To combat workplace harassment, change mindset

Curbing workplace harassment

By Roheena Ali Shah

Harassment in the workplace is on the rise and continues to impede women from joining the workforce in Pakistan, stifling the potential of countless talented women to use their talent. The menace hinders women’s professional growth, and progress towards gender equality, and perpetuates an environment of fear and injustice. Harassment at the workplace hampers gender equality.

The devastating effects of harassment on women, including decreased job satisfaction, lowered self-esteem, and multiple mental health issues, necessitate urgent action to discourage and stop such incidents, and foster a safe and inclusive work environment for women.

According to an inquiry report on the Status of Women Employment 2003, nearly 50% of the interviewed women working in the public sector have been subjected to sexual harassment. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has reported that around 91% of women in the domestic work sector face harassment.

This not only discourages women from continuing employment, but it also reduces their job performance, often leads to long-lasting psychological effects, and has severe consequences for their health.

Nature of harassments

This article delves into the various forms of harassment faced by women at the workplace and highlights effective strategies to eradicate this harmful behaviour.

Workplace harassment manifests in several forms and ways, such as verbal, sexual, psychological, and cyber abuse. Verbal harassment encompasses derogatory comments, offensive jokes, and persistent remarks based on gender.

Sexual harassment involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, or any other form of explicit misconduct.

Psychological harassment encompasses bullying, intimidation, humiliation, and gaslighting, aiming to undermine the victim’s emotional well-being.

Cyber harassment occurs through electronic means, including explicit or inappropriate messages, sharing explicit content, or engaging in online stalking or bullying.

Remedies and the way forward

Although Pakistan has introduced the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010, crime against women is on the rise. There is a need to reform the existing laws regarding women’s right to work and improve the shortcomings. But the most important thing is to put in place strong implementation mechanisms and political will to address the menace.

Strengthening policies plays a pivotal role in addressing harassment crime. Framing comprehensive anti-harassment policies that clearly define unacceptable behaviours and provide guidelines for reporting such incidents is paramount. Promoting a zero-tolerance stance and effectively communicating these policies to all employees ensures a shared understanding.

Raising awareness in society and at the organizational level is a crucial step in combatting workplace harassment. Organizations must conduct regular training sessions to educate employees about harassment, its impact, and the importance of maintaining a respectful, conducive, and inclusive work environment.

The foremost thing to do is to educate women about their right to work and consider harassment a social issue.

Encouraging reporting is vital in creating an environment where victims and witnesses feel safe to come forward. It also creates a culture of accountability and support. Safe and confidential channels for reporting incidents should be established, accompanied by assurances of protection against the perpetrator’s retaliation.

Promoting gender equality is instrumental in fostering an inclusive culture. This can be achieved by supporting diversity at all levels of the organization, including diverse leadership and equal opportunities for career growth and development. Implementing mentorship programs strengthens support networks for women within the workplace, providing guidance and encouragement.

Arranging training and education programmes for employees and employers is essential for building conducive workplaces. Regular training should emphasize the importance of respectful communication, empathy, and diversity. Equipping individuals with bystander intervention techniques empowers them to intervene when they witness harassment and support victims.

Establishing robust support systems, such as counseling services or employee resource groups, provides assistance to those affected by harassment. These resources serve as safe spaces for individuals to seek guidance, share experiences, and find strength in solidarity.

Accountability and consequences must be firmly enforced to deter harassment. Prompt and thorough investigations of reported incidents are crucial. An impartial investigation process instills confidence in the reporting mechanism and demonstrates the organization’s commitment to addressing harassment.

Implementing disciplinary actions, including appropriate sanctions against perpetrators, demonstrates that harassment will not be tolerated. Transparency in the disciplinary process sends a strong message that the organization stands against harassment.

Collaboration and partnerships between organizations and external entities, such as industry associations or advocacy groups, are vital in developing best practices and learning from successful initiatives in tackling workplace harassment.

Creating a safe and inclusive work environment necessitates collective efforts from organizations, individuals, and society as a whole. We can curb harassment in the workplace and provide a conducive environment for women to thrive professionally by raising awareness, implementing effective policies, fostering gender equality, promoting education and support systems, and holding perpetrators accountable. It is time to take collective action and build workplaces that are free from fear, discrimination, and harassment.

Roheena Ali Shah is a gender specialist and currently working at Skardu, Baltistan. She is an MPhil scholar.

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