The Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), in order to understand and highlight challenges in implementing sexual harassment laws, arranged two back-to-back events on the issue of online and offline harassment in Pakistan.
The foundation conducted a consultation and a national conference on combating online and offline sexual harassment in Pakistan in Islamabad. The consultation brought together journalists, lawyers, students, and activists to discuss loopholes in harassment-related laws, specifically the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act.
On the occasion, DRF Executive Director Nighat Dad said that it is important to revise definitions of harassment and workplace in order to make the application of the law more inclusive. The recommendations included an increase in the powers of an ombudsperson to provide protective orders to victims and expanding the definition of harassment to include all gender-based discrimination at the workplace.
It is pertinent to mention here that these recommendations were presented at the conference in which Federal Ombudsperson for Protection against Harassment Kashmala Tariq was the keynote speaker. She highlighted the need for more cooperation between different institutions, particularly different ombudspersons’ offices and the various commissions on the status of women.
The first panel on tackling criticisms of the law was moderated by Nighat Dad. The panelists included Federal Investigative Agency Training Director Fareed Ali, Tooba Syed of the Awami Workers Party and the Women Democratic Front, National Commission on Status of Women Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz, journalist Tanzeela Mazhar, researcher Zoya Rehman, Punjab Ombudsperson consultant Aslam Chohan, Fauzia Viqar and Nuzhat Shirin.
Fauzia Viqar pointed out there has been a two percent decline in the female workforce participation rate. One of the reasons is harassment, not only in the workplace but also due to the harassment they face when they step out of the house, she said. Khawar Mumtaz highlighted the importance of making the harassment law more inclusive. “You’re closing doors of opportunity for women when you don’t cover educational institutes in the law,” she said.
The second panel on reforming the law included MNA Maleeka Bokhari, Kashmala Tariq, Barrister Jannat Ali Kalyar, Advocate Dania Mukhtar, Pakhtunkhwa Ombudsperson Rukhshanda Naz, and Women’s Advancement Hub co-founder Aisha Sarwari. Maleeka identified workplace harassment as a key area of concern for the current government.
“Workplace harassment was not part of PTI’s original plan, however, our plans are fluid and not set in stone, and we will now look at this issue as it is in tandem with the government’s aim of increasing female workforce participation,” the lawmaker told the audience.