Mehergarh remained the secretariat and the hub for AASHA (an Alliance Against Sexual Harassment) over several years. With other AASHA members, it succeeded in getting the Anti-Sexual Harassment Laws passed in 2010.Since March 2010, after the passage of two laws, the focus has been on effective implementation of these laws nationwide. This involves promoting Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy in the public and private sectors, media campaigns, seminars & residential training of trainers to give conceptual clarity on the issue, detailed understanding of the two laws and proper implementation. Although the movement of AASHA was successfully concluded in December 2011, Mehergarh continues the work on implementation of the legislation in full vigour.
For the first time in the history of Pakistan, twin laws were passed by the parliament to curb sexual harassment, as a result of people’s ten-year movement. The law was then implemented in an organized manner, throughout the country. Mehergarh has been leading the implementation of anti-sexual harassment laws since their passage in 2010. After helping organizations, in all sectors and different parts of the country, effectively institutionalize the mechanism provided in the law, we decided to reviewed the implementation process of compliance in 2020 to look at the achievements in ten years, challenges faced and recommendations from organizations that had seriously worked on implementing the law.
An overview of ten years of implementation was documented in the form of a book called, ‘A Game Changer for Women: Reviewing Ten Years of Implementing Anti-Sexual Harassment Laws in Pakistan (2010 – 2020)’.
Mehergarh served as the secretariat of the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (AASHA) and when the alliance concluded on December 22nd 2011, the organization took on the responsibility of implementing this law throughout the country. Mehergarh planned, in a very organized manner, what steps needed to be taken to effectively implement the law in different sectors. Some of the specific contributions of Mehergarh towards implementing this law are given below:
1. Strategic Implementation Framework was developed just before the law was passed, with strategies to be used for implementing the law throughout the country. It was shared with relevant government departments, donors and major NGOs so that whoever works on the implementation, it remains a coordinated effort. It can be found at www.aasha.org.pk
2. AASHA Website was developed and geared towards facilitating organizations to comply with the law. Both the laws against sexual harassment in English and Urdu along with the ‘Step by Step Instructions on How to Comply with the Law’ were posted on the website, in downloadable formats. Even though AASHA concluded two years after the passage of the law, Mehergarh has maintained this website to help organizations that are complying. This has become the most used resource for awareness-raising. The Implementation Framework is also available on this website.
3. Educational Materials are produced by Mehergarh, both audio visual and print, like documentaries, brochures, research reports, booklets etc. to be used in trainings. Posters of the Code of Conduct are printed in bulk to give out to organizations, as displaying the text of the Code is a requirement of compliance with the law.
4. Working with Managements of Organizations, since the law gives them the responsibility of institutionalizing the mechanism within their organizations to address sexual harassment. Mehergarh provides full support to those who ask for help, be it answering their questions on how to go about it, to providing conceptual clarity on the issue so that they not only comply in letter, but in spirit as well, so that their employees can actually benefit from it.
5. Specialized Trainings are designed and conducted for representatives of organizations and individuals. Mehergarh has trained over 23,000 professionals from over 1,000 organizations from across the country in the last ten years, from March 2010 to March 2020. Mehergarh specializes in trainings that change people’s mindsets. These trainings are mostly designed by Dr. Fouzia Saeed. When implementing laws that address social issues, conceptual clarity of the issue is as important as understanding of the law. Every training we conduct, irrespective of its duration, has modules on making personal connections with the issue of sexual harassment and breaking myths common in the Pakistani society, along with the details of the law.
6. Mehergarh’s Trained Trainers continue using their learning to train others in their own organizations or help other organizations comply and provide trainings and awareness sessions to their employees. Mehergarh provides continuous support to them by offering refreshers, answering difficult questions that they might have been asked and as they need more in-depth understanding.
7. Cases of sexual harassment are difficult to handle as usually there is no evidence and no witnesses. Generally, people behave inappropriately when they are alone with someone. Mehergarh offers residential trainings for Standing Inquiry Committee Members to equip them with skills to handle these cases in a responsible, professional and efficient manner.
8. Assisting Individuals & Inquiry Committees in Cases. In the last ten years Mehergarh has helped individuals and/or Standing Inquiry Committee members in more than 4000 cases. Mehergarh has no role in handling cases of sexual harassment, which are to be reported either to Standing Inquiry Committees within organizations or to the Ombudspersons, but when someone approaches us with a case, we always answer their questions, guide them on their next steps and support them in the process. At times, Standing Inquiry Committee Members that are either at a dead end or are faced with a complex case contact us for help; we always work with them creatively to come up with more avenues to explore the facts and continue with the process.
9. Making People Aware on the issue and the law and encouraging them to speak out when harassed is another important work Mehergarh undertakes. Both electronic and print media are used extensively and in the recent years social media is also being taken advantage of. The number of people made aware in the last ten years is literally in the millions. This is one of the reasons why we see so many cases being reported these days and harassment has become a household word. However, a majority of the cases are still reported to the Inquiry Committees where they are handled in confidentiality and no one outside the organization hears about them. Someone very aptly called it a ‘Silent Revolution’ in Pakistan.
10. Averting Proposed Amendments becomes crucial when there is a fear that the law might become difficult to implement or simply where a small change has the potential to hurt a lot of people, like removing men from being protected by this law. On the one hand, Mehergarh spends most of its time efficiently implementing the law throughout the country. Now, in addition we have to keep an eye on the amendments being proposed so that they may be stopped in time. This takes a lot of effort, as first we need to get a copy of the proposed amendments to see what is being proposed, where it is in the process and who all to approach and coordinate with to ensure that no problematic, unnecessary changes are passed. If it has been marked to a Standing Committee, find out who the members of that Committee are, talking to the members individually, explaining why the proposed amendment is not needed or how it can potentially hurt the larger process of people benefitting from it. Even then, at times, it becomes very difficult to so this. An example is when someone has a good relationship with certain parliamentarians because they took them on a national or international trip with the help of donor funding, because of which the parliamentarians will not question whatever amendment is being proposed, as they feel indebted. Sometimes the very senior people in provincial governments want to give the job of the ombudsperson to someone they want to do a favour to and they have the qualifications of this position changed to fit those of the person they want to oblige, which actually hurts all the people in that province by getting an unqualified ombudsperson. The sooner more people understand that this law is being implemented quite well and does not need to be amended, the sooner Mehergarh can go back to focusing on implementing the law so that more people can benefit from using it. This was the main objective behind getting this law passed.
11. Supporting Research on sexual harassment is an on-going activity at Mehergarh. A number of students in Pakistan and abroad are doing research on different aspects of sexual harassment; Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (AASHA) as a successful movement; the law and its implementation. They approach Mehergarh for information, mostly as in-depth interviews, and we provide them the information they need. We also direct them towards organizations that have complied with the law for first-hand information on the benefits and challenges they face.
12. Organizations/Professionals Trained by Mehergarh: From 2010 to 2020, Mehergarh trained over 25000 professionals from different sectors, across the country.