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Senate committee okays amended bill on protection against workplace harassment of women

Senate committee okays amended bill on protection against workplace harassment of women

ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights on Monday approved the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace (Amendment) Bill 2021, suggesting stricter punishments to the offenders, including more premises in the definition of a workplace and binding courts to decide such cases in 90 days.

The committee members reviewed the bill clause-by-clause and after getting input from woman activists and law experts agreed to include their recommendations in some of the clauses that had been moved by Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari.

Briefing the committee, the minister said in the previous act the definitions of an employee, a workplace and harassment were narrow. In the proposed bill, she said, they had tried to expand the definitions in order to make the law more effective.

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman identified some loopholes in the amendments and asked for addressing them. She conceded that the previous law was not finding resolution to some matters due to the narrow definitions.

The committee members finally passed the bill which will now go back to the Senate for final approval.

The protection of women participating in sports and working online has also been made part of the proposed law. Besides, the scope of the law has been expanded to universities and art studios. Moreover, harassment of women working in houses will also be a crime under the proposed law.

The bill has suggested that a government employee found involved in harassment can be punished with dismissal and suspension of promotion whereas those involved in professional fields will have their licences revoked.

Gender-based discrimination would also be a punishable offence under the new law. If passed by parliament, courts will have to decide harassment petitions within 90 days.

According to the statement of objects and reasons attached to the bill, the proposed law “aims to facilitate increased participation of women in the workforce by removing the lacuna present in the existing law. It broadens the ambit and scope of the law to include certain professions and employment models that the current law does not expressly mention.”

Through these amendments, it says, that protection from harassment shall be provided to people engaged in all types of formal and informal work. The amendment bill will also provide clarity with respect to different kinds of harassment that take place at the workplace.

The purpose of this amendment is to fulfil Pakistan’s constitutional obligations to its citizens and guarantee them their dignity and prevention of discrimination on the basis of sex in their professions and achieve the goal of increased women participation in the workplace.

At the outset of the meeting, on the proposal of committee chairman Walid Iqbal, the members observed one-minute silence and passed a resolution to pay homage to the Sri Lankan citizen who became a victim of mob lynching last week in Sialkot.

Through the resolution, the committee “expressed its profound grief and sorrow over the sad demise of Sri Lankan citizen Priyantha Kumara Diyawadana in Sialkot on December 3, 2021, and extends its sincere condolences and regrets to the family of the deceased as well as to the government and people of Sri Lanka.

“The committee condemns the vigilantism and the brutality involved on part of the violent mob that perpetrated this gruesome crime and calls upon all institutions of the state to ensure that these perpetrators are punished with the full might of the law, and also to conduct some soul searching followed by taking of concrete steps towards preventing the society’s descent into intolerant radicalisation,” it stated.

Those who attended the meeting included Seeme Ezdi, Falak Naz, Quratulain Marri, Tahir Bizenjo, Mehr Taj Roughani, Gurdeep Singh, Abida Mohammad Azeem and Faisal Sabzwari. Senators Keshoo Bai and Sherry Rehman attended the meeting as special invitees.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2021

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