Wednesday, November 25

Bill Against Women Harassment

I couldn’t help but laugh at the first story I read in the newspaper at my breakfast table. The headline, which read ‘Higher penalty for women’s harassment approved,’ indicated that the government had increased the fine and years of imprisonment for all those lecherous men out there. And, in fact, according to the Criminal Law (Amendment Bill), the punishment for sexual harassment has been increased to three years’ imprisonment (up from one year) and an ‘unspecified fine’ for a ‘vague insult’ to a woman.

As I read on, I realised that the bill was aiming to do more than just dole out stricter punishments.

The story reminded me of my college days– a journey I began on the public bus system. As I commuted from home to college, I had to be wary of a number of things, primarily the rampant harassment at the bus stop and inside buses.

I remember out of seats – all eight of them – allocated for women, who constitute 52 per cent of Pakistan’s population, I chose to sit only on the seat adjacent to the driver or on the single seat above the engine. The remaining four seats connected to the male compartment, and I would deliberately avoid those, even if they lay empty. Better to stand than fall victim to the touching (from any angle!).

Where a moral building is needed there no bill can cast any diffrence in morality of men. That bill does not define how offenders who engage in sexual harassment on the street and in public places will be tried for this crime (since the police are hardly around when we need them the most). Also, what about those men who pinch you in public places and run away?

Can the members from the treasury and opposition benches explain how we’re going to hold such people accountable to the law in their ‘statement of objects and reasonings’ as well?

If not, they might as well make another amendment before it becomes an act: exclude ‘public’ and limit the amendment to ‘private and workplaces’ only. At least that way women have the hope of pursuing sexual harassers by utilising the mechanisms available to them in their offices. Without any regard for the practical implementation of such an amendment, it will remain ineffective.

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