Sexual harassment at the work place is a form of
discrimination that violates the fundamental rights of the worker and
affects not only the employee but also the employer and society as a
whole. It is also a form of violence against women. Most working women,
at some time or the other, face this kind of violence from their
colleagues, bosses or employers. Since this sort of violence takes place
at work places, it qualifies to be dealt with as a HR, labour and
management issue. Actually issue of harassment is not really about
gender, as the victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man;
it is about power, the abuse of power.
The Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) formed in 1979 clearly defines
sexual harassment at work place as an "unwelcome sexually
determined behaviour as physical contacts and advances, sexually
coloured remarks showing pornographic material and sexual demands,
whether by words or actions. Such conduct can be humiliating and may
constitute a health and safety problem. It is discriminatory when the
woman has reasonable grounds to believe that her objection would
disadvantage her in connection with employment, including recruitment or
promotion, or when it creates a hostile working environment."
The equality in employment can be seriously impaired
when women are subject to gender specific violence, such as sexual
harassment at the work place. Article-11 of CEDAW states that all
appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the
field of employment to ensure on the basis of equality of men and women,
the same rights, in particular.
(a) The right to work as an inalienable right of all
human beings; and
(f). The right to protection of health and to safety
in working conditions including the safeguarding of function of
Despite clear direction and recommendations under
CEDAW, ILO Conventions and other international and national laws, women
are subjected to sexual harassment or victimization at work places
because of the gender-based discrimination not only at personal but
CONSTITUTIONAL AND LEGAL FRAMEWORK OF PAKISTAN
The Constitution of Pakistan 1973 provides certain
safe guards that cover women's equality in general and to some extent
indirectly the issue of women's harassment. Articles 14, 17, 18 and 19
deal with dignity of person and privacy of home, freedom of association,
speech, trade and profession to all citizens, Articles 25 and 26 speak
of equality of citizens before law and non-discrimination of either
sexes and their access to public places. However, more specifically
Article 27 says "no citizen otherwise qualified for appointment in
the service of Pakistan shall be discriminated against".
Similarly, the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) covers
sexual harassment but very little is known about it. It does not
specifically deal with sexual harassment at work place. In general, the
PPC declares any sort of harassment as a crime.
Section 509 of PPC says: "Whoever intending to
insult the modesty of any woman, utters any, makes any sound or gesture,
or exhibits any object intending that such a word or sound shall be
heard, or that such gesture, or exhibits any object shall be seen by
such a woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such a woman, shall be
punished with a simple imprisonment which may extend up to one year or
with fine or with both".
Pakistan is a signatory to international conventions
including CEDAW, The Convention on the rights of Child (CRC), ILO
Convention 182 and others. Though Pakistan is signatory to the CEDAW,
yet it has to be incorporated into our legal and constitutional
framework to end discrimination against women.
WHAT IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
CEDAW clearly defines sexual harassment at work place
as an "unwelcome sexually determined behaviour as physical contacts
and advances, sexually coloured remarks showing pornographic material
and sexual demands, whether by words or actions. Such conduct can be
humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem. It is
discriminatory when the woman has reasonable grounds to believe that her
objection would disadvantage her in connection with employment,
including recruitment or promotion, or when it creates a hostile working
TYPES OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT
1. QUID PRO QUO
"Quid Pro Quo," a Latin phrase meaning
"something for something". This type of sexual harassment
occurs when a job benefit (e.g., a promotion) is directly linked to the
acceptance of a sexual behavior or demand by someone who has more
authority, such as a supervisor.
2. HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT
This type of sexual harassment occurs when conduct of
a sexual nature creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working
environment, or is unreasonably interfering with a person's ability to
do their work. The offensive conduct must be unwelcome and it must be
severe or pervasive.
WHEN IS CONDUCT UNWELCOME OR HARASSING?
Unwelcome sexual advances (either verbal or
physical), requests for favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a
sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:
to such conduct is either an explicit or implicit term or condition of
employment (e.g., promotion, training, timekeeping or overtime
to or rejection of the conduct is used as a basis for making employment
decisions (hiring, promotion, termination)
* The conduct
has the purpose or effect of interfering with an individual's work
performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work
Examples of Conduct or Behaviors that Constitute
- Unwelcome touching, leaning
over, cornering, pinching, patting/rubbing against, stroking, or other
physical contact of such nature.
2. VERBAL - Unwelcome
teasing, insults, intimation, jokes, remarks, comments, questions.
3. NONVERBAL - Notes,
letters, posters, calendars, cartoons, or other material of unwelcoming
4. VISUAL - Unwelcome
exposure to visual objects such as: pictures, photos, drawings,
cartoons, magazines, objects, or posters (including poster calendars);
sexually obscene gestures or obvious staring; and, nudity.
WHAT IS NOT SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
Sexual harassment does not refer to the following
compliments of a socially acceptable nature;
Mutual flirtation or contact that is desired and freely consented to is
It is not sexual harassment to develop friendships, any sort, with staff
members or peers.
It refers to behavior that is not welcome, that is
personally offensive, that debilitates morale, and that, therefore,
interferes with work effectiveness.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF EMPLOYER
Employers are responsible for the conduct of its
managers and staff but also have a responsibility to protect their
employees from harassment by non-employees (e.g., visitors, vendors,
project partners, suppliers, etc). Hence, an employer has a
responsibility to maintain a workplace that is free of sexual
harassment, develop comprehensive sexual harassment policies and then
post and distribute an effective grievance procedure to handle it. The
employer shall reiterate its commitment to deal with cases of harassment
confidentially to the greatest extent possible. Not only is this moral
obligation, it is good business sense.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF EMPLOYEE
The firm shall encourage all employees to report any
sexual harassment of which they are aware to the company. Every member
of the firm is responsible for keeping his or her own behaviour free
from sexual harassment. When possible, a member who experiences sexual
harassment has a responsibility to bring behaviour of a sexual harassing
nature to the attention of the offender.
On occasion, sexual harassment can be dealt with
directly and informally by confronting the harasser with a clear message
that the attention or action is unwanted. However, the firm recognizes
that there may be power imbalances and other factors that make a
confrontation awkward or impossible. Although informal resolution is
encouraged where possible, confrontation is not a pre-requisite to
making a sexual harassment complaint under this policy.
COST OF HARASSMENT TO EMPLOYER
Sexual harassment represents a cost to employers. If
organizations allow sexual harassment to flourish in its workplace, it
will bear a high cost in following terms:-
employee morale, motivation and job performance;
Hostile and unpleasant working conditions;
High employee turnover;
Forming of cliques;
Gossip, scandals and distraction;
Increased levels of absenteeism;
Time and effort of management in dealing with the issues;
Negative impacts on productivity, profitability and workplace culture;
Loss of job satisfaction;
Resignation of a valuable employee;
Disruption to the workplace;
Loss of Agency funds (if any);
Poor publicity and tarnished image of the company, both internally as
well as externally; and
High costs associated with legal proceedings (if any).
COSTS OF HARASSMENT TO EMPLOYEE
* Feelings of
alienation and guilt;
Feelings of humiliation, embarrassment, and intimidation;
Deteriorating family relationships;
Loss of salary from frequent absences;
Loss of income if fired or decision is made to resign;
Physical symptoms, e.g. chronic fatigue, headaches, nausea;
Psychological symptoms e.g. depression, nervousness, sleeplessness;
Decrease in self-esteem and motivation;
Poor concentration at work; and
Harassment in the workplace can have a profound
effect on an individual or group of individuals and in turn on the
organizations. It can lead to a de-motivated, de-moralized employee who
may exhibit a high absenteeism level, poor work performance and a high
level of minor ailments due to the manifestation of the effects that
harassment is having on that individual. An employer has an obligation
to protect employees. Organizations should develop comprehensive sexual
In conjunction with setting up policy on harassment
in the workplace, employers should consider the following pointers:
•Ensure the policy is circulated to all existing
staff and is included in the induction programme for new staff.
•Make it known to all employees that harassment is
a serious matter and will be dealt with promptly and thoroughly
•Managers should set standards of behaviour by
treating all staff and customers with dignity and respect. Managers
should receive training to understand the importance of a proactive
consistent approach towards the problem. It is also important that
managers take an objective, but sensitive, attitude towards harassment.
•Ensure that confidentiality is maintained (to the
best of the organization's ability) prior to any formal complaint being
made. This enables employees to feel protected and more inclined to
highlight the problem.
•Provide an independent counseling option to help
rebuild damaged confidence and self-esteem.
The author is Assistant Research Officer, Planning
& Development Division, Fauji Foundation, Rawalpindi. e-mail: