|Objectives of consultation meeting
|Government's approach and activities
||Shaheen Atir-ur-Rehman (Social Welfare Department, Punjab)
|Introduction to code of conduct
|Endorsement and overview
The provincial government hosted the meeting with the assistance of WWO on behalf of AASHA. The key-note speaker was provincial minister for social welfare and women, Minister Shaheen Atiq-ur-Rehman.
Professionals from various organizations, representatives of NGOs, trade union leaders, journalists and stakeholders from different sections of civil society were present and actively contributed to discussions.
A total of forty-seven people attended the consultation (list annexed).
After the introductions, Rubina Jamil, of Working Women's Organization delivered a vote of thanks to participants for attending and gave a brief overview of the issue of sexual harassment and recent endeavors to bring it into public discourse. It was emphasized that only through collective efforts at problem identification and solution could proper redress of sexual harassment at women's concerns at the workplace be possible.
Minister Shaheen Atiq-ur-Rehman spoke about the government's efforts in development of women and promotion of their status, with particular reference to Punjab. She illustrated that in the government's awareness raising campaign, the outreach was to thirty thousand women approximately. In attempting to mainstream women in managerial and other decision-making posts, the participation and nomination of women in local bodies elections was a vital step, and a successful one. Taking encouragement from small initiatives, such as the increase of Lady Health Workers (LHW) in Bhakkar from one to six, and a woman chief of police in Bhorgate, she said that women have immense talent and potential in Pakistan, and initiatives were required to make these women visible and united in their work. Acceptance of anti-harassment measures would further boost the productive potential of these women. In this regard, she said a sustained effort must be made towards police sensitization.
Dr. Fouzia Saeed from Action Aid highlighted the salient features of the code and explained that the code of conduct is a policy that would be followed by a codified law at a later stage. She shared with participants the definitions and objectives of the code of conduct, emphasizing that it would be applicable to government employees, educational institutes, private sector organizations, non-governmental organizations and all other registered bodies. The talk then focused on implementation mode and mechanisms of the code and various ways to deal with sexual harassment.
This was followed by an extensive discussion, where all participants were unanimous about the need for legislation, but debated about implementation, modes and gaps in the code.
The need for legislative initiative on sexual harassment and gender justice at the workplace was overwhelmingly voiced and supported.
Serious concerns about implementation of Code were expressed, more so since it would be voluntary, in the sense that non-adoption of Code would not be a punishable offense. The current scenario of other laws could bear witness of positive legislative initiatives without political will for implementation. For instance, labour laws, checks on labour departments and efficiency of labour inspectors are all provided for in the law but have not translated into meaningful interventions.
It was also felt that harassment may not be reported under this code since it was accompanied by the word ‘sexual' which itself is laden with connotations. As illustrated by rape cases, women at times shy away from legal structures for fear of being implicated in the crime.
It was acknowledged that a special emphasis needs to be placed on attitudinal change. This was as families, organizations and overall society, hindered the creation of an environment where women can come forward and talk about sexual harassment and their experiences without fear of stigma and accusations and often served to reinforce the discrimination suffered by women.
The collective efforts for implementation of code were deliberated at length and it was agreed that unless the government took exemplary steps and provided examples of proper redress and prosecution of accused, silence would continue to shroud the issue and women unwilling to come forth with complains.
It was noted that despite legislation, most women in the rural areas would not have the capacity, resources or access to initiate reportage of cases, nor would it be possible to monitor the extent of permeation of Code unless bodies were constituted explicitly for this purpose.
The title ‘Gender Justice' was vague and covered a wide area, whereas ‘Sexual Harassment' was more focused and specific, and should therefore be preferred.
For the above, it was agreed that the concept of gender justice should be clearly defined, and a broad area would be preferable so as to make the code more responsive.
It was suggested that the code should also cover the ‘undocumented' labour, such as agriculture and brick kiln workers, and domestic and bonded labor.
It was strongly felt that while working on this concern, sexual harassment in public places should also be addressed.
Participants also suggested that print material on sexual harassment in the local language, as well as involvement of print and electronic media would create a required understanding and sensitivity towards the issue, and therefore, was much needed.
It was urged by all participants that measures ensuring empowerment of women should be brought in place and this Code should not exist in isolation from their overall disempowerment.
It was suggested support services for women who experience harassment such as telephone help lines should be created.
The technical workings of the code of conduct were explored, and concerns were expressed that employers and/ or management could violate committee reports. It was suggested that standing committees should be given authority to take legal action, and that the committee should be gender sensitized. In the same vein, it was recommended that if organizations have trade unions, the unions should also be represented on the standing committee.