Sexual Harassment at workplace seemingly may not be an issue in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, especially when the victims do not dare speak against the injustice done on behalf of the harasser. The reality, however, is excruciatingly harsh.
Women are well aware of the lustful gazes, the dirty remarks, and the unwelcome advances by the opposite gender every time a female walks on the road or rides a public transport, but the workplaces are usually considered safe. Nevertheless, harassment is the reprehensible conduct which is very much prevalent in all walks of a woman’s life, including the workplace environment. Sexual harassment at workplaces in Pakistan and all over the world is a bitter truth, and the issue is direr than ever before.
A research study comprising of 200 respondents from 10 public and 10 private organizations revealed that 96 percent of the females or their colleagues faced some form of sexual harassment at workplace.
NINETY-SIX is a huge percentage!
Sexual Harassment, What Is Included?
So, how do we define harassment at the workplace?
The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 [YES! There exists such a law] defines
Harassment as any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes, causing interference with work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply with such a request or is made a condition of employment.
A pretty long definition, which 90 percent of the women, even those who face the issue, won’t bother to read or understand. We are habitual at labelling things as “it’s okay, what can we do!!” In a male dominant society, women are accustomed to getting the advice on ignoring sexual harassment, and painfully, the advice comes from the same gender! On top of that, a large group of individuals believe that if a woman is being sexually harassed, it is her own fault. During one of the research studies on workplace sexual harassment, a participant allegedly said,
“It is you who makes your own environment. I work with men but not even a single man ever teases me because I am empowered and I know my boundaries.”
While it is true that women showing weakness might be more likely to face harassment, but trying to make this an obvious reason in all the cases would be a brutal statement from a woman against a woman.
Most Common Forms of sexual harassment of Women at Workplace:
Following are the some most common forms of workplace harassment in Pakistan.
- A sexually suggestive gaze
- Unnecessary touching
- Bullying/verbal harassment
- Gender bias
- Indecent body language
- Subtle pressure for sexual favors/activities
- Showing explicit content
- Sharing inappropriate content (text, images & videos)
- Marginalizing women
- Sexual bribes or threats
Based on the type of workplace, multiple cases of sexual harassment can be described. For example, a boss may harass his employee, a doctor may harass a nurse, a patient or colleague might harass a doctor, a banker might be sexually mistreated by the senior employees, an actress may be asked for sexual favors by directors and producers, and a sales women might be harassed by the customers, etc.
Research results on sexual harassment at workplaces in Pakistan:
AASHA (Alliance Against Sexual Harassment) conducted a study on sexual harassment and found that 80 percent of the female employees working in the formal and informal sectors in Pakistan are sexually harassed. The results were high for the formal sector, both private and public organizations, where around 93 percent of the women participants reported of sexual harassment at their workplaces. This study was conducted back in 2002, and the matters have gone worse since then.
Another study revealed that most of the women are aware of their rights, yet unaware of the Protection against Harassment of women at the Workplace Act, 2010. (Read on to know about the details of this act).
A total of 520 workplace harassment cases were filed between the years 2008 and 2010. It makes only 2 percent of the total violence-against-women cases reported during this time.
In our patriarchal society where reporting a case of sexual harassment means questioning the victim’s innocence, most of the sexual harassment cases remain unreported. Research states the unreported number to be more than 75 percent.
Manifestations of Female Harassment at workplaces:
There are three significant manifestations.
1. Abuse of authority:
It is when a supervisor, director, producer, or any other high authority person misuses his authority and asks for sexual favors. These favors are asked in return for certain job benefits such as promotion, wage increase, or job transfer, etc. One female employee describes her experience of abuse of authority as:
“In one of the organization, where I was working in the past, the manager of the unit office was misusing the female employees while all were quiet and did not take any action.”
2. Hostile environment:
Any hostile environment claim, in general, requires a severe form of harassment, such as physical contact, being practised in the workplace. A single minor act of harassment would be considered as a violation against anti-hostile work environment.
A hostile environment affects an individual’s work performance, the turnover rate of employees, and creates an overall offensive situation.
If a person refuses to grant sexual favors, harassment could also manifest itself in the form of revenge. Following are a few possible forms of retaliation:
- Limiting the job promotional options for the person
- Spreading rumor’s and generating gossips against that person
- Distortion in the evaluation reports
- Removal from service.
One of the participants of a research study describes an incident of retaliation as:
“Many years ago, my friend’s boss tried to grab her but when he realized that she wasn’t going to cooperate him, he just fired her on the pretext that her work wasn’t satisfactory.”
Why do women become the victim of harassment at workplaces?
The thought of a woman being needy for her job, having low self-confidence, being less powerful, and employed at a junior work position is what makes the perpetrator confident of his actions unable to make ways to the complaint office.
The perpetrators of sexual harassment take advantage of their high authoritative positions and find it okay to do as they want. The bitter truth is that they get away with it easily because the victims do not raise their voices, and the unreported acts of harassment actually motivate the harasser to repeat his actions.
Women are socialized to suffer in silence, and men consider themselves more powerful than women. First, come lucrative offers, then comes threat. For the harasser, it is a harmless fun they could enjoy on a daily basis. Yet the victim has to bear the psychological and social consequences.
It sounds logical that a young woman in the early stages of her career is always afraid of the consequences of reporting the perpetrator. Even if she decides to leave the job, she needs references to get to another opportunity. Where do these references & good character certificates come from? Mostly, from the past employees.
What happens when you have already refused a “favor” to the boss? You know it. Quid pro quo; A poor soul with her silenced voice and a characterless person at a high authoritative position keeps the ball rolling. That is why women face harassment at workplaces.
Women have long been marginalized to suffer in silence. The oppressors who commit such heinous acts are well aware of this “suffer in silence” mantra. Girls wouldn’t even report the incidents of sexual harassment to their parents because they fear to jeopardize their careers. After all, what is the easiest solution for the male member of a family to prevent harassment? Ask the women of the household to resign from the job. This is our biggest preventive strategy which actually prevents more than 80 percent of the cases from being reported!!
Most people avoid reporting sexual harassment out of fear of humiliation and to preserve their Islamic modesty. Other reasons include:
- Fear of losing job and facing financial problems
- Fear of being mocked
- Threats from the harasser
When to stand against Workplace Sexual Harassment:
Any form of harassment, be it minor or severe, deserves a clear, firm, big, fat NO. Women often ignore the first act of harassment on behalf of a colleague or a boss, and the situation starts getting worse. When it comes to raising a voice against workplace sexual harassment, NIP THE EVIL IN THE BUD should be a practiced policy.
When a woman sets boundaries for “NO MEANS NO,” she is sending a message that just like men, women too are powerful. No one should consider them an object to be suppressed.”
One does not necessarily need to take a legal action at once, but a firm NO could save women from a lot of future problems.
If you decide not to complain to the higher authorities for whatever reasons, at least report the incident to another trustworthy colleague of yours, so that there is someone who knows what happened. That person might even take a stand for you. Moreover, any victim of harassment is likely to go through guilt, fear, low self-esteem, and depression. As you share your anger against the harasser, you are likely to feel better. Therefore, if nothing, at least share it with someone so that you can put the burden on your chest, at least a bit.
Fight against sexual harassment at the workplace:
Following strategies will help you fight against sexual harassment at workplace in Pakistan.
1. Use verbal means to say NO!
Let the oppressor know that you are not comfortable with his inappropriate gestures or sexual advances and that you intend to keep the relationship purely professional. It is important to make things clear right when the oppressor sets on that road. If you do not raise your voice, the harasser is more likely to practice this act repeatedly based on his perception that you are weak.
“Women of all ages must learn to say NO. They must protect & defend themselves against the unwelcome advances from the opposite gender. A clear NO against harassment can make a big difference.”
Men, on the other hand, need to understand that in no way possible they can misuse their authority to gain sexual favours from the female employs.
2. Keep your records well in place:
In this era of fancy technology, it doesn’t hurt to use the voice recorder of your cell phone to keep a proof of boss’ inappropriate talk. If the perpetrator refuses to abstain from his immoral acts, and the things go out of hand, this recording would come handy as a proof in front of higher authorities. You can also turn on your camera to let the abuser know that his actions are being recorded and now if you report the incidence, it is his reputation that is at stake, not yours. This is how you can turn the tables on the harassers.
3. Report to the higher authorities:
If your organization has an anti-harassment policy, you can register a complaint to the concerned person. If there is no such policy, you should approach the HR department of your office. Utilize any available evidence to the best of your benefit.
You can also submit an application for the implementation of an anti-harassment policy. By all means, all organizations are bound to do that by law.
WOMEN PROTECTION ACT, 2010:
In the year 2000, UN was the only organization to have an anti-harassment policy. As of today, Pakistan has a law that is exclusive to harassment at workplaces, The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010. More than 300 organizations in Pakistan have adopted it and not only has it helped in sorting the cases of harassment, but also improved the satisfaction level of employees.
Let’s take a look at the details.
The motivation behind passing an anti-harassment law was to provide a safe environment, free of harassment menaces. The law requires each organization, be it public, private, or civil, to adopt an internal code of conduct and develop a self-regulatory mechanism that allows the employees to report any form of harassment or inappropriate behaviour.
The organization, AASHA (an Alliance against Sexual Harassment) provides the internal code of conduct that abides by the law and is easily implementable in organizations. Access a copy here.
Based on this act, if an employee registers a complaint, an inquiry committee, consisting of at least one female member, must investigate the issue and submit the findings within 30 days of initiation of inquiry. If the accused is found guilty, inquiry committee can recommend the Competent Authority to impose penalties such as withholding the promotion/increment of the perpetrator for a specific period of time, censure, compensation paid to the victim from the pay of the accused, removal or dismissal from the service, or even compulsory retirement.
A copy of women protection act can be assessed here (in English) and here (in Urdu).
Organizations fighting against WorkPlace harassment in Pakistan:
There are certain women activist organizations fighting against the immorality of harassment. Their mission is to empower women and provide protection & legal aid to the victims of harassment. Some of these organizations are:
- AASHA (Alliance Against Sexual Harassment)
- Kashf Foundation
- Step Forward Pakistan
- Aurat Foundation
Prevention strategies against workplace harassment:
Following strategies can help you prevent sexual harassment at your workplace in Pakistan.
1. Sexual Harassment Policy:
Each organization should have a harassment policy that clearly states the consequences of indecent behaviour or unethical moves. The policy should be clear on the punishments against multiple forms of harassment, and the employees should be given a brief on the policy at the time of selection for the employment.
The organizations need to put into effect a specific code of conduct. The best policies are the ones that are easy to implement and are strictly adopted in a workplace. If it does not apply to the work environment, putting pen to paper and crafting a harassment policy is of no use. ASHAA has devised a code of conduct that is easy to follow for different organizations. The code of conduct could be assessed here.
2. Anti-harassment training for the employees:
These training should be conducted at least once a year. The aim is to educate the employs on the concept of sexual harassment, explain women’s right to work in an environment free of intimidation and harassment, and encourage women employs to use complaint procedures if need be. Anti-harassment campaigns should also be organized to explain the legal rights that exist to protect women from workplace harassment.
The role of Family Members against WorkPlace Harassment:
The best way to stop harassment is not to lock your daughters at home after any such incident. It is to stand against it and support the woman of your household at the time of need. If you as a family member get supportive, it’ll be a big step towards a harassment-free environment. Before any law or policy, it is the family members of an individual who needs to protect her from the psychological trauma of being ashamed to be a victim of harassment.
A supporting family makes confident women, and a confident, well-read women are more likely to deal with harassment without trepidation.
Despite that a protection against workplace harassment law exists, countless organizations are unaware of its existence. It is the responsibility of the aware lot to make sure that these laws are put into action. If you are an employee of an organization that does not abide by the women protection act, irrespective of your gender, you can file an application for anti-harassment policy implementation in your organization.
Here’s a harassment related case report from a private hospital.
It was a usual working day for a nurse until a senior male staff intentionally blocked her path. This male member was already known for his repetitive obnoxious behaviour. Yet his multiple attempts of intentional, unwelcomed physical contact with the female staff were always unreported.
As he tried to come closer, the nurse slapped him and ran away. She was later advised by her colleagues to keep quiet and not report the incident. That nurse remained absent for the next two days, and many years later, when she thinks of this incident, she still has to bear the emotional pain. Yes, the incident went unreported and the perpetrator kept repeating his immoral actions.
Why do women have to tolerate the shameful acts of harassment?
Research states that more than 75 percent of the females or their colleagues faced some form of sexual harassment at workplace.
How many more cases of workplace harassment do we need before it becomes mandatory to raise our voices?
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.