UN Women, KP Ombudsperson launch toolkit to eliminate workplace harassment

June 27, 2020

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Toolkit will be used to train those tasked with investigating workplace harassment cases. — Dawn.com/File
Toolkit will be used to train those tasked with investigating workplace harassment cases. — Dawn.com/File

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ombudsperson for Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace and UN Women have released a toolkit on “Understanding Sexual Harassment, Legal Provisions, Roles of Duty Bearers and Right Holders” in order to train inquiry committee members and stakeholders to dispense justice to victims.

According to a press statement by UN Women, the toolkit will train those tasked with investigating workplace harassment cases "on the law and redressal mechanisms for dispensation of justice to victims". It has been developed with the "specialised" help of UN Women.

Quoting UN Women's representative in Pakistan Aisha Mukhtar, the press statement said: "Sexual harassment at workplace is a pervasive issue that hampers women’s economic empowerment and their access to employment opportunities. It affects not only victims and their families but also the whole economy in form of decline in productivity and job losses.

"It is encouraging to see more women speaking up about their experiences of sexual harassment and there is a need to enhance the capacities of institutions to effectively respond to complaints."

The press statement highlighted that incidents of workplace harassment do not just affect women and their families — they also have an impact on communities. The aim of both KP ombudsperson and UN Women is to work towards effective implementation of legislation by "strengthening existing mechanisms, raising awareness, producing knowledge products and enhancing the capacity of Ombudsperson Office" so that incidents of workplace harassment can be eliminated.

“Our emphasis is on the execution and smooth implementation of the Workplace Harassment Law to make sure that the environment is safe for women to reach their full potential and contribute to the economy,” said KP Ombudsperson Rukhshanda Naz during the virtual launch of the toolkit.

The existing law against workplace harassment in Pakistan provides protection against:

  • improper conduct by an employer, that is directed at, and offensive to employee or makes the employee feels to be working in a hostile environment

  • any objectionable act, comment or display that demeans, belittles or causes personal humiliation or embarrassment and any act of intimidation or threat

It also binds organisations to constitute a three-member inquiry committee to probe any allegations of harassment — that includes any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes, causing interference with work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work — within 30 days of the complaint. At least one member of the committee should be a woman.

In case a member of staff is found guilty of harassment, they can be penalised with

  • censure

  • withholding, for a specific period, promotion or increment

  • stoppage, for a specific period, at an efficiency bar in the time-scale, otherwise than for unfitness to cross such bar

  • recovery of the compensation payable to the complainant from pay or any other source of the accused

Major penalties can include demotion, compulsory retirement, removal or dismissal from service and moentary fine.