Women Action Forum (WAF) extends its support to Meesha Shafi for her upcoming hearing at the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Shafi’s appeal at the Supreme Court (CPLA No 4288/2019 was instituted on 30.11.2019) has been pending for over one year after her case of harassment was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds based on a narrow reading of the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010.
This case is based on the allegations of sexual harassment made by Ms. Shafi against her colleague, Ali Zafar, in April 2018.
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Right after the allegations became public, Ms. Shafi formally adopted a legal course by filing a complaint before the Punjab Ombudsperson against Sexual Harassment. Her complaint was dismissed by the Ombudsperson, which held that her case did not fall under the definition of employer-employee under the 2010 Act.
This reading of the law was endorsed by the office of the Punjab Governor and Lahore High Court. These judgments set a precedent for the future of harassment cases and laws in Pakistan.
WAF looks forward to the Supreme Court’s hearing on this matter, as its decision, being the highest court of the land, will carry and establish legal precedence for all future such cases.
This case is not just about one celebrity but could serve as a landmark judgment for millions of women in Pakistan, the statement said.
The interpretation of the law denies protections to a majority of working women. Such a narrow interpretation of the law is out of step with the Act’s spirit and against principles of gender justice. The modern economy has changed working environments, where many women work in the gig economy or the informal sector.
This judgment by the lower court excludes women who work in these informal settings, such as domestic workers, artists, contractual workers, and those parts of the service sector where harassment at customers’ hands is rampant.
It is important to note that as the most high-profile sexual harassment in the country, the legal harassment experienced by Ms. Shafi and the other women who came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Ali Zafar has the potential of eroding women’s confidence in the legal system as a whole.
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has filed an FIR under Section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 against the survivors and their supporters, among them Ms. Shafi and three of her key witnesses in her civil defamation trial.
“We hope that the Supreme Court’s judgment will be a monumental moment not only for Pakistan’s #MeToo movement, safeguarding of women’s rights in all walks of life. This case has the potential to fundamentally change the way workplaces are organized in terms of giving female employees a safe space,” the statement said.
“We hope that this hearing, and consequent judgment, will set the right precedent for future cases,” the statement said.