PESHAWAR -- Pakistani women seeking legal advice and counselling regarding sexual harassment at work or in public places can now access those resources online.
The Ab Aur Nahin website (https://abaurnahin.pk/), launched by the Lahore-based Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), connects women with lawyers and counsellors free of charge.
So far the portal has 42 lawyers available, including 26 women, from across the country. The number of lawyers and counsellors is expected to increase.
"The portal has been launched for women seeking legal help and psychological counselling in cases of gender-based violence and harassment," DRF Executive Director Nighat Dad told Pakistan Forward February 19.
The website links victims of harassment with resources so they can receive the help they need to combat the cycle of violence and abuse, she said.
"An unprecedented number of women have been coming forward to share their personal experiences of abuse and harassment in the light of the 'Me Too' campaign all over the world," she said.
The #MeToo movement has shown the true scale of the harassment of women around the world as well as in Pakistan, Dad said.
"Both institutional support and resources are needed to provide mental health and legal support to the victims of harassment," she said.
Pakistani Supreme Court Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed during a hearing on February 13 directed the federal government and relevant provincial administrations to develop a mechanism to make it easier for women to lodge complaints against harassers.
"We should be ashamed if we fail to save the working women from harassment at workplaces," he said, according to The News International.
"The [provision] of legal support and psychological counselling is an excellent effort to help the victims of harassment in offices and public places," said Peshawar-based journalist Riffat Ullah Orakzai.
Awareness must be raised as a significant percentage of the population do not consider harassment of women a crime, he said.
"We need to have strict laws as well as awareness among the public so no one harasses any female co-workers or anyone coming to trade centres, parks or any other place," he told Pakistan Forward.
"Normally women do not report cases of harassment in public or in their offices," said Huma Aurangzeb, a private school teacher and a mother of two from Peshawar. "But now after getting a proper forum in terms of the portal, many women will report these incidents."
Pakistan should have more services such as those offered by Ab Aur Nahin to discourage harassment in society and encourage women to report such incidents, she said.
"Many incidents happen in public places, but it is not considered acceptable in society if a woman protests or tries to stop someone in a trade centre or any other public place," she told Pakistan Forward.
The government and local administrations should place billboards and notices in all public places to inform the public that staring, touching or any other kind of harassment of women will be dealt with strictly, suggested Ameena Raza, who works for a drug manufacturer in Peshawar.
"Strict laws as well as education and awareness about the topic can improve the situation in public places," she told Pakistan Forward.
Progress against harassment
Last September, authorities took action in a sexual harassment case raised by the head nurse at the Institute of Kidney Diseases (IKD), Hayatabad.
Regional Commissioner Bashir Ahmad Khan imposed a penalty of Rs. 250,000 ($1,788) against the IKD additional director and halted his yearly raise. The doctor was charged with physically harassing female nurses and with using insensitive language against the nurse.
Last December, an ombudsman in Sindh also recommended the termination of a Karachi University lecturer for harassing a female student.
Meanwhile, in a step seen as raising the profile of harassment of women, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government on January 2 appointed the first female ombudsperson.
The KP government appointed Rukhshanda Naz under the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace (Amendment) Act, 2018. Naz has worked as a women's rights and human rights activist for almost three decades.