Ruining the Work Dynamic

My court clerk would deliberately remove my name from the court list, would withhold files by lying as to their whereabouts, and even once threw a file at my feet because I put it on his desk. His attitude made me detest my law firm–a firm I actually enjoyed working in. 

I did not report these out of fear that my complaints would “ruin the work dynamic”, which I now find to be a bad justification as by ignoring it, I simply aggravated it, and am now allowing that man to treat other women the same way. 

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Harassment Gone Unpunished

I was leaving my workplace in the lift and the courier guy asked me: “Do you work here?” A pointless question. When I looked up, he was holding his phone up. Then I heard a camera sound (taking a picture). I said “You’ve taken a picture!” but he said he hadn’t. When the lift opened and I saw the office guard, I told him to give me the phone. He fidgeted with it before the office guard snatched it from him. He didn’t find my picture but saw a lot of pictures of girls which were obviously taken unknowingly- someone studying, sitting somewhere, that kind of stuff.

When my organization spoke to his supervisor, he (the supervisor) was surprised because this behavior did not go so well with the fact that he was a bearded guy, and prayed 5 times a day. Anyway, the CEO said he would take care of it but I didn’t see it happen. Even after some probing, I got no apology, no explanation, nothing… and that was pretty much the end of the story.

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‘I Stare Him Down’: Venus Driving School’s Ghazala Bangash

If you live in Islamabad, you know Ghazala Bangash. You may not know her by her real name, but you have likely have taken classes at her decades-old Venus Driving School for women. And if you haven’t, then someone in your immediate social circle inevitably will have. We sat down with Ghazala, an institution unto herself, for a very interesting conversation on men, dealing with harassment on the road,  the Islamabad Traffic Police, and much more. 

Before interviewing Ghazala Bangash, we had speculated enthusiastically about the driving school’s unusual name, speculating it had its origins in Roman mythology. Ghazala quickly put an end to our assumptions when she told us that the school was named eponymously: ‘My mother’s friend named me Venus as a young girl. When I started my own business I wasn’t sure what I was should call it. My friends weren’t sure, either. Then I thought of my nickname; that this name isn’t that common, so I should go with Venus.’

Still, she agrees that the name has some symbolic value. ‘It’s providential, in a way. For one, my name is Venus, plus the driving school is an effort to help women…No one ever takes the woman’s side.’


Breaking it Down: Geo News Sexual Harassment Case

Farhat Javed is an employee of Geo News and had brought a complaint of sexual harassment against a colleague in the Islamabad office. After an internal investigation, the responsible committee decided that harassment had taken place, and ‘let (him) off’ with a warning. Following this, she decided to appeal to the Federal Ombudsman on Sexual Harassment.

Read on to learn about what the Ombudsan ruled, and what we think is worrisome about the ruling.

Harassment and Complaints: How it Works

Harassment has been defined under Section 2(h) of the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 as:

” …any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes, causing interference with work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply to such a request or is made a condition for employment..

When an employer receives a complaint, it has to form an Inquiry Committee to investigate the matter (under section 3 of the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010). The Inquiry Committee must make a decision about the complaint.

If the complainant wants to appeal the decision, they may do so at the Federal Ombudsman for Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace. An ombudsman is a person appointed by the government or parliament charged with addressing concerns of the public by investigating and addressing complaints of administrative abuse or maldaministration within organizations or bureaucracies. In order to effectively fulfill this duty, they have a significant degree of independence.

An employee may also take their complaint directly to the Ombudsman.

Breakdown of the Harassment Case at Geo:
  1. The judge ruled that harassment took place as well as character assassination. This was ruled both by the company’s initial internal investigation and by the judge: “We cannot (sic)ignored the fact that act of harassment and sexual harassment is more and more developing in our society and in this environment ladies engaged in field work.”
  2. Chaudhry tried to make the claim that Farhat Javed could not appeal Geo’s internal decision because the inquiry committee had already found him at fault and reprimanded him. Appealing, he claimed, was an attempt to ‘double punish’ him. The judge rejected this because, legally, anyone can file an appeal if they feel that the decision has been rendered incorrectly.
  3. He tried to use her previous friendships with male colleagues gone awry to delegitimize her complaint. Chaudhry’s team cited another claim filed by the complainant when she worked in Dunya TV suggesting that she had a history of accusing male friends of harassment.
  4. But the judge rules in her favor here, too: The ombudsman, though conceding that a previous friendship seemed to have existed between the the complainant and opponent, agreed that she was harassed, and that her previous complaint against a Dunya TV employee seemed genuine because those persons were terminated from employment.
  5. However, the judge disagrees that an inquiry committee has to ‘punish’ the offender. She believes that a warning and reprimand can suffice. She says that the purpose of the act is to create a “healthy” working environment, and that warnings and reprimands can be enough to do this.
  6. She further rules that the complainant’s application to study abroad should be considered, and she should go abroad to study so as to limit their interaction.
The Problem with the Ruling: 
  1. Most immediately, the offender was found guilty of sexually harassing a woman and yet received the minor penalty of a warning. Neither the Inquiry Committee nor the ombudsman considered imposing other minor penalties detailed in the Act, such as issuing a direction for him to pay compensation or withholding for some time a promotion or increment. Instead, he was promoted soon after the conclusion of the inquiry. While this may prevent him from committing further acts of harassment, his presence in the office puts the women who currently work with him at risk.
  2. The  ombusdman’s decision in holding that a warning and letter of apology made to the complainant would be sufficient to resolve the issue roundly ignores that the offender’s promotion threatens to make the work environment even more dangerous for the complainant. The offender was promoted to the most senior position in the newsroom right after his inquiry. He was already threatening to use his position to make work harder for her if she didn’t acquiesce to his demands. With his higher position now, he could hurt her far more gravely.
  3. Importantly, by suggesting the complainant go abroad to study, the judge neatly avoids having to dole out any serious punishment to the offender, while also putting the onus on the victim’s removal from her work environment to avoid further distress. This despite the fact that he was found guilty of sexual harassment.

You can read the Ombudsman’s decision regarding the case of Farhat Javed (the complainant) versus Arshad Waheed Chaudhry (the opponent) here.

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An unusual case of discrimination: Women against women?

I’ve been working in my current organization from Feb 2015. From the day I joined I’m facing discrimination from my team leader. She often gives me comments that she is still not satisfied from my work where as my immediate manager is well satisfied from my work.

My male colleagues are very happy with her. She is very gentle with them and most of time they are chilling and enjoying (YouTube, Daily Motion and other video sites). Facebook is always an open window on their laptops and she knows it (she can see their windows).

And all the time I receive deadlines from her. And at the end she reports to the boss that I didn’t do the work properly and I do so many mistakes. I have experience of 6 years and now doing MS leading to PhD in HRM. I got certification of MS Excel before joining this job as it needed excel excellence. Now I’m only person who knows excel best in my department. Even sometimes I used to tell her how to use it but she can’t admit it.

Sometimes I get frustrated and decide to quit but my economical condition does not let me do so yet.

I think she would treat me well if I offer her a cup of tea (I should prepare tea, put the cup on a saucer and serve her), if I say you are looking so young and attractive, if I say I idealize you as you only know the project inside and out.

But I can’t say or do any of the above. I don’t know how to do that.

Thanks for making me feel better by sharing my story to someone.

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Anonymous Survey on Gender in the Workplace: We Want to Hear From YOU

The editorial team at Being a Woman in Professional Pakistan wants to learn more about how gender operates in the Pakistani workplace. This anonymous survey seeks information about your experience with gender at your place of work. While we encourage women to respond, men’s observations about gender in the workplace are also welcome.

You can access the survey here:

Feel free to reach out to us via email at or our anonymous submission form.

Sexist Managers

One of the big 4 auditing firms in Islamabad is notorious for sexist managers. Here’s a few stories (there are many more).

Manager A and B drop their pens on the ground, ask female members of their team to pick them up.

Manager A and B have a shouting match out in the open about who’s team a particular female colleague will be on. Making it blatantly obvious they just want the rights to ogle her.

Disclaimer: There are many good people in the organization, but some of the managers are downright terrible human beings.

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On sexists who don’t know they’re sexists: say something!

My company’s bank representative was misbehaving with me, and I had had it. After multiple inappropriate phone calls, I wanted to complain about him to his branch manager to get him to stop. My colleague was on his way to the bank to fill out some paperwork, so I asked him to find out the manager’s name and contact number so that I could complain about him (it wasn’t online).

To my surprise, when he returned he told me that he’d solved the problem for me: instead of ‘causing a problem’ he’d requested to change the representative dealing with my account at the bank. ‘I didn’t want to get him in trouble with his boss, so I just asked them to change your representative’, completely missing the point: that I wanted him to get in trouble with his boss, and that, as the person who had to deal with his unprofessional behavior, it was my right to complain about him. I was kind of stunned in the moment, and it took me a few minutes to articulate to myself what I was mad about: that this guy completely undermined my decision, that he decided to ‘take care’ of things for me as if he were my father and I were a child, and most frustrating, that he didn’t even realize it was problematic. More important even, his ‘decision’ was a band-aid solution: leaving this creep’s behavior unchecked left him more opportunities to harass other women.

I never said anything to him about it because I didn’t know how to approach the subject and I didn’t want to seem dramatic. I know I would act differently now, but it’s obviously a little late for that. Instead, I would strongly advise anyone in a similar situation to find a way to say what’s wrong. Say it! Some jerks, like the bank representative, know they are being disgusting pigs, and they should be called out. But the trickier situation is with men who mean well and have no idea their behavior is actually disrespectful. So don’t stay quiet if something is wrong. If you think it is, say it is.

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I did not back off from my objective, and neither should you

Entering the professional world for a woman is certainly not easy, especially in Pakistan. When I started my own business about three years back, I faced a lot of criticism from people around me. I used to visit a photographer for getting clothes for my online boutique photographed and once he found out I ran my own business, he felt very comfortable in flirting with me. It seemed like all men like him believed that a business woman in Pakistan is open to flirting because she interacts with men. This is just one tiny aspect of the many problems I faced. I am married now and still working, in a different field now, but the situation hasn’t changed much now. Many of my in-laws are not supportive as well and do not see me with respect. Working in this country, particularly in the business field is not an easy task. Unhealthy criticism, taunts, annoying eyes of men with the X-ray capacity follow you everywhere, but it is your determination and passion alone that will get you somewhere. I did not back off from my objective and neither should you. I have a simple question for all those who think women should not work is: ‘If we don’t work, will you support our families financially?’ If your answer is no, then please keep your filthy and unwanted opinions tightly packed in your mouth. Thank you.

-Sharoon Yasir

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Men Explaining My Struggles to Me

“Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don’t.” A lot of women must be able to relate to what Rebecca Solnit said. It is true for both the personal and the professional space in Pakistan. It’s a widely, albeit falsely held belief, that men know more and are therefore allowed to adopt a patronizing tone to explain everything to their less-knowing female peers. Even things, as Solnit says, which they know less of than us. It has happened frequently at the workplace; and is sometimes annoying, other times infuriating, and once or twice outright offensive. Like a colleague explaining to you how minorities survive in Pakistan. A colleague, who is Sunni, Punjabi, and a man, explaining to me, a Shia, Urdu speaking, woman, what it is minorities do exactly, to survive in Pakistan.

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