Sexual Harassment and Pakistan
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment involves unwanted or unwelcome behavior, which can offend, humiliate and intimidate a person while creating a hostile working environment.
Sexual harassment includes but is not limited to:
- Making unwelcome sexual advances
- Verbal harassment or abuse, verbal or written communication (it includes narration of sexual incidents, emailing or messaging or showing explicit sexual content in print or electronic form (SMS, Email, Screensavers, Posters, CDs etc)
- Request for sexual favors (invitations for sex, requests for going out on dates)
- Physical conduct (like touching, kissing, patting, pinching, physical assault like rape etc)
- Sexually demeaning attitude (leering or staring at a person’s body
Any of above mentioned acts is included in harassment , if it is unwelcome and is causing interference in work performance or creating a hostile working environment or the harasser attempts to punish the complainant for refusal to comply with his/her requests and makes sexual favors a condition of employment.
What are the laws relating to sexual harassment in Pakistan?
Pakistan has enacted a new law namely “The Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010” since last year. This is the first time that sexual harassment has been defined in Pakistan through a legislative instrument. Before this enactment, there was no clear definition of harassment, whether at public, private or workplaces. Section 509 of Pakistan Penal Code 1860, talked about “insulting the modesty” of a woman but there was no clear definition of “modesty”. Moreover, there was no law to prohibit harassment at workplace.
Last year (2010), Government of Pakistan not only enacted a special law for preventing sexual harassment at workplace but also amended section 509 of Pakistan Penal Code. Now it clearly defines harassment and includes harassment at workplace as well. It has also raised the maximum punishment for perpetrator from one to three years. Now under section 509 of Pakistan Penal Code, insulting the modesty of women or sexually harassing them, is a crime. The perpetrator of this crime may be punished with imprisonment, which may extend to 3 years or fine up to PKR 500,000 (5 lakh) or with both. However, this crime is still bailable and compoundable (parties can settle the case between themselves even when matter is in the court, after permission of the court).
Can you please explain in detail the issue of sexual harassment i.e. , how does it occur at workplaces?
According to the 2010 law, sexual harassment manifests itself at a workplace in following three forms
- “Abuse of authority” or Quid Pro Quo harassment …..demand of sexual favors by a person in authority; a supervisor, a person in higher management, employer, and making it a condition of obtaining certain job benefits which may include
- Wage increase
- Promotion (to a higher grade)
- Training opportunity (within or outside the country)
- Transfer (to another place, department etc)
- Job itself
- “Creation of Hostile Working Environment”
- any unwelcome advances ,
- request for sexual favor,
- other verbal or physical conduct ,
- Retaliation….If the victim refuses to grant sexual favors, the perpetrator can retaliate in following ways:
- Limiting an employee’s options for training, future promotions
- Distorting the evaluation (annual confidential reports)
- Generating gossip against the employee
- Limiting access to his/her rights (right to complain, right to work with dignity, right to promotions, wage increases etc)
Which interferes with individual’s work performance or creates a hostile and intimidating work environment
If I become victim of sexual harassment, what should I do according to this law?
It is recommended that you should follow these steps whenever you encounter sexual harassment.
- First Step…..You need to make it clear to harasser that you don’t like his/her advances (his advances are unwelcome/unwarranted),
- Second Step…..Even if you don’t want to make a formal complaint, do inform some trustworthy colleague in your organization,
- Third Step….If you want to lodge a complaint in an informal way, you or your designated person can informally report this incident to your supervisor or inquiry committee,
- Fourth Step…..You can also launch a formal complaint to your supervisor or inquiry committee through your supervisor, CBA (union) nominee or worker representative (in case of absence of union),
- Fifth Step….For filing a formal complaint, you have three options:
- Either report the incident to Inquiry Committee, constituted within your organization (Section 4)
- Report directly to Federal/Provincial Ombudsman, appointed under this act (Section 8)
- Report directly to Police (under Section 509 of PPC)
It is better to initiate complaint inside your organization.
If must be reminded that appeal option is available to all parties i.e., both accused and victim can appeal against decisions.
Is any unwelcome act occurring at workplace only to be considered as sexual harassment?
Not necessarily. Section 2 of this act says that it can include “any situation that is linked to official work or official activity outside office”. So, it can occur outside office when a colleague is harassing other worker outside office or while commuting on employer-provided transport, in a social event like employer organized dinners, lunches, training event or dealing with clients outside one’s office. And the workplace for a marketing employee is not a building; rather the whole marketing area is her workplace.
Can any employer discriminate against witnesses or complainant for lodging complaint?
According to law, no adverse action can be taken against complainant or witnesses (of any side) for lodging complaint of harassment. This is also required of inquiry committee to make sure that complainant are not pressurized by employer or accused to withdraw your complaint. Moreover, some part of the fine that convict is required to pay, will be given to complainant as compensation.
What types of punishments are provided under this law?
If you lodged complaint within your organization i.e. to inquiry committee, following two types of punishments can be given to the guilty person. The Competent Authority can impose one or more of the following penalties on recommendations of inquiry committee.
- Withholding increment or promotion, for a specific period of time
- Stopping at an efficiency bar in timescale, for a specific period of time
- Recovering compensation from pay or any other source of guilty person (this compensation has to be paid to victim)
- Reduction to a lower post or lower time-scale
- Compulsory retirement
- Dismissal from service (it disqualifies for re-employment)
- Removal from service
While, if you have lodged your complaint directly to Police, the convict can be imprisoned for a maximum term of 3 years, or fined with a maximum sum of PKR 5 Lakh or with both.
I am an employer. What do I need to do to comply with this law?
You are required under this law to constitute an Inquiry Committee, which will enquire into all complaints of harassment. The Committee should have 3 members; at least one of them must be a woman, one person from senior management and the other a workers’ representative or a CBA representative (where union exists). You can also take members from outside the organization , like some respectable member of community.
It is your responsibility to ensure compliance with this act and incorporate the Code of Conduct for protection against harassment at workplaces as part of your management policy. You are also supposed to display copies of this code in English and other language understood by majority of employees (be it Urdu, Balochi, Pashto, Punjabi or Sindhi) at some prominent place (like notice board) and educate your workers about it.
Moreover, if a victim of sexual harassment is in trauma, you are required to arrange for him/her psychosocial counseling or medical treatment, besides granting additional medical leave, if required. You are also required not to discriminate against a complainant.
If you are found not complying with law, you can be liable to fine, which may extend to PKR 100,000 (one lakh) but shall not be less than 25 thousand rupees.
What if I am accused of harassment by an alleged victim with mala fide intentions?
The Inquiry Committee can recommend to Ombudsman for appropriate action against complainant, if it is found that allegations leveled against you are false and with mala fide intentions.
Download the Code of Conduct, required under this Act, from AASHA website.
You can also send us your compliant form on the following address:
Workers Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan,
A-198, Block-13, Behind Jofa Towers,
Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Off Main University Road, Karachi