Thanks to the recent #MeToo movement, sexual harassment at the workplace has come to the forefront of the conversation about gender discrimination and gendered violence. The movement has forced the topic to enter daily conversations in an unprecedented manner. Sexual harassment refers to any unwelcome advances made to an individual at their place of work, that makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened. Sexual harassment is something that affects women in fields of work irrespective of the profession they are in. Every country faces this problem.
Sexual harassment is rooted in the patriarchal dominance of men over women. The problem is further exacerbated by power relations in the workplace. Women very rarely occupy positions of power. This places them under the command of male supervisors, giving them a subordinate place in the corporate hierarchy. While in theory sexual harassment could affect men too, it usually affects the female workforce more frequently.
Sexual harassment at the workplace is usually a form of quid pro quo, wherein a woman is sexually harassed in exchange for favours like promotions. If the woman refuses to cooperate she may be fired or demoted. This creates a hostile working environment for the woman, putting her safety and security at risk. This leads to the creation of a hostile working environment for the female employees. Women have joined the workforce only very recently. Facing sexual harassment discourages them from working outside the home. In a society that holds women to inhumanely high standards of modesty and chastity, something like the fear of being sexually harassed will result in the women being forced to stay inside their homes.
There has been a rise in the number of workplace harassment cases reported in the last couple of years despite the fact that these cases are very rarely reported. This is because women fear being professionally harmed if such an incident is reported. They could be fired or lose out on a promotion as well as being ridiculed. Organisations too try to suppress such accusations from being leveled as this would not reflect well on them in the media or the minds of their clients. They make their employees sign Non-Disclosonary Agreements or forbid external inquiries. It is incredibly essentials that all companies and employers have a stringent policy to deal with workplace harassment. The onus is on the employer to ensure that all the employees working under him feel safe. Further, this sense of security would boost employee morale and productivity.
All Indian citizens have the right to live with dignity. This means that they have the right to work without any discrimination. Sexual harassment violates women’s right to life and equality under article 14 and article 21. But unfortunately, there were no specific laws in the Indian constitution dealing with sexual harassment at the workplace, until very recently. The supreme court had attempted to lay down some basic guidelines in the case of Vishakha v State of Rajasthan but no specific legislation was ever passed till 2013. These guidelines applied to all workplaces in India, whether government or private, till they were superseded by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The Act attempted to provide a definition for what constitutes as sexual harassment and also provided safeguards against false complaints made with a malicious intent. The Act covers all types of workplaces, whether organised or unorganised, traditional offices or non-traditional workspaces. Under this Act, every employer with more than 10 workers is required to constitute an Internal Complaint Committee, the proceedings of which shall be confidential. Penalties have been prescribed for employers who do follow these guidelines. Unfortunately, the implementation of this act lacks severely. Not many organisations follow this statue. There also are faults in the contents of the statue. It does not cover women in the armed forces or the women employed in the agricultural sector. The burden of proof is on the woman and they are prosecuted if the complaint is proved false. This could possibly deter the affected women from coming forward with their complaints. While the act is a step in the right direction, there still is some room left for improvement.
Change in people’s attitude is the most important factor in order to achieve equality in the workplace. The employer must strive to provide a healthy and positive work environment for his employees. The lack of such an environment would prove to be detrimental to productivity. The government too should take steps to ensure better implementation of its policies. Women form half of our country’s workforce and it will be impossible for the country to develop without them.
Edited by Ojaswi Gupta
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje