Harassment of women at the workplace

  • Solving the problem needs more attention


What constitutes harassment?? No doubt there are thousands and thousands of ways where one can harass someone, especially a woman. You can harass a female by using abusive words, gestures, or by scratching your private organs in front of her, by blowing cigarette smoke on her face, or simply smoking without seeking her permission, or by simply staring at her. Since our society is a patriarchal one, so despite being 52 percent of the total population, women have a lesser role in running the affairs of society. On the contrary, there is always a trend of victim-shaming in our culture.

Whenever a female tries to break the social taboos by even raising her voice against any such incident then the first response is always a bizarre one. The victim, especially her character, is always put to question. Why she is saying so? What’s her motive? Has she got any specific personal agenda or that of an NGO? Why did it take her so long to even talk about it, and so on and so forth.

Online harassment and cyber bullying has brought new problems for womenfolk. It is not something gigantic to mentally disrupt someone. Now it’s easy to harass any female either directly by sending a vulgar song, sexting or dirty jokes, or indirectly by making a fake profile to launch a malicious campaign against her

In this collective response of society, both the educated and illiterate are mostly on the same page. It’s on record that General Musharraf, while at the helm of affairs, publicly stated that females try to make rape accusations just to get a foreign visa. With the advent of modern technology, especially social media, many pro-feminist campaigns have come to surface. The recent example being that of #MeToo, which had earlier shaken the Western world, has now struck our society very hard. The prominent cases are of TV anchorperson Tanzeela Mazhar and famous singer Meesha Shafi.

The initial response over social media was almost in a negative yet with the passage of time people were ready to take a serious note of it. Similarly the Oscar Award winner Shermeen Obaid Chinoy shared her sister’s experience when she visited a doctor for her medical treatment but got a friend request on Facebook immediately upon her return home. But harassment at workplace is the worst form of all. It makes no difference whether a female is at the top echelon or in the lower strata of a workplace. There is no sparing of any of the two. But those at lower cadre are always at the receiving end. It is not necessary that all such allegations must be always true, yet it is a fact that our society is never victim-friendly. People raise their eyebrows when a female levels any such allegation. The response is similar both in government and private sector offices. People start searching for the motive behind the allegation instead of checking its veracity. That cold-shoulder approach keeps the victim in a constant state of fear. There were several instances in the past where educated girls were feeling more terrified than an illiterate lady.

Special initiatives have been taken at state level such as introduction of the Harassment at Workplace Act 2010 and establishing the office of women ombudsperson, yet it’s a mammoth task for our society to evolve such congenial environment where females won’t feel shy to raise their voice for their rights. A few years back an incident occurred in a very reputed organization dealing in refugees’ affairs, where a female employee lodged a complaint of harassment to her high-ups against one male colleague. Although the boss ordered an enquiry yet the offender resorted to different tactics. Initially he gathered support for himself in the name of regionalism. His argument was that since he did not belong to the Southern Districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, his fellows from the North should support him. In the next level the accused convinced many female colleagues that if they supported the victim’s stance, then people would question their characters as well. In the end, he managed to have appointed an enquiry officer hailing from his own city. The ultimate result was that those sympathizing with the victim were forcing her to let it go as it would lead to her further character assassination. When the victim refused to accept this then the matter was hushed up without taking any legal action. Interestingly the same accused was able to get a top managerial post in the same office despite having such a tarnished record.

Now the question is what if another female feels harassed in the future by the same person? Won’t she first recall the treatment meted out to her colleague in the past and her complaint’s ultimate fate? Will she be able to raise her voice? The answer is a simple no.

But what is the way out? It is suggested that all the public and private sector offices should be directed to form Anti-harassment Committees for women at each level with at least equal representation of females in it. Similarly all the pro-women legislation should be translated in all regional languages. The office of Women Ombudsperson should be decentralized even at the local city level. In addition to more women police stations, the already local police station structures should be revamped with the provision of ample women police officers in them. Special courts should be established with the exclusive jurisdiction of cases of women harassment. Like the recent scandal of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for nomination to the United States Supreme Court, special legislation should be introduced for all the public and private sector offices where anyone being considered for promotion or initial appointment for a top slot must go through a system of strict scrutiny to check whether he has a track record of harassment or not. I’m sure such measures will bring more harmony and inclusiveness in our society.

The author is an Assistant Director in the Federal Investigation Agency. He can be contacted at [email protected]