NCSW for declaring sexual harassment at workplace a punishable offence
By Waqar Gillani
LAHORE: The National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) has suggested to the federal government an addition of a section to the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) to declare sexual harassment at workplace a punishable offence.
Federal government officials told Daily Times that NCSW had also recommended establishment of an inquiry committee at the level of the Establishment Division and special committees to address this issue. The recommendations, they added, had been forwarded to the federal government.
According to the recommendations, NCSW had suggested the addition of a section after Section 509 of the PPC of 1868, which deals with sexual harassment of women in general terms.
Section 509 of the PPC says, “Whoever intending to insult the modesty of any woman utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.”
The proposed Section 509-A by NCSW goes on, “Whoever in a workplace intending to harass a woman employee utters any word, makes any sound or gesture or overture with sexual overtones calculated to insult or mortify such woman and also whoever in a position of immediate authority in relation to such a person fails to take adequate preventive measures to avoid occurrence of such incidents, despite complaints to him from such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.”
It has been supposed that inclusion of this aforesaid section will help make the act of sexual harassment a punishable offence.
Any misuse of the proposed section as the culpability of the immediate superior is concerned will be obviated because the punitive action against the superior has been made conditional upon inaction after prior complaints being lodged by the woman concerned.
NCSW has also suggested that the government should immediately direct the Law and Justice Commission to work to introduce necessary amendments in the establishment of the office of the Ombudsman Act and the Services Tribunal Act to bring cases or complaints with regard to sexual harassment and discrimination in service matters within their ambit.
NCSW observed that the Supreme Court of India on August 13, 1997 had announcd a judgment endorsing that employers should introduce procedures through which women’s complaints could be heard, and this has been recommended by various non-government organizations (NGOs) in Pakistan.
In case of Pakistan, a special committee should be set up in the Anti Corruption Establishment at the federal as well as provincial level. A committee headed by a woman should be deputed to look into the complaints of sexual harassment. The committee should also include a third-party representative from an NGO or any other civic or legal body familiar with the issue. All complaints are to be handled in a confidential manner according to a framework. Employees should be allowed to raise the issues of sexual harassment in their staff meetings and in other forums.
Social workshops should be held for male and female employees in which a working woman’s strength could be regarded as strength rather than a weakness or obstacle.
NCSW recommended that gender sensitisation of a top-level government officer was essential. Concerns like non-provision of separate washrooms, rest areas, transportation, private workstations and of daycare centres have been raised. It has been suggested that assignment for addressing these issues may be given to the president’s inspection team and provincial governors’ inspection teams to survey and make recommendations within a month to the authorities for implementation.