Aga Khan University Celebrates International Women’s Day
Social and government systems needed to support working women
Karachi, Pakistan, March 8, 2010: Parliamentarians and government ministries will need to create an enabling environment and effective legal systems to protect women, especially working women. This was the view of experts at a seminar to commemorate International Women’s Day organised by the Working Group for Women at Aga Khan University (AKU).
Speaking about the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace bill, passed unanimously by the Pakistan National Assembly in January 2010, Zia Ahmed Awan, President, Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid emphasised that Pakistan is obligated to implement the international conventions it has signed and ratified – CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), CRC (Convention on the Rights of the Child) and the many ILO (International Labour Organization) conventions – in letter and spirit. There is also a need to allocate resources, financial as well as trained human resources, to implement laws which have already been promulgated.
Simi Kamal, Chief Executive, Raasta Development Consultants, spoke about the local environment in the country. “In Pakistan harassment of women at work is not considered an issue worth discussing because the dominant male opinion is that the rightful place of women is the home, not the workplace. It has taken many years of struggle by women’s organisations to bring this issue to the notice of law makers.” Kamal discussed the steps needed to actualise the bill in accordance with CEDAW requirements:, public and private organizations would need to develop an internal code of conduct, a policy on sexual harassment in the workplace and develop a complaints and appeals mechanism that would help establish a safe working environment for women. A government-appointed ombudsman would also have to be available, to document cases and arbitrate as needed. While the effectiveness of the bill remains to be seen, Kamal said that as a first step, there is a need to create an environment where procedures are seen to be effective and binding.
According to the ILO, sexual harassment is a pervasive problem affecting women in most industrialised countries. Madiha Zubair, Senior Alumni Officer, AKU, spoke about research on the impact of sexual harassment, pointing out that victims reported decreased job satisfaction and organisational commitment, and increased levels of stress, tension, anger, anxiety, depression and guilt. In some cases of extreme stress, women needed medical or psychiatric help. Nasreen Sulaiman Lalani, Lecturer, Aga Khan University School of Nursing, said that the situation is worse for women who work in the community, especially when they are seen promoting women’s empowerment. Sharing experiences from research conducted in urban and rural squatter areas in Orangi Town, Sultanabad, Aarab Solangi, Jiskani Village and Dharo Mahesar, Lalani said that female workers were regularly threatened by political groups.
AKU’s Working Group for Women emerged in 1994, and is an expanding, interdisciplinary group that aims to promote a supportive environment for progressive social change, especially for women. The group organises awareness forums such as lectures, workshops, and seminars related to women’s health, education and social issues and conducts research in collaboration with other organisations that carry a similar vision.