Issues and Challenges

Addressing Harassment in the Workplace

The term ‘harassment’ is used to describe a variety of intentional, unwelcomed, unwanted behaviors that may cause discomfort or trauma to an individual. Harassment occurs in almost all the different social contexts (domestic harassment, cyberbullying, and workplace harassment, etc.) and may take different forms (sexual, physical, psychological, discrimination, religious, stalking, etc.).
Of the aforementioned issues, workplace harassment emerges as the foremost concern and a subject of significant interest for a majority of individuals, especially women. A majority of individuals possess a general awareness of the concept of harassment, particularly in the context of the workplace. However, only a limited number of individuals possess a comprehensive understanding of its true nature and characteristics. There is always a possibility that these behaviors may be unintentional or pertain to other work-related circumstances, however, if the individual’s aim is to consistently cause discomfort to another person, it can be classified as harassment. This phenomenon has the potential to engender a perception of subjugation within individuals, resulting in a persistent state of apprehension and a perceived inability to assert their entitlements. In the context of workplace harassment, employees may experience feelings of threat or discomfort as a result of the actions exhibited by their superiors or even their peers. Significantly, women encounter instances of harassment perpetrated by their male counterparts that not only have consequences of a personal nature for the victim but have social and economic consequences as well; in a society like ours where women face considerable push back when they show intent of going outside of the house to work, one of the biggest reasons they are given against it is the fear that they might face harassment at their workplace. 
Let us dissect the issue before we move on to talking about its resolution. Workplace harassment can be attributed to a multitude of variables, encompassing cultural influences, gender disparities, limited access to education and information, prevailing patriarchal ideologies, and socio-economic determinants. In Pakistan, a significant proportion of employed women find themselves subjected to various forms of harassment, yet are compelled to persist in their occupations despite the presence of hostile working conditions. Women who possess the capacity to assert their position, encounter a multitude of obstacles in their pursuit of equity, a course of action that perpetuates the acceptance of mistreatment within professional environments.
Despite the presence of legal measures aimed at safeguarding women from sexual harassment and degradation inside their professional environments, they persistently encounter instances of physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional mistreatment. Although legislation exists to promote and facilitate women’s empowerment in addressing mistreatment, numerous professional settings continue to exhibit toxic dynamics, hence failing to deter individuals from exposing women to an ongoing cycle of degradation and victimization.
Numerous research studies have also shed light on the prevalence of sexual harassment experienced by women within their professional environments. Over the course of time, women have increasingly acquired the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively address instances of sexual abuse perpetrated by their colleagues. However, there exist numerous additional discrepancies that they are currently encountering. Women in this context encounter several forms of gender-based discrimination, such as being disregarded by their male counterparts within the organization and being subject to manipulation. Likewise, a gender pay disparity persists whereby women receive lower compensation for positions in comparison to their male counterparts who enjoy advantages. The prevailing rationale often cited for the justification of women receiving lower wages and being allocated lower-status tasks is the assumption that they may discontinue their employment upon marriage or childbirth. 
The presence of discrimination has significant ramifications for women, as it engenders a sense of isolation within a professional setting predominantly occupied by male counterparts. The lack of serious consideration given to their opinions serves as a constraint on their capacity for creative thinking. Consequently, this has a subsequent impact on their overall productivity, resulting in a disparity in earnings compared to their male counterparts within the same organizational setting. Moreover, the job discrimination encountered by women has a substantial impact on their emotional wellbeing and social interactions. As a result of persistent employment demands, individuals consistently engage their cognitive faculties in the pursuit of attaining esteemed professional roles. The presence of gender-based discrimination poses significant challenges to women’s social lives, as they grapple with persistent obstacles in their pursuit of an equitable environment. As a consequence of gender-based harassment experienced by women in the workplace, there is a decreased likelihood of women persisting constructively in their professions. Conversely, men tend to seek job transitions in pursuit of greater financial rewards. Women, on the other hand, actively seek employment options that are devoid of harassment and offer avenues for professional advancement. 
Pakistan has enacted the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2010 in accordance with its international commitments and with the aim of safeguarding the rights of women. The statement appears to adhere to the provisions outlined in Article 23(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and align with the stipulations set forth by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The latest amendment Bill of 2022 has broadened its coverage to include both formal and informal workplaces, aligning it with the 2019 definition of the workplace outlined in the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Violence and Harassment Convention (C190). This amendment would also encompass domestic workers, a group that was previously excluded from the purview of legislation, notwithstanding their heightened vulnerability to instances of harassment. The Act mandates that both public and private businesses must implement an internal code of conduct and develop a complaint and appeals procedure. The primary objective of these provisions is to create a secure working environment for women. The responsibility for ensuring the execution of this Act is with the employer, which includes the incorporation of the code of conduct into their management policy, among other obligations. The management is required to prominently display copies of the code of conduct within the organization and its premises. In the event that an employer fails to adhere to this clause, they shall be subject to fines ranging from twenty-five thousand rupees to one hundred thousand rupees. This legislation is founded upon the concepts of gender equality and the right of individuals, regardless of their gender, to pursue employment without being subjected to discriminatory practices, as outlined in the Constitution of Pakistan. Additionally, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has also enacted the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act and between 2018 and 2019, under which there were approximately 8500 complaints lodged by women regarding incidents of online harassment. 

Despite the stats mentioned above, there is a vast majority of women who are victims of harassment but never report it. There are many reasons for this, both individual and systemic. Women encounter significant barriers in their ability to lodge harassment complaints against the individuals responsible. This phenomenon may be attributed to the prevailing gender-inclined structure of the Pakistani society, wherein women harbor apprehensions regarding potential reprisals as well as being gaslit. In addition, there is a concern among individuals that their claims may not be given credence and that they may encounter difficulties in obtaining legal assistance from higher authorities. A significant number of women encounter familial animosity and resistance when discussing the harassment that they endure in their professional environments. Taking into account all of these factors, it is observed that women who encounter gender disparities within the workplace tend to remain silent within such a hostile environment. However, all of this can only work if the victims also make it incumbent upon themselves to come forward with their complaints. If women choose not to voice their concerns regarding harassment, it engenders a culture of silence perpetuating the vicious cycle of exploitation that would continue to entrap many more women.
The prevalence of harassment against women, particularly within the context of the workplace, constitutes a significant concern within the societal fabric of Pakistan. In order to properly tackle this matter, it is imperative to adopt a comprehensive strategy that encompasses legal reforms, educational initiatives, awareness campaigns, economic empowerment of women, a transformation of societal perspectives on gender equality, and provision of safe spaces in their organizations where they can come forward with their issues without feeling judged. Consequently, women would tend to exhibit an increased inclination to maintain employment, thereby generating a beneficial impact on their own growth, wellbeing of their families and actively participate in the advancement of the country. HH

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