protection against harassment at the workplace. The federal government has also given the authority of deciding the cases related to the inheritance of women to the federal ombudsman office through The Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Act, 2020. FOSPAH is empowered to protect and secure the legal ownership rights of women in properties inherited or owned by her. This federal institution is also empowered under the “Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Act 2020” to deal with all the complaints related to women’s property rights including movable or immovable property. The aggrieved woman or anybody, on her behalf, can file a complaint at FOSPAH. The ombudsman can even take suo moto notice in such cases and decisions are announced in two months.

She said that her office strives to resolve the problem but she also pursues and observes the situation afterwards. Under her observation, no one can restrain the complainant from continuing her job and she has the power to punish the accused or can impose a huge fine.

It’s sanguine that after the enactment of the harassment act 2010, it is the responsibility of every employer of an organization to ensure implementation of this Act in the shape of the formation of the internal inquiry committee and display of the code of conduct at a conspicuous place in the organization. This is satisfying that this institution is working to create a safe working environment that is free from harassment, abuse, intimidation and discrimination. It enables the female staff to work with self-confidence and by providing a comfortable workplace environment.

The working women should take benefit of this institutional mechanism to safeguard their rights at the workplace and also sensitize their children about the legal framework for the protection of children’s rights in Pakistan. In this regard, the office of the ombudsman Punjab, led by retired Maj. Azam Suleman Khan, has established an office of the chief provincial commissioner for children to deal with the complaints of the children up to 18 years of age in the province. This office has disposed of 229 out of 236 children related complaints in 2021.

It is hoped that the proactive working of the state bodies could help to create and strengthen a conducive atmosphere for the marginalized segments of the society to achieve the overall goal of the city-state of Medina.

— The writer is a practising lawyer in Islamabad High Court and a freelance contributor.

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