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Placement of Sexual Harassment Laws in National Legislation

Although often associated with the workplace, sexual harassment can occur in many contexts. Accordingly, drafters should review a broad spectrum of national legislation to determine where provisions on sexual harassment may need to be included. Around the world, sexual harassment provisions are found in criminal codes, labor codes, health and safety legislation, anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws, as well as education and licensing statutes, to name a few. Approaches to and Remedies under Sexual Harassment Law – Civil Law, StopVAW, The Advocates for Human Rights.)

In some countries, sexual harassment is addressed through laws related to assault or defamation. This approach is not ideal, however, as it does not recognize the specific gendered aspects of sexual harassment, it does not recognize harassment as a form of discrimination, and it does not provide for specifically tailored remedies. A preferable approach ensures that sexual harassment is included as a specific form of prohibited discrimination in broad-based anti-discrimination legislation. In many national contexts, a code-specific approach is also used, e.g., prohibiting discrimination through the labor code, health and safety legislation, licensing statutes, etc.

CASE STUDY – Pakistan (See also Pakistan Case Study in the Advocacy Section)

In Pakistan, two different laws were proposed to ensure that women in all work environments are fully protected. As in many emerging economies, women in Pakistan work both in the formal and informal sectors, and women’s rights organizations realized that different legislative approaches were needed to ensure protection for women in different sectors of the economy. A 2010 civil law changed the way that claims of sexual harassment are handled in the formal employment sector. The law makes mandatory the implementation of policies that have been voluntarily adopted by many employers, called The Code of Conduct for Gender Justice at the Workplace. The law requires that employers in Pakistan incorporate the Code of Conduct into their workplace policies and establish Inquiry Committees to investigate claims of sexual harassment. A law to amend Pakistan’s Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure also expanded the definition of sexual harassment to cover the workplace and increased the penalties for perpetrators. The criminal code amendment was the result of ongoing consultation with women working in the informal sector, such as agriculture and markets, who voiced concern that measures proposed to establish workplace grievance committees, for example, might not work effectively to protect them. The criminal law in Pakistan now allows for a term of imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of up to 500,000 rupees, or both. See: Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2009; Nosheen Abbas, Sexual Harassment in Pakistan (Dec. 16, 2009); Protection Against Harassment at the Workplace Act.

Examples:

In Argentina, sexual harassment is prohibited in Law No. 26485, which addresses discrimination and violence against women generally.  However, for public sector employees, sexual harassment was specifically prohibited by Executive Order, No. 2385/93.

In Panama, sexual harassment is addressed in the labor code, the penal code, and in a law specifically prohibiting sexual harassment in public employment. (See: Act No. 9 of 20 June 1994; Act. No. 44 of 1995; Law No. 38 of 2001.

In Canada, New Zealand, and Fiji, among other nations, sexual harassment is prohibited in national human rights legislation.

In Israel, sexual harassment is a criminal violation and a civil violation, so perpetrators can be criminally charged as well as sued.

Venezuela’s law specifically addresses sexual harassment as a form of violence against women.