Sexual harassment at a workplace is a very heinous yet common act, unfortunately. Women just do not feel comfortable at a workplace and most of the time they are so threatened by the consequences that they are even afraid of taking up their case against the person who commits such a horrendous crime. There is no check and balance, no security provided to women in most workplaces in Pakistan. Along with this, in a country like Pakistan, the integrity and honor of everyone else except the woman are considered a top priority. It is considered much more important to cater to the prestige of the men in the household of the victim rather than focusing on well-being and justice for the victim. This really complicates most cases as the victim almost never gets justice and because of that, there are no steps taken against this at the workplace. This causes the woman to either leave the job or continue with it in completely unacceptable working conditions because she may have no other option.
Best Ways to Prevent Workplace Harassment in Pakistan:
Now it is high time that workplaces take this seriously and take necessary steps to ensure a safe and healthy environment for women to work in while also ensuring that the criminal gets the punishment he deserves. The administration of a workplace can take certain steps to ensure a secure environment for the women to work in which include the following:
1. Discussion in special Meetings
It is totally unprofessional to not discuss all the issues and policies at the workplace and establish a healthy relationship between the employer and employee, while also laying down some ground rules at the office. It is very important to discuss the causes and repercussions of sexual harassment in the offices so that everyone knows their place and respects all colleagues.
There should also be meetings conducted to come up with rules regarding any sexual harassment case that must be reported to the authorities. There should be a discussion conducted over devising a system where the victim has an easy medium available to report any crime without coming under any sort of threat and facing any unnecessary consequences because it is not the victim’s fault if she is sexually harassed in a professional work environment.
2. Rights of female employees
Every workplace needs to recognize the rights of the women working in the office. There should be clear guidelines and rules that everyone needs to be aware of. It is also important that every guideline should be included in the job contract so that they are official and anyone who does not follow these guidelines or fails to uphold the rights of female employees should face the consequences of his actions. Including the guidelines in the contract will make it a much stronger rule so that even if someone does consider going against it, he should have to think several times of the repercussions that will be a direct result of his actions.
3. Employer’s support
It is a blessing at a workplace to work under a supportive and understanding employee who truly cares about his employees and goes an extra mile to ensure that they are satisfied with the environment they are working in. In Pakistan, however, that is a rarity. Most departments are overworking the employees without even paying them for the overtime work that they do. There are no defined rights of the employees, which really need to change especially in this day and age.
It is vital to introduce and uphold rights of the female employees. They should be given complete security and assurance of a healthy work environment. In most cases of workplace sexual harassment, the case fails to go further and get the victim any justice because she has little to no support from the employer. Most employers avoid supporting such cases because they think that will negatively affect the company/office’s reputation or that if an official case if filed by the victim, it would be an added cost to the expenses to fight a case. So the females working in the office are left with no support just because of selfish reasons like the ones mentioned, while no one even considers the trauma that they are going through due to any incident they may have faced related to sexual harassment at workplace.
It is essential for the employer to support his or her employees no matter what situation they may be facing. It is their responsibility to make sure they provide the employees with the best work environment possible and also to be supportive of them regardless of the situation. If most employers were supportive in sexual harassment cases, there might have been a drastic change in the occurrence of such incidents. However, the number of people who have been facing such situations are only increasing instead of deteriorating because of lack of support and most importantly due to there being no action taken against the criminals in these cases.
4. De-sexualize workplace and educate employees
In different countries, there are different laws that everyone has to follow at a workplace. With the increasing sexual harassment cases, they have actually introduced and implemented laws that focus on de-sexualizing the work environment, which is quite a necessary step that needed to be taken. This has led to fewer sex-related conversations or just-for-laughs being carried out in an office environment and has somewhat improved situations for the female employees.
Pakistan law authority firms need to implement such laws as well. In this country, anything related to sex is considered taboo to the extent that people are not even comfortable in discussing anything related to the topic amongst their families. Growing up, everyone faces an awkward stage where they find out about this and do not know how to accept or deal with this.
A preferred way for them to get comfortable with it would be to discuss this with their parents, get educated about it and learn more about this without choosing the wrong path. But since this topic is all hushed up in Pakistan, that is a huge part of why when someone faces harassment, they rather keep it to themselves than share it with their family and lessen the burden. It is really important to also educate the employees about consent in sex. This is a huge issue, as there is just no concept of consent in sex. Men need to be aware of what consent is and be able to tell if the person is comfortable with even men touching them.
5. Policies against Sexual Harassment
There should be prominent policies against sexual harassment, which should be made clear to every single employee who first applies and then joins the workplace. The policies should also be distributed amongst employees quite often as a reminder. If there is a female employee who has faces sexual harassment at work, she needs to be assured by the policy of where she works that she will be able to report the crime but also be able to keep her identity anonymous. This is because it is possible that if her identity is known, she is further looked down upon at the workplace and it is also possible that she may be fired or threatened outside of work by the criminal.
Moreover, her decision to file a complaint should in no way be held against her; meaning that her complaint should not come in between her promotions or any raises that she may deserve but is refused due to her stand taken against sexual harassment.
Another policy that may be added in the employee rights is that there should be a complete no tolerance policy against the people who sexually harass their female coworkers. It should be part of the contract so that every single employee needs to sign the no tolerance section of the contract. This authorizes the company to take legal action against the person who has been reported by an employee.
The actions taken against the criminal should be severe so that for example if someone has been reported, he should be made to leave work while his case is investigated and any final decision is reached. If he is indeed found guilty of the charge, then he should be fired immediately, without any after job benefits allowed to him.
With these remedial measures at the workplace, it should not be the case that these are just strict rules and regulations only on paper. This needs to be considered as one of the top priorities to keep a check on the complaints that are coming in and ensuring that there is nothing inappropriate being discussed or joked about in the workplace.
Apart from that, there has to be a proper insurance of the whole process going smoothly to see whether the steps are being followed as recommended. There is not room for any favors to be entertained in this situation so that if the criminal is a relative of someone in authority or is considered a really good employee he gets a pass; this is usually the case in these situations but this really needs to change if there is a need to improve the work environment and protect women’s rights in the workplace.
Muhammad Usman Awan is a Blogger and Social Entrepreneur who founded first Anti Harassment Awareness Campaign “Stop Harassment Now”. The Purpose of this campaign is to empower and educate our Girls and Working Women against Harassment.