KARACHI, July 9: The Sindh government has appointed retired district and sessions judge Syed Pir Ali Shah as provincial ombudsman for protection against harassment of women at the workplace for a period of four years.

The former judge was appointed for the whole province with immediate effect and would be based in Karachi.

With this appointment Sindh has become the first province to have a provincial ombudsman to provide a legal forum to women enabling them to lodge complaints against sexual harassment at the workplace.

Responding to Dawn queries, National Commission on the Status of Women chief Anis Haroon said that a law relating to harassment at the workplace had been passed by parliament in 2009 and President Asif Zardari signed it in 2010.

She said that the law provided for a federal ombudsman and four provincial ombudsmen.

The federal official, a woman lawyer from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Musarrat Hilali, was appointed in 2010, but the provinces had not yet appointed their respective ombudsmen, she added.

She said that under the law every organisation had to form a three-member committee to which women who were being harassed at the workplace could go and lodge their grievances with.

She explained that in cases where a perpetrator was high-ranking official or an influential person the victim might not get justice from the in-house committee. So keeping that shortcoming in mind, the law as an additional avenue for the victim also provided for ombudsmen, as they could not be under the influence of perpetrators.

She said that the federal ombudsman had been receiving many complaints and had also provided relief to many victims, who had initially not been satisfied with the decisions of their respective organisational in-house committees.

Ms Haroon said that with the appointment of the ombudsman the Sindh government had taken a women-friendly step and women workers would now feel relatively confident and safe.

She also urged other provincial governments to appoint ombudsmen in their respective provinces.

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