Lets unite in our action and use the new laws against sexual harassment to bring about a mind shift badly needed. Lets make our society dignified for citizens
Congratulations to all the working women as I am sure their lives will begin to change after our Bill has been signed by the President on the 9th of March 2010. This will be a turning point in our lives and I am sure we will see substantial results within a year. Implementing a law has to be taken seriously by all partners. It is neither a government’s responsibility nor people’s. It is a team work, but I think it is the people who need to take the lead and make sure that all partners including the government play their role. So lets all gear up as this is the time to act. (A framework for implementing the laws is attached)
The Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2010 makes it necessary for every organization to adopt a Code of Conduct and form a three-member Committee to address all complaints of sexual harassment. Anyone who finds the perpetrator too senior for the committee to hold accountable could take him to the Office of the Ombudsperson, which will be established soon specifically for this purpose. The PM already announced it on the 8th of March.
Now it is up to us to make sure that it gets implemented. I urge all working women and men who want the work environment to be more civilized and professional to take charge and push their organizations to comply with the Law. I am sure we all can find ways to convince our managements as this is now the law of the land.
Go to http://www.AASHA.org.pk and down load the Code of Conduct. The law is difficult for people to understand and it is complicated to extract what exactly should an organization do. Therefore we have prepared the document of the Code in simple language (English and Urdu), which covers everything in the law. The document is ready for organizations to adopt and make a part of their Human Resource policy.
The management has to do four things according to the law:
1) Adopt the Code of Conduct as a part of the management policy and inform the employees.
2) Form a three member Committee with at least one woman and one representative of employees and announce the names within the organization
3) Make the employees aware of the issue and educate them
4) Ensure that the Code is followed in letter and spirit, in other words, make sure that the Committee is doing its job honestly.
A body is being set up to oversee the implementation process country-wide. This Implementation Watch Group will have representative from the relevant government institutions, civil society, private sector and media. This body will make sure that organizations, government as well as private, take on the above steps, at least the first three within the first month.
Managements can directly download the Code in PDF or WORD format and begin the process. It is better if they register with AASHA and send us information when they have adopted the Code, with the names and contacts of the Committee members. In this way we can keep a record of their information. The managements need to realize that this is now mandatory by law of the land and they have to do it.
There is a simpler Code of Conduct for smaller organizations so that they don’t feel overwhelmed by the more comprehensive Code. This version can also be downloaded from our website in English and Urdu. It fully makes the organization comply with the Law.
For the managements and the employees to be educated and sensitized we need help from civil society organizations and all concerned citizens to pitch in and create awareness so that organizations can fully internalize the process. It is a complete mind shift that we are talking about. A set of values where working women are recognized as citizens availing their right to earn a living and not immoral women who deviate by leaving their homes and now deserve to be teased as they ‘asked for it’. Laws can help set up systems but it is us who would change the mind set. All of us working women can vouch to become braver and begin to put pressure for a dignified environment. Speaking out in groups has more impact and if only one speaks out let us support her and activate the inquiry process and not put her down and let people gossip.
AASHA will set up six legal support centers only to help complainants with their cases. I urge other Crisis Centers and legal aid centers to take on this issue if they do not cover it and help women register complaints within organizations and also through the police if necessary. We have to popularize section 509 of the Penal Code. Women should know that this is their section and should feel brave because of it.
We need awareness raising among communities so that we can dispel the myths around this issue. We all have to change the mindset which says that it is always a woman’s fault, ‘why did she wear fashionable clothes’, ‘why did she go there alone’, ‘what was she doing there in any case’, etc. We have to shift the focus to the in appropriate behaviour of the harassers and move the stigma from the victim to the perpetrator. Sexual harassment is not a natural phenomenon. It is a result of our patriarchal system which allows men to abuse their dominant role in the society to discipline women and humiliate them creating a legitimacy that the women caused it by deviating from the norms in the first place. The myths created by our society reinforce that it was the woman’s fault and provide full protection to the harassing men, thus perpetuating the crime. This is why even in the parliament those who oppose kept saying that it is women who should dress properly and abide by Islamic dress code, as if it is an involuntary reaction of men and they have no control over their actions. The logic is quite skewed.
We have to commit to undo the following beliefs:
Only young women who are dressed fashionably get harassed NOT TRUE
If women are on the right path no one can harass them NOT TRUE
When women say No they mean Yes NOT TRUE
Good women do not get harassed NOT TRUE
Also we need to be sure that women are not only considered sisters, mothers and daughters but should be considered a complete human being, a full citizen, and get acknowledged in all our working roles, doctors, farmers, labourers, writers, police women, actors, parliamentarians etc.
Member organizations of AASHA will be preparing awareness materials, films, brochures to help the managements educate their employees and raise awareness about the legislation in general. We hope that many more groups will join in this caravan and use their tools for awareness and sensitization. Do make sure that your core team members have the two laws and their implementation parameters very clear. Some TV programs have created confusion and they keep mixing up the two laws. The text of both is available at AASHA’s website and we will make sure it is accessible on many other websites also.
While AASHA will work closely with the Government to develop the rules for the Ombudsperson and facilitate setting up the Implementation Watch Group which will strategically ensure the setting up of the mechanism in the organizations through regulatory bodies, we urge all civil society members and concerned citizens to take on their roles and act, because this is the time to do it.