SC judge cautions against weakening workplace harassment law, urges govt to strengthen it

A Supreme Court bench on Wednesday expressed concern over “whispers to weaken the law against women harassment at workplace”, during the hearing of a contempt case against Justice Mansoor Ali Shah filed by former federal ombudsperson for Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace, Yasmeen Abbasi.

Abbasi had issued a contempt notice to Justice Mansoor in 2016 after he had issued her arrest warrants, following which the police barged into her office to take her into custody.

During the hearing, Federal Ombudsperson for Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Kashmala Tariq, who appeared before the court today, told the bench that there were “zero complaints” of harassment from Sindh. The claim was dismissed by Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, who observed that absence of complaints did not mean the issue of workplace harassment did not exist in the province.

“People feel reluctant to talk about this matter,” he remarked. “The problem is that you [Tariq] have not taken women into confidence.”

He said that the authorities should develop a mechanism that would make it easier for women to lodge complaints and directed the attorney general and provincial governments to submit responses on the interpretation of the law against harassment at workplace.

He suggested that if provincial governments meant to amend the law, they should do so to strengthen it so that women can easily come forward and file complaints of incidents of harassment at workplaces. He also said that the attorney general and provincial advocate generals should provide legal assistance to the court by consulting international law.

“We should be ashamed of ourselves if we can’t protect women from harassment,” he said.

The hearing was adjourned until the first week of March.

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