ISLAMABAD: The office of the Federal Ombudsperson Secretariat for Protection against Harassment (FOSPAH) received nearly 5,008 complaints in the last four years – an exceptional increase in the number of registered cases.

This has been highlighted in an annual report launched by FOSPAH at the President House on Friday. The report was launched in coordination with United Nations (UN) Women. Members of the diplomatic community and journalists were also present on the occasion.

The report stated that as few as 84 cases were registered between the years 2010-13 while 398 cases were registered between 2013-18. Between 2018-22, however, 5,008 cases were registered out of which 3,698 were filed by women and 1,310 by men.

It further said out of the 5,008 total cases, 1,689 men and women from the government sector and 3,319 male and female applicants from the private sector registered complaints with the office of the ombudsperson.

Besides, the 275 active cases of harassment at the workplace, the report claimed that 4,733 cases were successfully closed.

l More than 5,000 complaints received by ombudsperson from 2018-22 l Alvi calls for economic empowerment, property rights, harassment-free workplace for women

Speaking to participants, President Dr Arif Alvi called for economic and financial empowerment, property rights, health and nutrition, coupled with quality education and skills and a harassment-free workplace to motivate women who made up almost 50pc of the country’s population to play an active role in business, trade and service sectors of the country.

He expressed solidarity with flood victims across the country and extended condolences and offered prayers for those who had lost their lives. The participants also observed one minute of silence in solidarity with the flood victims.

Federal Ombudsperson for Protection against Harassment Kashmala Khan, UN Women Country Representative in Pakistan Sharmila Rasool and Country Director of United Institute of Peace (USIP) Pakistan Adnan Rafiq also spoke on the occasion.

President Alvi said social and cultural attitudes and intellectual biases towards women’s rights, their economic and financial empowerment and gainful employment and peoples’ moral and ethical values needed correction on the basis of Islamic teachings, which called for equal educational opportunities for both men and women. The president said women’s inclusion in the economy could be enhanced by improving their mobility and providing them equal opportunities in business, trade and service sectors, and creating a safe and secure work environment to enable them to realise their fullest potential and taking affirmative action wherever necessary.

He said in Pakistan, only 24pc women were working in the formal and informal sectors of the economy, which was low compared to men whose economic participation was around 90pc. He said no country could make meaningful socio-economic progress without the full participation of women in the economy.

He further said women should be treated as equal citizens as ordained in Islam and in the Constitution of Pakistan, adding that the practice of women voluntarily giving up their property rights in favour of their male family members should be discouraged to stop exploitation of women’s rights on inherited properties.

Over 80pc of admissions taken in professional colleges were women but their retention in gainful employment was low due to social and domestic constraints, Mr Alvi said, adding that this trend needed to be reversed on a priority basis through collective action by the government, families and women themselves.

The president commended the federal ombudsperson’s office for remaining committed towards hard work, commitment and introducing IT-based solutions for filing appeals, taking statements and recording evidence, which had increased the number of 500 cases filed from 2010-2018 to 5,000 cases from 2018-2022.

Earlier, Ms Khan highlighted that FOSPAH was an autonomous quasi-judicial body that provided justice to aggrieved persons in cases involving harassment at the workplace and denial of property rights to women within 60 days.

She said the establishment of a women-specific institution was indicative of the state’s resolve towards protecting women’s rights and ensuring their participation in the workforce.

Ms Rasool said in her speech said that enhancing women’s participation in the workforce would help improve Pakistan’s economy, besides helping it achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Adnan Rafiq said that members of society needed to be more sensitive to the difficulties faced by women during their movement and while performing their duties in the workplace.

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2022

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