A full bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) stated that the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 (PAHWWA) is limited legislation that is blinkered in its application.
The judgment was for a petition by a former employee of Pakistan Television (PTV).
Justice Mushir Alam wrote in the judgment, “When the PAHWWA is examined as a whole, it does not live up to expectation as titled and preamble of the act suggests”.
A three-member bench of the SCP that heard the case of former PTV employee, Nadia Naz, about workplace harassment observed that the petitioner had failed to establish the case of sexual harassment within the contemplation of the Act.
Nadia Naz had been appointed as a resource person in PTV’s camera department on 4 September 2007. She had endured indirect harassment in the form of departmental proceedings, been charge-sheeted, show-caused, and consequently sacked on 13 May 2017 while her complaint to the Federal Ombudsman for Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace was pending.
The SCP judge stated, “Harassment in any society or organization was a testament to regressive behavior that created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment that had a devastating effect on any society or organization by adversely affecting its overall performance and development”.
According to the judgment, the PAHWWA addressed only one aspect of harassment based on gender or sex.
The SCP noted that harassment, in all its forms and manifestations, “may it be based on race, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, age-related, an arrangement of quid pro quo, and/or sexual harassment, affects and violates the dignity of a person, as guaranteed under the Constitution”.
Elaborating on the scope of the judgment, it explained that rather than addressing the issues of harassment in all its manifestation in a holistic manner, the Act was a myopic piece of legislation that focused only on a minor faction of harassment.
Justice Alam stated that sexual harassment is also covered under Section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code as ‘insulting modesty or causing sexual harassment, which is punishable with up to three years of imprisonment or with a fine of up to Rs. 500,000, or both.
The SCP judgment explains that any other demeaning attitude, behavior, or conduct that may amount to harassment, not necessarily of a sexual nature, had not been made actionable within the contemplation of actionable definition of harassment under Section 2 (h) of the Act.
It detailed that the PAHWWA is specific legislation to protect working women and men against ‘harassment of sexual nature at the workplace. Hence, conduct amounting to harassment of any other nature was not made cognizable before the federal ombudsman.