Background Of The Anti Sexual Harassment Legislation:
An Alliance against sexual harassment at workplace (AASHA), formed in 2001, as an initiative of 6 organizations (Mehergarh, Action AID, Bedari, Interactive Resource Centre, Hawwa Associates, and Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research) committed to end sexual harassment at workplace. At that time neither the issue was recognized as a problem articulated by the women’s movement nor accepted by the government and media.
The magnitude of the issue of sexual harassment at workplace is so huge and the problem is so persistent that in the absence of any concrete government policy /law and safety net by employers, for curbing sexual harassment at workplace, women become a vulnerable group to sexual harassment at workplace.
In December 2001, AASHA got the Government to agree to start working on a policy framework which could become an anti-sexual harassment policy for the country. No organization at that time, other than UN, had a sexual harassment policy.
As sexual harassment is one of the most common problems faced by the women of Pakistan, AASHA conducted in depth research and a situation analysis in order to find sustainable, culturally sensitive solutions. On the basis of research, observations and experiences of member organizations a strategy was developed to address sexual harassment, starting with the formal workplace. AASHA studied all constitutional provisions, laws and policies of Pakistan and reviewed every legislation that was relevant in other countries that addressed sexual harassment. Dr Fouzia Saeed, on behalf of AASHA came up with a draft anti sexual harassment policy for workplaces. Because of the lack of acceptance of the word sexual harassment by the Government at the time, AASHA called it the Code of Conduct for Gender Justice.
The alliance worked in close collaboration with senior officials of the Government and ILO and engaged labour unions, private sector, civil society organizations, academia and working women. After organizing formal provincial and national consultations it finalized a consensus policy to address sexual harassment in formal sector organizations. AASHA not only worked on making the policy, but also had more than 300 organizations adopt it in the next few years on a voluntary basis. The Government however at the time owned the document but did not adopt it for the government departments.
Besides working on policy related matters AASHA has also been doing certain activities for awareness raising on the issue of sexual harassment. AASHA has printed calendars and posters on the taxonomy of sexual harassers in which the types of sexual harassers was expressed in a humorous way. The basic idea was to shift the focus from victims to the harasser’s behavior. This Kind of awareness building, engagement with media and specific events to mobilize stakeholders paved the way which turned this into a national movement.
Every year AASHA members also organized a working women Assembly in which women from all over the country participated to show solidarity with AASHA to curb sexual harassment at workplace. this also ensured that even though the policy was developed for formal sector the movement did not exclude the informal sector and women in public and private places. AASHA awards were also given once a year to acknowledge the sustained efforts of the progressive employers among the private sector who had successfully implemented the anti sexual harassment policy in their organization.
After the positive experience of five years of successful implementation of getting the anti-sexual harassment policy adopted by the private sector, AASHA members were encouraged to give the Code a legal cover. AASHA decided to get an amendment in section 509 of PPC to protect all the women of Pakistan against sexual harassment and “Protection Against Harassment of Women at Work Place, for the formal work sector. Dr. Fouzia Saeed drafted the legislation on behalf of AASHA, which legal experts improved upon in late 2007 and started the process of pushing it through the various governmental processes. It took two years of hard work with the government, cabinet, parliament and the senate to get the legislation passed. Both the bills went through a very rigorous process and were unanimously passed by the National Assembly and then by a heavy majority by the Senate.
Bills were passed from the National Assembly unanimously because of the intense lobbying done by AASHA team. The Senate passed these in early 2010, and both became the Act of law. The President signed the main bill on the 9th of March.
The two bills were:
Anti Sexual Harassment Policy called PROTECTION FROM HARASSMENT AT WORKPLACE 2008 in every organization
The purpose of this bill was to institute a Code of Conduct, which is basically an anti sexual harassment policy, in every registered organization as well as public sector. Each organization will form a three member standing committee to take complaints of sexual harassment in an organization. The Committee after an inquiry would recommend the punishment which the management would execute. In case of the owner or a senior manager being implicated an employee would have the choice of going outside the organization and filing a complaint to an Ombudsperson, who’s office would be established specifically for this purpose.
Amendment in Pakistan Penal Code 1860 (Act XLV of 1860) and the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898 (Act V of 1898) Section 509
A National Implementation Framework has been developed by AASHA and shared with the government, civil society and the donor community, for coordinated efforts of proper implementation. Six strategies were developed with specific activities for each strategy. The Prime Minister announced the establishment of the federal office of Ombudsperson in his speech at the International Women’s day on March 8th, 2010. In the last five months, since the passage of the laws, the implementation work is gaining momentum. Most of the ministries and government departments have adopted the Code at the federal level and are requesting their provincial departments to do the same.