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Pakistan’s New Law Aims to Protect Women in Workplace

Enforcement Crucial, Broader Reforms Needed

Women's rights activists demonstrate to condemn violence against women in Lahore, Pakistan, July 24, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo/K.M. Chaudhry

Pakistan’s parliament has passed a bill that significantly strengthens protections for women in the workplace against violence and harassment. The new law, drafted by the Ministry of Human Rights with extensive input from women rights groups and lawyers, amends the far weaker 2010 law.

The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Bill, 2022, enacted January 14, expands the definition of workplaces to encompass both formal and informal workplaces, bringing it closer to the definition set out in the 2019 International Labour Organization (ILO) Violence and Harassment Convention (C190), which Pakistan has not ratified. The new legislation specifically includes domestic workers, who are often isolated and marginalized, and as a result can be at greater risk of workplace violence and harassment.

The new law includes an expanded definition of harassment that includes “discrimination on the basis of gender, which may or may not be sexual in nature.” The law extends protections against harassment and violence to students, a category excluded by the previous law. It also streamlines the complaints process and includes specific protections to prevent retaliation.

Women’s rights groups in Pakistan have long demanded stronger protections against violence and harassment in the workplace, and this law is an important step toward that. Pakistani women face serious abuse in the workplace and at home, including high rates of rape, murder, acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriage. Perpetrators have too often enjoyed impunity because of discrimination. Recent cases that have come to trial have highlighted the obstacles women face in getting justice, with survivors often retraumatized by the legal process.

The real test of the new law will be its full implementation, which requires political will. One way that Pakistan’s government could demonstrate its commitment to ending workplace harassment is by ratifying ILO C190, which provides comprehensive protections and a mechanism to hold countries accountable for upholding them.

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