ISLAMABAD: While setting aside the Islamabad High Court’s decision in a case pertaining to women’s harassment at the workplace, the Supreme Court on Wednesday highlighted the need to bid farewell to gender biases and encourage women’s participation in all spheres of life with ‘honour and dignity’.

“The dignity is an inherent and inseparable right of a human being and has thus been guaranteed by Const­itution as an absolute, non-negotiable and inviolable fundamental right and not subject to any qualification, restriction or regulation,” stated the judgement that Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah wrote.

Justice Shah was a member of a two-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, that had taken up an appeal against the Feb 8, 2019 decision of the IHC.

The case at hand involves June 15, 2016 complaint by Uzma Naveed Chaudhry and four other female anchorpersons of state-run Pakistan Television (PTV) against Ather Farook Buttar, the controller in charge of PTV News Centre, Islamabad.

High court decision in PTV harassment case overturned; court orders recovery of compensation from respondent

In their filed before the federal ombudsman under the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010, the complainant alleged the senior official had been harassing them individually at their workplace for a long time. The alleged sexual advances made to the petitioners included comments such as “she is looking hot” and offering her to book a hotel room, winking at her and making indecent gestures, sending a phone message expressing his love for her, visiting her at her house uninvited, asking her out for dinner and upon her refusal threatening her to suffer the consequences, promising to make her a star if she would have friendship with him, and attempting physical assault on her in his office.”

The petitioners and the respondent filed representations to the President of Pakistan against the decision of the federal ombudsman, with the former asking for enhancement of the punishment and the latter seeking exoneration from the allegations.

While accepting the representation of the petitioners on Dec 30, 2016, the then president late Mamnoon Hussain converted the punishment of the respondent into major penalty of removal from service instead of the minor penalties imposed by the federal ombudsman.

However, the respondent challenged the president’s order before the IHC that partially accepted the plea and maintained the decision of the federal ombudsman. The IHC order was then challenged before the apex court.

In the SC order, Justice Shah observed no nation could rise to the height of glory, in the words of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, unless women were side by side with men. “We are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live,” he noted in the judgement.

Setting aside the IHC order, the SC ordered that compensation from arrears of pay, pension emoluments or any other source (property) of the respondent be recovered.

Safe working environment

Right to a safe working environment for all genders, male, female and transgender, free of harassment, abuse and intimidation draws its real strength from the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution, the verdict noted.

Any act of harassment done by any person that affects the free choice to enter and continue any lawful profession or occupation would amount to threatening the safety of the working environment, the SC ruled.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2022

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