Why Meesha Shafi’s appeal against the dismissal of her sexual harassment case on technical grounds is so important for Pakistan

Actor-and-singer Meesha Shafi’s appeal against the dismissal of her sexual harassment case on technical/jurisdiction grounds has been pending before the Supreme Court of Pakistan for over a year. The case, seen as a test for Pakistan’s own MeToo movement, has important implications for victims of sexual harassment nationwide.
It is important, at this stage, to understand the chronology of the case. On April 30, 2018, Meesha Shafi filed a complaint under Section 8 of the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 before the Punjab Ombudsperson against actor-singer Ali Zafar. The ombudsperson, on May 3, 2018, rejected the complaint on the grounds that Meesha was not an “employee” under the Act.

Meesha appealed the order before the Punjab governor, who unfortunately also accepted the faulty interpretation of the sexual harassment law. Meesha then filed a writ petition before the Lahore High Court, which upheld the order of the ombudsperson and the governor. The court declined to exercise jurisdiction in the case, saying protections under the law did not extend to Meesha; this is among the issues to be determined by the Supreme Court.

Initially scheduled for hearing on July 6, the case before the Supreme Court was delayed after first one, and then a second, of the honorable judges recused themselves. No proceedings have yet taken place. In her filing, Meesha has asked the top court to set aside the LHC’s Oct. 11, 2019 decision in which the court took a narrow view of the Protection against Sexual Harassment Law and held that since Meesha was not an “employee” under the law, she could not avail any remedy before the special forum of Ombudsperson created to hear allegations of sexual harassment. To clarify: these proceedings are not on the merits of the case—the question of jurisdiction must first be answered.