A research study comprising of 200 respondents from 10 public and 10 private organizations indicated that 96 percent of the females or their colleagues faced some form of sexual harassment at workplace.
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.
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.
In our patriarchal society where most of the sexual harassment cases remain unreported owing to the societal pressure, research states the unreported number to be more than 75 percent.
The prevalence of workplace harassment has a lot to do with the lack of awareness and knowledge in women regarding their rights at the workplace and the Act that exists in order to ensure their security.
Defining harassment at work
The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 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.
This definition comprehensively defines harassment in its entirety and specifies the various forms of it that can occur in the context of the workplace. From forceful sexual advances both verbal and physical, and soliciting sexual favors to exploiting the victim for not consenting to such demands, the definition given by the act brings to light all aspects of harassment that can possibly occur in a workplace.
Unfortunately, in a male chauvinist society like ours, where women have yielded to the culture of silence and have chosen to be acquiescent on issues of violence and harassment, it is next to impossible to invoke a voice against such offenses. Women have been forced into submission for so long that even the ones who acknowledge sexual harassment as an offence and dare to speak out against it are silenced, mostly by the same gender who not only manage to manipulate the victim into believing that being sexually harassed is somehow their own fault but convince them that it would sabotage their own dignity if they report it or confront the harasser. In worst instances, it goes as far as leading to character assassination of the woman who chooses to voice the harassment that she’s been through.
With each voice that is suppressed, another perpetrator gets to get away with his crimes. HARASSMENT is a crime.
Sexual Harassment at a workplace is a manifestation of gender discrimination and indicates unequal power distribution between the harasser and the harassed. Mostly the people who engage in sexual harassment are those who have authority and belong to high social standing. Thus, the victim feels vulnerable to the repercussions that might follow in case she reports the abuse. Also, humiliation is one of the biggest fears that victim faces regarding harassment and abuse due to the conventional condescending response of the society towards women who address such issues.
It affects the overall psychological health of the victim as well as impedes the productivity of an organization. Victims are reported to suffer from anxiety, fear of humiliation, helplessness, and vulnerability. Most of them socially withdraw themselves. Besides, no organization can thrive in such environment.
Types of harassment
Michigan University, office of institutional equity, identifies two types of harassment, “quid pro quo” and “hostile environment”.
Quid pro quo (meaning “this for that”) sexual harassment occurs when it is stated or implied that an employment decision about an employee depends upon whether the employee submits to conduct of sexual nature. So, for example, if an employee is made to believe that a promotion is likely if the employee goes on a date with the employee’s supervisor, the employee is possibly being subjected to “quid pro quo” sexual harassment.
Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive working or learning environment or is so severe, persistent or pervasive that it affects a person’s ability to participate in or benefit from an activity.
Unwanted sexual statements
Sexual or “dirty” jokes, comments on physical attributes, spreading rumors about others and displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures and/or written material. Unwanted sexual statements can be made in person, in writing, electronically (email, instant messaging, blogs, web pages, etc.) and otherwise.
Unwanted personal attention
Letters, telephone calls, visits, pressure for sexual favors, pressure for unnecessary personal interaction and pressure for dates where a sexual/romantic intent appears evident but remains unwanted.
Unwanted physical or sexual advances
Touching, hugging, fondling, touching oneself sexually for others to view, sexual assault, intercourse or other sexual activity.
For an effective national integration, the government of Pakistan is striving to provide a safe working environment to women in the labor force through formulating The protection Against Harassment Of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 (later amended in 2016), exclusive to protect women against harassment at the workplace.
This act attempts to define harassment and penalizes anyone who engages in it in order to protect the women against violence of any sort in the context of a workplace.
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.
The Punjab Commission on the Status of Women is doing some great work in protecting women rights and more such laws can be studies over their website.