Effective Strategies for Preventing Sexual Harassment in Pakistani Workplaces

Sexual harassment is a prevalent issue in workplaces worldwide, and awareness of the issue is also growing in Pakistan. harassment can have destructive effects on individuals and organizations, leading to reduced productivity, high employee turnover, and damage to the company’s reputation. 

Harassment in the Workplace

The issue of harassment at the workplace can harm employees’ well-being and job satisfaction. Harassment takes many different forms, like verbal and physical abuse, discrimination, and sexual misconduct, and can be demeaning, offensive, or threatening to individuals or groups in the workplace. 

A survey on the harassment of women at the workplace mentions that nearly 93 percent of women working in the public and private sectors are alleged to have been subjected to sexual harassment.

Workplace harassment violates the basic right to work securely and affects other rights. Harassment makes the working environment unsafe for a person. Which affects the right to favorable working conditions. 

Secondly, it is a fact that harassment usually affects women more than men, which makes it gender-based discrimination, which is prohibited. In situations where women in Pakistan are either harassed at their workplace or are exploited based on their gender, the state is accountable.

Addressing Workplace Harassment

To address workplace harassment effectively, a comprehensive approach that includes legal reforms, education and awareness campaigns, economic empowerment of women, and a change in societal attitudes towards gender equality is necessary. 

Pakistan passed the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2010. The most recent amendment Bill of 2022 expands its scope by including both formal and informal workplaces. the Act requires all public and private organizations to have an internal Code of Conduct and a complaint and appeals mechanism aimed at establishing a safe working environment for women.

Employers must display a notice in a conspicuous area that informs employees of their rights under the law and the procedure for filing a complaint if they feel harassed. 

If an employee feels that s/he have been harassed, they must file a complaint with the committee within three months of the incident. The committee must complete its investigation within 90 days of receiving the complaint, and its findings bind the employer.

Although laws are in place, workplace harassment is still a significant problem in Pakistan. Employees often do not report incidents due to fear of reprisal or lack of trust in the committee’s impartiality when investigating complaints. Additionally, there is a need for more education and awareness on about workplace harassment to avert it from happening in the first place.

Workplace Awareness and Training:

The root cause of this problem lies with the lack of awareness regarding this problem. For this, at the time of employment, the organization should make harassment-related training mandatory for everyone in the organization, that is, the CEO to the middle management to the staff and the guards outside the building, every single person. 

The training can also be incentivized to ensure that no one misses those and they feel an extrinsic motivation to be a part of the training rather than just feeling obligated. Moreover, the consequences of harassment and unethical behavior must be clearly shared with everyone in case they violate the rules. 

Strategies for Preventing Sexual Harassment. 

To create a safe and respectful work environment, organizations in Pakistan must implement effective strategies for preventing sexual harassment. 

Here are some key strategies:

Develop and Communicate a Clear Policy: 

A comprehensive sexual harassment policy is the foundation of prevention efforts. This policy should clearly define what is sexual harassment, outline reporting procedures, and emphasize that revenge against those who report harassment will not be tolerated. Ensure that all employees get a copy of the policy and understand its contents.

Provide Regular Training:

Conduct regular training sessions for all staff to increase awareness about sexual harassment, its forms, and its impact. Trainings should cover how to recognize and respond to harassment, including reporting procedures. Training should be interactive, engaging, and accessible to all employees.

Encourage Reporting and Provide Support: 

Create a culture where staff members feel safe and empowered to report incidents of sexual harassment. Ensure that reporting procedures are confidential and that victims are provided with support and protection from retaliation. Offer counseling services or other resources to employees who have experienced harassment.

Anonymous Complaint Portals:

Larger organizations need to encourage their employees to verbalize their “NO”, and also encourage them to speak about it rather than questioning them, making them feel uncomfortable or invalidating their stories. 

They should make the process of complaining very seamless for the complainants because victims normally fear the consequences of speaking up due to which they remain voiceless and bear the pain entirely on their own without seeking for any justice. 

For this, one suggestion is to have an anonymous speak-up portal where people can register their complaints anonymously and then these complaints can be addressed by the human resources department, and in severe situations, they should be handled by the senior management. 

Hold Perpetrators Accountable: 

Take all instances of sexual harassment seriously and conduct quick and thorough investigations. If harassment is substantiated, take appropriate disciplinary action against the perpetrator, up to and including termination. 

Demonstrating that there are consequences for harassment sends a clear message that it will not be tolerated. According to the Protection against Harassment of Women Act of 2010, every organization needs to establish an inquiry committee, and every organization needs to have a code of conduct that is prescribed by the law. 

In this inquiry committee, there should be a woman, either from inside the organization or outside, one person from the senior management, and one person from the staff union that represents the staff. 

This code of conduct should be displayed at prominent places across the organization, such as notice boards.In addition to these 3 parties prescribed by the law, there should be someone from the human resources department to ensure smooth administration and follow-ups with the concerned people within the inquiry committee in case the committee needs to handle a complaint. 

None of the members in the inquiry committee should have objectionable characters. Objectionable characters are not to say in terms of their character, but it is to say regarding the conduct they show.

Promote Gender Equality and Respect: 

Foster a culture of gender equality and respect in the workplace. Encourage inclusive practices and behaviors that promote dignity and respect for all employees, whatever their gender. Address any sexist attitudes or behaviors promptly and firmly.

Provide Leadership and Commitment: 

Leadership plays a key role in preventing sexual harassment. Senior management should demonstrate a commitment to zero tolerance for harassment and actively support prevention efforts. Leaders should lead by example, modeling respectful behavior and holding others accountable.

Monitor and Evaluate: 

Regularly review and evaluate your organization’s sexual harassment prevention efforts to ensure their effectiveness. Collect feedback from employees and adjust as necessary to address any gaps or emerging issues.

Mental Health Support for Victims: 

Any form of harassment leaves a deep and long-lasting impact on the victim’s mental health which not only affects the victim’s productivity but also leads to intense depression and trauma which in the worst case leads to suicidal thoughts. It takes a lot of time for them to overcome the trauma. 

Therefore, if any harassment case takes place in the workplace, the organization should provide support to the victims in every way possible. The organization should have mental health facilities either in the office or have such facilities arranged in case something happens. 

For the victim’s mental health, the organization should arrange timely sessions with a counselor or psychologist to help them get through the trauma brought about by the harassment. 

Precautionary Steps for Potential Victims:

As for the victims, they should report it to the authorities, colleagues, or trustworthy friends. They should talk about what happened to them. Moreover, since this is the digital era, they should try to record their evidence if possible. 

They should verbalize their refusal, write the incident down in the presence of specific people at specific date. This is just to have some sort of evidence, because usually harassers are given leeway when the victim is unable to provide any sort of evidence.

By implementing these strategies, organizations in Pakistan can create safer and more respectful workplaces where all employees can thrive. Preventing sexual harassment is not only a legal and ethical obligation but also a key factor in promoting employee well-being and organizational success.