Protecting Working Women | Working Ladies and the Sexual Harassment Enigma

At the outset, this article defines the term sexual harassment at workplace that is not clear to most of the working women since they have no education on the subject in the broad-spectrum academic disciplines. Further, it goes into the description of sexual offences at workplace and the options available to women against any such wrongdoing. The major section illustrates the psychological effects on the victim and her fears regarding post-complaint retaliations, which do exist in our society.

Sexual harassment is an abhorred and intolerable intimacy involving sexual acts. It is a form of sex discrimination that occurs at the workplace. Intensity of the counteraction to this act varies in consistence with the social status of the victimized woman. With reference to this, we can divide the victims into four categories in terms of their social status: (i) Housewives (ii) single unemployed woman (iii) female students and (iv) working ladies. However, among all these, working ladies are more stable economically, but they are more vulnerable to the sexual harassment acts as well. Their outside activities and existence among males make them an easy target to this intimidation.

“Alliance against Sexual Harassment” (AASHA), an alliance of organizations that are committed to fight sexual harassment in Pakistan, defines the sexual harassment at workplace in the following words:

“Such unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that tends to create a hostile or offensive work environment.”

Although retaliation may bring higher risks for the women, yet an intense retaliation by them is essentially needed to eliminate this menace. In addition, self-composition is the most needed element to cope with the resultant effects.

If the offender is a weak and timid person and not a constant threat, then the matter can be handled by just exposing his act to his colleagues, head of the department as well as threatening him of strong counteraction. In this connection, the rest of the colleagues and the relatives of the offended may play a positive role resisting the chances of recurrence.

If the victim is being harassed constantly by an audacious culprit, then the first and the most important initiative for a professional woman is to expose this heinous act, as overlooking the matter, or forgiving the culprit, could add to audacity of the perpetrator. Therefore, the victim must approach to the sexual harassment committee and lodge the case against the crook.

Clause 1 and 2 of Section 3 of “The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010” say:

(1) “Each organization shall constitute an Inquiry Committee within thirty days of the enactment of this Act to enquire into complaints under this Act.”

(2) The Committee shall consist of three members of whom at least one member shall be a woman…..”

Sexual harassment causes grave psychological effects to the offended woman. In this situation, self-integrity, which helps her to move in the society and fight against injustice, is the most essential part. Maintaining positive approach, the victim regains healthy feelings, sustains social status and approval in the eyes of the society, friends and siblings, and recovers the ability to be productive for her profession.

The effects of sexual harassment may depend on the psychological and emotional condition of the affected. Some ladies take the annoying words by men equal to sexual abuses, and some take the sexual harassment (physical touching) identical to rape case. They feel themselves as they have been raped.

Subsequently, as indicated by the severity of psychological effects, three main therapies could be applied to bring the victim to the normal and healthy life. These include stress management therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and friends/family support.

In stress management therapy, the victim is treated by the doctor, psychiatrist and therapist to help her counter the effects of stress, relieve tensions and resume her life to the normal.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a short-term treatment that can be highly effective.

In this psychotherapeutic treatment, thoughts and feelings of the victim are understood in an attempt to influence behaviours. It helps ladies learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns, which have a negative influence on behaviour.

Getting family help in this crucial time is the best support system and psychological therapy for ladies. They should talk openly to their close family members, friends and co-workers in order to understand the situation, and ways to come out of this situation.

With regard to the reaction of woman to this act women often fear repercussions for reportage. Several questions arise in the complainer’s mind regarding her complaint to the boss or family.

Despite stern laws, a sexually harassed woman is more afraid of the repercussions of complaints about transgression. The first question that arises in her mind is about her own dignity and character. She feels that raising voice against the offensive will make people raise fingers at her own character.

Secondly, she is always scared of the post-complaint retaliation and backlash because in a patriarchal society like Pakistan, a woman who speaks against such harassment and exposes the matter is alleged as an attention-seeker and trouble-maker. This puts at stake her character, personal life and reputation.

Fear of post-complaint retaliation holds most women back of lodging complaints. If the offender is head of the department, the complainer stays worried about the poor evaluation of her annual character report, sabotage of given projects, denial of professional opportunities, undermining the worth of their work, threat of suspension or termination from job, and the influence of employer to cease the chances for the complainer to be hired by any other employer, abusive language, unnecessary workload and rumours about their characters.

Cyber technology is also used against the complainer. Thereby, texts which contain all abusive material against the complainer are sent to others. Besides, her emails are hacked, and the different social networks accounts are made in her name to launch a character assassination campaign against her.

Most of the complaining women are concerned about repercussions of their complaints for their family life let alone the professional life. As it is a fact that post complaint retaliation is always heavy for a woman, therefore, during that crucial period they need moral support from family and friends. Most of the family members; especially husbands, don’t encourage women for any such counteraction. Rather than providing an undeterred support to their wives in the face of such troublesome time, they advise them to resign and suspend social life because they consider a woman as the sole bearer of family’s honour.

Simultaneously, those women who are persevere and have their family’s support during post-complaint phase, they are also not absolved of the fears to their family members’ life and honour.

Nonetheless, a woman has to suffer as a victim of sexual harassment as well as complainer against the ill-treatment. But, all these realities should not deter her from raising voice against the wrongdoing. They should go all-out to take into confidence their family, friends, colleagues and society, and try to shun the extra fears.

By:Ishrat Abbasi

The writer is an Assistant Professor at
Department of International Relations,
University of Sindh, Jamshoro

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