12th November 2021
By Rehan Piracha
The National Assembly recently passed an amendment bill to widen the scope of workplace harassment. The bill’s is confined to the federal territory but similar legislation that is meant to be implemented in the provinces remain at a standstill thanks to government apathy, say women rights activists.
The Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was passed by the National Assembly on 8th November. According to Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, the amendment bill aimed to facilitate increased participation of women in the workforce by removing the lacunae in the law enacted 10 years ago.
But women activists have been pointing out flaws and lacunae in the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace 2010, citing high-profile cases of harassment in recent years. Under the amendment bill, the definition of harassment will now include “any unwanted behaviour which creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment on the basis of age, disability, gender, religion or belief and race or sexual orientation”.
Comments, jokes, abuse, physical gestures, facial expressions,offensive emails, tweets, comments on social networking sites, gazing, gossiping, images, videos, drawing, and graffiti are some of the unwanted behavior listed in the bill.
Similarly, the amendment bill will provide protection from harassment to people, including transgender, engaged in all types of work – formal and informal.
The Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Bill will be enforced in the Islamabad Capital Territory after being passed by the Senate. However, women activists in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh point out that the existing legislation on anti-harassment in their provinces need to be amended to widen the scope of workplace harassment to facilitate the participation of women in the workforce.
Aysha Wadood, women rights activist in Balochistan, welcomed the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Bill 2021 passed by the National Assembly.
Speaking to Voicepk, Wadood said the amendments in the federal law were much needed to broaden scope of workplace and category of employees. “The need to broaden its scope was highlighted in several high profile cases of harassment,” she pointed out.
Yet, she said, the existing law in Balochistan was vague on harassment. The province had adopted the federal Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 with certain changes.
“The word ‘sexual’ was deleted from Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act when Balochistan Assembly passed it,” she said. Similarly, the members of the inquiry committee were increased to five in the Balochistan anti-harassment legislation.
Wadood said she was not very hopeful about the provincial assembly passing a similar anti-harassment bill in line with amendments made by the National Assembly. According to her, the provincial government has done very little towards legislation to improve the lives of the women in the province.
“The new chief minister in the province has no women ministers or advisers,” she said. Even the provincial government had not appointed a chairperson of the Balochistan Commission of the Status of Women despite the passage of the law in 2017, she lamented.
In Sindh, Minister for Women Development Shehla Raza had announced that the provincial assembly would soon enact the Sindh Harassment and Workplace Bill that would remove flaws highlighted in the federal legislation.
“The proposed Sindh Harassment and Workplace Bill is in cold storage,” Mahnaz Rahman, resident director at Aurat Foundation, told Voicepk. The draft bill added provisions that it applied to men and transgender individuals as well as broadened the scope of harassment.
Meanwhile in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the provincial government had not initiated any legislation to remove flaws in the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, according to Nighat Orkazai, member of provincial assembly from Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
“The priorities of the provincial government can be gauged from the fact that there are no women ministers in the provincial cabinet,” Orakzai said. The chief minister has not filled the vacant portfolio of minister for provincial social welfare, she added.
She welcomed the passage of anti-harassment amendment bill in the National Assembly, saying that she would move a similar amendment bill in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.
Samar Minallah, a filmmaker who generally highlighted the lives of women in the province, was of the opinion that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government should help remove stigma in launching harassment complaints.
“Women face difficulties with regard to the procedures for seeking protection against harassment under the law in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” Minallah told Voicepk.
In her statement of objectives, Mazari said the purpose of the amendment bill was to fulfill Pakistan’s Constitutional obligations to its citizens and to guarantee them their dignity and prevention of discrimination on the basis of sex in their professions.