CEDAW & Pakistan

WHAT CEDAW IS?

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an international bill of rights for women.  Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

The Convention defines discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

By accepting the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including:

  • to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;
  • to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and
  • to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.

The Convention provides the basis for realizing equality between women and men through ensuring women’s equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life — including the right to vote and to stand for election — as well as education, health and employment.  States parties agree to take all appropriate measures, including legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Convention is the only human rights treaty which affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations.  It affirms women’s rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality and the nationality of their children.  States parties also agree to take appropriate measures against all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of women.

Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice.  They are also committed to submit national reports, at least every four years, on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations.

BACKGROUND

OnDecember 18, 1979, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In 1979, the General Assembly adopted the Women’s Convention. As of December 1999, 165 countries have ratified the Convention. In June 1997 the Clinton Administration informed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of its priorities for ratification of international treaties in the 105th Congress. TheUnited Stateswas active in drafting the Convention and signed it onJuly 17, 1980. It was transmitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in November 1980. In the summer of 1990, the Committee held hearings on the Convention. In the spring of 1993, sixty-eight senators signed a letter to President Clinton, asking him to take the necessary steps to ratify the Women’s Convention. In June 1993, Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced at the World Conference on Human Rights inViennathat the Administration would move on the Women’s Convention and other human rights treaties.

In September 1994, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reported out favorably on the Convention, by a vote of 13 to 5 (with one abstention). Unfortunately, this occurred in the last days of the Congressional session, when several senators put a hold on the Convention, thereby blocking it from the Senate floor during the 103rd Congress. When the new Senate convened in January 1995, the Convention reverted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The committee has taken no action since then.

Importance of U.S. Ratification The Convention provides a universal definition of discrimination against women that provides a basis for every government’s domestic and foreign policy to combat discrimination. As one of the few nations that have failed to ratify the Women’s Convention, theUnited Statescompromises its credibility as a leader for human rights. TheUnited Statesmade ratification of the Women’s Convention by the year 2000 one of its public commitments at the UN Conferences on Women inBeijingin September 1995. TheUnited Statesmust keep that commitment.

The Women’s Convention is a tool that women around the world are using in their struggle against the effects of discrimination: Violence against women, poverty, lack of legal status, no right to inherit or own property, access to credit, etc. Women need theUnited Statesto speak loudly and clearly in support of the Women’s Convention so that the Convention becomes a stronger instrument in support of their struggles. WithoutUSratification, other governments can more easily ignore the Convention’s mandate and their obligations under it. Violence against women seriously inhibits women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men. But violence against women itself emerges from the phenomenon of discrimination against women which makes them a target of violence. To effectively combat the crime of violence against women,USpolicy must address this linkage of discrimination and violence. By ratifying the Women’s Convention, theUnited Stateswill reinforce its commitment to eliminate discrimination and, therefore, move closer to effectively combating violence against women. TheUScould bring the benefit ofUSexperience in combating discrimination against women to this international forum.

OVERVIEW OF DIFFERENT ARTICLES OF CEDAW

ARTICLE 1

ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION

For the purposes of the present Convention, the term “discrimination against women” shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.

ARTICLE 2:

LEGAL PROVISIONS

States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women and, to this end, undertake:

a. To embody the principle of the equality of men and women in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation if not yet incorporated therein and to ensure, through law and other appropriate means, the practical realization of this principle;

b. To adopt appropriate legislation and other measures, including sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all discrimination against women;

c. To establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men and to ensure through competent national tribunals and other public institutions the effective protection of women against any act of discrimination;

d. To refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation;

e. To take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise;

f. To take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women;

g. To repeal all national penal provisions which constitute discrimination against women.

ARTICLE 3:

ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION

States Patties shall take in all fields, in particular in the political, social, economic and cultural fields, all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.

ARTICLE 4:

TEMPORARY SPECIAL MEASURES

1. Adoption by States Parties of temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women shall not be considered discrimination as defined in the present Convention, but shall in no way entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate standards; these measures shall be discontinued when the objectives of equality and treatment have been achieved.

2. Adoption by States Parties of special measures including those measures contained in the present Convention, aimed at protecting maternity shall not be considered discriminatory.

ARTICLE 5:

STEREOTYPING AND PREJUDICES

States Parties should take all appropriate measures:

a. To modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women;

b. To ensure that family education includes a proper understanding of maternity as a social function and the recognition of the common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children, it being understood that the interest of the children is the primordial consideration in all cases.

ARTICLE 6:

EXPLOITATION OF WOMEN

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women.

ARTICLE 7:

WOMEN IN POLITICS AND PUBLIC LIFE

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country, and in particular, shall ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right

A. to vote in all elections and public referenda and to be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies; b. to participate in the formulation  of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government;

C. to participate in non-governmental organizations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country.

ARTICLE 8

WOMEN AS INTERNATIONAL REPRESENTATIVES

States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure women, on quall terms with men and without any discrimination, the opportunity to represent their Governments at the international level and to participate  n the work of international organizations.

ARTICLE 9

NATIONALITY

1. States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality. They shall ensure in particular that neither marriage to an alien nor change of nationality by the husband during marriage shall automatically change the nationality of the wife, render her stateless or force upon her the nationality of the husband.

2. States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children.

ARTICLE 10

EDUCATION

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in order to ensure to them equal rights with men in the field of education and in particular to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women:

a. The same conditions for career and vocational guidance for access to studies and for the achievement of diplomas in educational establishments of all categories. In rural as well as in urban areas, this equality shall be ensured in pre-school, general, technical, professional and higher technical education, as well as in all types of vocational training;

b. Access to the same curricula, the same examinations, teaching staff with qualifications of the same standard and school premises and equipment of the same quality;

c. The elimination of any stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women at all levels and in all forms of education by encouraging coeducation and other types of education which will help to achieve this aim and, in particular, by the revision of textbooks and school programmes and the adaptation of teaching methods;

d. The same opportunities to benefit from scholarships and other study grants;

e. The same opportunities for access to programmes of continuing education, including adult and functional literacy programmes, particularly those aimed at reducing, at the earliest possible time, any gap in education existing between men and women;

f. The reduction of female student drop-out rates and the organization of programmers for girls and women who have left school prematurely;

g. The same opportunities to participate actively in sports and physical education;

h. Access to specific educational information to help to ensure the health and well-being of amities, including information and advice on family planning.

ARTICLE 11

EMPLOYMENT, HEALTH & SAFETY AND SOCIAL WELFARE

1. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular:

a. The right to work as an inalienable right of all human beings;

b. The right to the same employment opportunities, including the application of the same criteria for selection in matters of employment;

c. The right to free choice of profession and employment, the right to promotion, job security and all benefits and conditions of service and the right to receive vocational training and retraining, including apprenticeships, advanced vocational training and recurrent training;

d. The right to equal remuneration, including benefits, and to Equal treatment in respect of work of equal value, as well as Equality of treatment in the evaluation of the quality of work.

e. The right to social security, particularly in cases of Retirement,  unemployment, sickness, invalidity and old age And other incapacity to work, as well as the right to paid Leave;

f. The right to protection of health and to safety in working Conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of Reproduction.

2. In order to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of Marriage or maternity and to ensure their effective right to work, States Parties shall take appropriate measures:

a. To prohibit, subject to the imposition of sanctions, dismissal

On the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave and

Discrimination in dismissals on the basis of marital status;

b. To introduce maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits without loss of former employment, seniority or social allowances;

c. To encourage the provision of the necessary supporting social services to enable parents to combine family obligations with work responsibilities and participation in public life, in particular through promoting the establishment

And development of a network of childcare facilities;

d. To provide special protection to women during pregnancy in types of work proved to be harmful to them.

ARTICLE 12

WOMEN’S HEALTH

1. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of healthcare in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to healthcare

Service, including those related to family planning.

2. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 1 of the article, States Parties shall ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.

ARTICLE 13

WOMEN IN ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFE

1. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in other areas of economic and social life in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular;

a. The right to family benefits;

b. The right to bank loans, mortgages and other forms of financial credit;

c. The right to participate in recreational activities, sports and all aspects of cultural life.

ARTICLE 14

RURAL WOMEN

1. States Parties shall take into account the particular problems faced by rural women and the significant roles which rural women play in the economic survival of their families, including working in the non-monetized sectors of the economy, and shall take all appropriate measures to ensure the application of the provisions of this Convention to women in rural areas.

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women that they participate in and benefit from rural development and, in particular, shall ensure to such women the right:

a. to participate in the elaboration and implementation of development planning at all levels;

b. to have access to adequate health care facilities, including information, counseling and services in family planning;

c. to benefit directly from social security programmes;

d. to obtain all types of training and education, formal and nonformula, including that relating to functional literacy as well as inter alias the benefit of all community and extension services, in order to

Increase their technical proficiency;

e. to organize self-help groups and co-operatives in order to obtain equal access to economic opportunities through employment or self-employment;

f. to participate in all community activities;

g. to have access to agriculture credit and loans, marketing facilities, appropriate technology and equal treatment in land and agrarian reforms as well as in land resettlement schemes;

h. to enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications.

ARTICLE 15:

EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW

1. States Parties shall accord to women equality with men before the law.

2. States Parties shall accord to women, in civil matters, a legal capacity identical to that of men and the same opportunities to exercise that capacity. In particular, they shall give women equal rights to conclude contracts and to administer property and shall treat them equally in all stages of procedure in courts and tribunals.

3. States Parties agree that all contracts and all other private instruments of any kind with a legal effect which is directed at restricting the legal capacity of women shall be deemed null and void.

4. States Parties shall accord to men and women the same rights with regard to the law relating to the movement of persons and the freedom to choose their residence and domicile.

ARTICLE 16

MARRIAGE AND FAMILY RELATIONS

1. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women:

a. The same right to enter into marriage;

b. The same right freely to choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent;

c. The same rights and responsibilities during marriage and its dissolution;

d. The same rights and responsibilities as parents, irrespective of their marital tutus, in matters relating to their children; in all cases the interests of the hildren shall be paramount;

e. The same rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights;

f. The same rights and responsibilities with regard to guardianship, warship, trusteeship and adoption of children, or similar institutions where these concepts exist in national legislation; in all cases the interests of the children shall be paramount;

g. The same personal rights as husband and wife, including the right to choose a family name, a profession and an occupation;

h. The same rights for both spouses in respect of ownership, acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment and disposition of property, whether free of charge or for a valuable consideration.

2. The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory.

INTERNATIONAL IMPORTANCE OF CEDAW

Why is CEDAW important?

CEDAW is important to the lives of women in theUnited Statesbecause it sends a powerful signal that our government truly believes that women should be treated fairly and equally under theU.S.law. Current laws, while reflecting a commitment to the rights of all individuals, do not create rights for women that are specific to women’s needs in daily life. Through CEDAW ratification, theUnited Stateswould commit to ensuring that equality becomes a reality for all women and girls in such areas as civil and political rights; property rights; employment and compensation; education; health care and safety; and insurance, retirement, and other benefit plans. Not only will CEDAW impact the lives of women in theUnited Statesbut abroad as well.U.S.ratification would be a critically important statement of support for women elsewhere whose governments place little or no importance on adherence to the treaty’s provision as long as the world’s most powerful country does not, and it would increase immeasurably theUnited States’ own credibility in condemning human rights violations at home and abroad.

CURRENT STATUS AND THE IMPORTANCE OF U.S. RATIFICATION

CURRENT STATUS

In June 1997 the Clinton Administration informed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of its priorities for ratification of international treaties in the 105th Congress.

TheUnited Stateswas active in drafting the Convention and signed it onJuly 17, 1980. It was transmitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in November 1980. In the summer of 1990, the Committee held hearings on the Convention. In the spring of 1993, sixty-eight senators signed a letter to President Clinton, asking him to take the necessary steps to ratify the Women’s Convention. In June 1993, Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced at the World Conference on Human Rights inViennathat the Administration would move on the Women’s Convention and other human rights treaties.

In September 1994, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reported out favorably on the Convention, by a vote of 13 to 5 (with one abstention). Unfortunately, this occurred in the last days of the Congressional session, when several senators put a hold on the Convention, thereby blocking it from the Senate floor during the 103rd Congress. When the new Senate convened in January 1995, the Convention reverted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The committee has taken no action since then.

Sixty-seven “yes” votes are required for the Senate to consent to ratification. Action by the House of Representatives is not required for ratification of international treaties. To date ten states have endorsedU.S.ratification in their state legislatures:California,Hawaii,Iowa,Maine,Massachusetts,New Hampshire,New York,North Carolina,South Dakota, andVermont. The Connecticut State Senate and the Illinois House of Representatives have also endorsedU.S.ratification.

IMPORTANCE OF U.S. RATIFICATION

The Convention provides a universal definition of discrimination against women that provides a basis for every government’s domestic and foreign policy to combat discrimination.

As one of the few nations that has failed to ratify the Women’s Convention, theUnited Statescompromises its credibility as a leader for human rights. TheUnited Statesmade ratification of the Women’s Convention by the year 2000 one of its public commitments at the UN Conference on Women inBeijingin September 1995. TheUnited Statesmust keep that commitment.

The Women’s Convention is a tool that women around the world are using in their struggle against the effects of discrimination: violence against women, poverty, lack of legal status, no right to inherit or own property, access to credit, etc. Women need theUnited Statesto speak loudly and clearly in support of the Women’s Convention so that the Convention becomes a stronger instrument in support of their struggles. WithoutUSratification, other governments can more easily ignore the Convention’s mandate and their obligations under it.

Violence against women seriously inhibits women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men. But violence against women itself emerges from the phenomenon of discrimination against women which makes them a target of violence. To effectively combat the crime of violence against women,USpolicy must address this linkage of discrimination and violence. By ratifying the Women’s Convention, theUnited Stateswill reinforce its commitment to eliminate discrimination and, therefore, move closer to effectively combating violence against women.

The Clinton Administration has developed a number of provisions that will be incorporated intoUSratification of the Convention to ensure that there will be no inappropriate intrusion on states’ rights or into the private domain.

Ratification of the Women’s Convention will entitle theUnited Statesto nominate aU.S.expert to be a member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which monitors reports of progress in the treatment of women from the countries that have ratified the Convention. In this capacity, theUSexpert could bring the benefit ofUSexperience in combating discrimination against women to this international forum.

GOVT URGED TO SIGN CEDAW PROTOCOL

KARACHI, Feb 28: Speakers at a seminar on Friday demanded of the government to edictally repeal all discriminatory laws and declare parallel systems like jigs, pinheads, etc., illegal.

They were speaking on the concluding day of a two-day seminar on the United Nations’ convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), organized by the Aurat Foundation.

“The government should bring all laws in conformity with the CEDAW, which it has signed, asPakistanis bound to make all laws in accordance with the international convention,” they observed.

Justice (retired) Sheik Usmani urged the civil society organizations to lobby with the women parliamentarians so that they could take a unified stand, regardless of their party affiliations, in the parliament whenever an issue relating to women was taken up.

He said that under the new laws domestic violence could now be tried by the family courts as the judges have been given the powers of the first-class magistrate, who can fine and imprison a violator.

He said that the family courts could direct a husband not to sell his property till the case was decided, while earlier when a court decided against a man and directed him to pay some amount to his wife, he used to sell all his property before implementation of the law and the woman could not get the share.

Justice Usmani was of the view that under the new laws the procedure to get Chula” (a woman’s right to divorce) had been made easy and women have been provided relief and now they can get Chula easily.

He said that many cultural and social traditions were being practiced under the garb of religion, but it would need a long time and struggle to change these centuries-old traditions.

Other speakers urged the government to sign the Optional Protocol of the CEDAW and said that after signing the protocol the government would become accountable to the committee, which could ask it against any violation of the CEDAW.

At present the government has reservations on at least two points in the CEDAW: one is its provisions should be in accordance with the constitution while the other is that under the cover of the convention a state could take another country to the international court by making a complaint against a violation of the CEDAW, they maintained.

The speakers said that many countries had expressed reservations on the second point as they felt that any country would take another, whom it opposed on various matters, to the court just to settle old scores.

They suggested that awareness campaign be launched at a large scale so that the masses and, in particular, the decision-makers become aware of these issues.

Shagufta Alizai, Nighat Shirin, Yunus Khalid, Shahid Fayaz and others also spoke. Representatives of civil society organizations, NGOs, political parties and parliamentarians were present.

GOVT URGED TO IMPLEMENT LAWS PERTAINING TO WOMEN   RIGHTS

KARACHI: The Legislative Watch Committee of Aurat Foundation,Karachi, organized a two-day capacity building workshop on ‘CEDAW: Concepts and Realities on Thursday at a local hotel. The speakers of the workshop were of the opinion that at a time when March 8 (International Women’s Day) was approaching, there was a dire need to make people aware as to what were the definitions of equality. They said that people chanted slogans for women rights and equality and the government also made promises but they, later, became a part of history.

They were of the view that it should be seen whether the government implemented the existing law pertaining to women legal, economic and social rights and followed the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) of whichPakistanis a signatory.

Stating the objectives of the workshop Nuzhat Shirin, Chief Coordinator of the workshop said that it was aimed at creating awareness about CEDAW and its implementation in relation to the laws and policies related to women inPakistan.

Shad Fiaz, Senior Program Officer of Aurat Foundation, highlighted three basic principles of CEDAW; raising equality, non-discrimination and state obligation.

Yunus Khalid, the Resident Director of Aurat Foundation,Quetta, briefed the participants about the CEDAW, which reaffirms faith in fundamental human rights and dignity of human beings. Khalid said that despite being a signatory of CEDAW we did not follow the ethics and articles laid down by the said convention. He said that the UN demanded ofPakistanto give a progress report after one year of signing the treaty in 1996 and the govt said that it had recently submitted the same. The report was supposed to be made in consent with the civil society, NGOs and other parties concerned, but neither they knew about it nor were they given a copy of the submitted report. Shagufta Alizai, a woman activist, consultant associated with various branches of the UN, concluded the session.

The sitting Government CEDAW in preparation for Pakistan’s participation in the UN World Conference for Women at Beijing later that year. Pakistan official and non-governmental participation is largest in its history of participating in UN Conferences for Women. Punjab Government passes an Ordinance reserving one-third of all local council seats for Woman.

1996 A process of Beijing Follow-Up is launched by donors and government, which Includes  the formation of National and Provincial Core Groups to monitor the government’s implementation of the Platform for Action.

1997 Parliament passes a law making death penalty mandatory for the offence of Gang rape. This is in addition to the existing Hadood laws.The National Inquiry Commission on the Status of Women submits its report. Its recommendations include repeal of discriminatory laws, drastic increase of women’s political participation through affirmative action and the established of a Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. The Privatization Commission invites bids for the private purchase of the first Women Bank. WAF files a petition against the move and the Lahore High Court issues an order ensuring that the FWB mandate is upheld by any Buyer.

2000 Declaration of Devolution plan in Pakistan. Women were given 33% Participation

Share in the Local Government Elections. The Asian Development Bank gave an aid of 130 million dollars in respect of implementation of Women quota in the Judiciary.

Future Initiatives

• Lobbying with Line Departments and NGOs for implementation of NPA.

• Focus on awareness raising, advocacy in districts as an on-going activity of         PA/CEDAW 

Unit,Punjabtill March 2001.

• Strengthening the capacity of PCG, DCG and Task Force inPunjab.

• Proposal for two centers for disabled women inLahoreandRawalpindiforwarded to the Government.

PAKISTAN CODE FOR THE WORKPLACE

Studies conducted by rights groups in Pakistanconfirm the widespread occurrence of sexual harassment of women at the workplace. But the government is dragging its feet on introducing a legal framework to check the practice and ensure a safe working environment for half of the country’s population.

Rights-based groups say the absence of laws that define sexual harassment as a punishable crime is resulting in an increase of such occurrences, causing tremendous mental and psychological agony to women employees in the formal and informal sectors.

“The right to live and work with dignity is an inalienable right of all people. Women, however, are denied this right, be it in agricultural fields or in corporate offices. Behavior that qualifies as sexual harassment restricts their active and effective participation in society according to their fullest potential,” says Hadia Nusrat, an activist based inIslamabad.

A groundbreaking investigation on the issue was recently concluded by the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (AASHA), a group of nine civil society organizations in the country. Its report, “Situation Analysis – Sexual Harassment at the Workplace”, says such harassment cuts across all boundaries – age, class and position. “Most working women in Pakistanat one time or another face this kind of violation of their rights from their colleagues, bosses or employers.”

The report is based on interviews with nurses in private and public sector hospitals, domestic workers, women workers in agricultural fields and brick kilns, women employees at multinational companies, public and private sector organizations and retail outlets. Of 17 nurses (between 16 and 21 years) interviewed 58 per cent faced sexual harassment by co-workers, patients or their relatives, and doctors. Only 11 per cent denied its existence while 29 per cent refused to talk.

Ninety-one per cent of the interviewed domestic workers (14 to 30 years) said they faced harassment from their employers. Similarly, 93 per cent of women employees in private and public sector organizations said they faced sexual harassment at the workplace. Most victims were dated by co-workers and employers, threatened when they refused to comply with sexual propositions by their bosses, and faced sexually suggestive comments, says the report.

At brick kilns and in agricultural fields the situation is particularly disturbing – the incidence of sexual harassment here is as high as 95 per cent. Interviewees said they faced harassment, or were raped and tortured by their employers.

The AASHA study, based on a small but diverse sample, is a manifestation of the magnitude of the issue affecting most women who are part of the active workforce. “Sexual harassment at workplaces is widespread and requires immediate government attention,” says Nasrin Azhar, a long-time rights
activist, currently working with Action Aid Pakistan which is a part of AASHA.

Apart from the fact that sexual harassment is gender-specific discrimination, says Azhar, it is an exercise of male power based on economic position and authority at the workplace. “Fear of losing
a job or their career being stifled, prevents victims from reporting incidents of sexual harassment.”

However, even those who muster enough courage to go public with their trauma find no justice; the country simply does not have the mechanism to deal with such cases. Besides, public, private and many not-for-profit organizations are also not prepared to address cases of sexual harassment if these are brought to their notice.

In 2002, Uzma Khan quit the NGO she worked for, when she saw that her employers were insensitive to the sexual harassment case she brought forward. Having been already humiliated by the government official (the accused) Khan felt further humiliated by the attitude of her colleagues, who asked her to hush up the matter because it involved a responsible government official on good terms with the NGO.

Instead of discussing the causes of malnutrition and child mortality – the purpose for which Khan met the government official, he was more interested in knowing how it feels when a mother breastfeeds her baby. “He was constantly asking about the pleasure a mother gets from the ‘let down reflex’. I knew exactly where his line of questioning was leading…I just walked out in disgust,” said Khan.

This is a typical case of sexual harassment that involved an aggressor whose behavior was ignored because of his position of power. In several such cases, victims are blamed for telling on male co-workers and employers if they report an occurrence. Says a spokesperson for AASHA, “The legal
procedures reinforce a woman’s experience of humiliation, embarrassment and public exposure, thus isolating her further.”

Meanwhile, the government is procrastinating – it is simply not moving on implementing the agenda of CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) to whichPakistanis a signatory. The Ministry of Women’s Development admits the need for a legal mechanism to check sexual harassment at the workplace. And it says it is aware of its responsibility to take measures under Article 19 of CEDAW to protect women from sexual harassment and Article 2 of the UN Declaration on Violence against Women that specifically mentions sexual harassment and intimidation at workplace.

On request of anonymity, an official of the ministry says, “It is a crucial problem that needs to be tackled. The ministry is currently working on a draft policy framework to deal with the issue, which is to be presented as soon as it is ready. But we cannot just introduce some law on our own, it has to clear the cumbersome bureaucratic procedures and attitudes of the male-dominated bureaucracy.” But this is what the government has been saying for years.

This non-committal official response has prompted AASHA to prepare its own code to deal with the issue – the Code of Conduct for Gender Justice at the Workplace. It wants the government to adopt the Code and give it legal protection as it envisages the issue in its entirety – from reporting to investigation/enquiry, and punishment.

AASHA has prepared its Code following an exhaustive process of countrywide consultations with public and private sector organizations and also civil society groups. It has been prepared in line with the provisions of ILO Convention 100 (Equal Remuneration for Equal Value of Work), Convention 111
(Discrimination in Employment and Occupation) and with the relevant clauses of CEDAW.Pakistan is a signatory to all these international conventions.

But the military government – which discussed the adoption of the Code at a cabinet meeting last September – deferred a decision when various ministers raised objections on the wide scope of the definition of sexual harassment. “It would have also enabled women workers to lodge complaints against their male companions without having to disclose their identity, hence creating an atmosphere of distrust at the workplace. The cabinet asked the ministry to come up with more realistic and applicable ways to deal with the issue,” confided an official of the Women’s Development Ministry.

AASHA however, is undeterred. A spokesperson says, “We are lobbying with the private sector and civil society organizations to voluntarily adopt the Code. Our efforts have so far enabled 10 organizations to implement the Code, proving that it is workable and enforceable, unlike what the government says.”

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