Surveys show 38 percent of women face sexual harassment at their workplace with 50 percent of women believing that it’s still increasing.
Women working in companies, working from home, or in a factory as laborer face some sort of sexual harassment. Many of these cases go unnoticed as many women don’t register to complain as they either have fear of losing their job, don’t have other options, or are unaware of the provisions for their security at their workplace.
Rutuchandra who use to work at a factory before he sustained injuries at work and cannot work, narrates the difficulties his wife has to suffer at her workplace. He said that his wife (Harini) who works in factory as laborer has a double workload and is not treated properly; the contractor is not a nice guy.
Harini said that he does not respect her personal space, and always finds a way to come closer to her. She added that he has asked her to meet him and spend time, and he also touches her in inappropriate places.
“She cannot leave the job because it is our only source of income as I cannot work because of my hand injuries. We have a big family and if she doesn’t work we all would starve. We won’t be able to pay for our son’s education,” he said.
Harini is just one woman, among many. The national commission for Women (NCW) report shows that about 200 cases were registered in India in 2020.
Along with this Pink Ladder, an organization that works with women professionals surveyed women’s sexual harassment in the workplace. The Real Change: Reach and Impact of Sexual Harassment policies in India report shows that women’s sexual harassment at the workplace increased over the years and 30 percent of women are hesitant to file complaints.
“The main reason for this is the purity of women is big deal in Indian society and her purity is determined by her physical and sexual virginity,” said Meena Ranpise sociology professor.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) report states that cases of online harassment in the workplace are increasing in India.
Dr. Arvind Kakulte, a psychologist said that there are various ways in which women are harassed at their workplace.
He said that many times superiors use their power at organisation to threaten women and make them comply.
“They play on the bread and butter aspect of women,” he added.
As women suffer from harassment in the workplace it affects women’s participation in the workforce.
The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre study shows that an unsafe workplace has resulted in lower female workforce participation in India. This increases the existing gender gap in India. World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Global Gender Gap index of 2021 shows India is among the third-worst performer in South Asia. India ranks 140 out of 156 nations with a score of 62.5 percent.
The harassment of women in their workplace has a long-lasting impact on women.
He said, “The traumatic incidents many a times leads to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as it is difficult to recover from this and it affects their day to day life.”
Along with this, it affects the personal lives of women as women don’t get involved in any kind of relations with men, he added.
“It also affects the self-esteem of women, they feel inferior, neglected”, said Kakulte.
Harini Shetty a deputy manager at Sahara group said that there are strict rules when it comes to women’s safety in her organization. She said that there is a different designated section for a woman which solely looks after women’s safety. A lot of care is taken as far as women’s safety is concerned and no harassment is tolerated. The actions taken by the committee were quick, there is a forum, which sends their staff to find out what’s the issue and look after the welfare of female employees.
Kiran Nikam assistant Human Resource Manager at Wipro said that various steps are taken for women’s safety in our organization. “We have set up ICC under POSH Act whose meetings are conducted every month and report is submitted to higher authority in management,” he said.
He added that the committee works for women and strict actions are taken whenever any complaint is received. “The employee is suspended immediately, and if the investigative team finds that the complaint is right and the person is guilty then his employment is terminated immediately with a remark that he has mistreated his female colleague, also if the charges proved are severe then appropriate actions are taken,” he added.
Nikam said that along with this there is a transport facility for female employees in our company. This facility is available for women working in all shifts and not just night shifts.
He said that they don’t usually allow women to work in night shift or after 6 pm. “Whenever a female employee is working in night shift or is doing over time due to work then prior permission is needed from higher authority in our management. Also in such cases safety of women is the responsibility of her immediate senior authority,” added Nikam.
Many policies but little impact:
The first set of formal measures for protection against sexual harassment in the workplace in India in 1997 was Vishakha Guidelines. These came up after an incident in Rajasthan where a state government officer Bhanwari Devi was raped by feudal lords as she stopped child marriage as part of work. The Rajasthan High Court’s verdict in the rape case released the accused. Many Non-governmental organizations and women’s groups filed a petition in Supreme Court collectively under the name Vishakha against the Rajasthan High Court verdict. In 1997 Supreme Court in Vishakha and other v State of Rajasthan gave guidelines for gender equality and protection from sexual harassment and the right to work with dignity to women through Vishakha Guidelines. These guidelines weren’t effective as they excluded women working in the informal sector.
Saroja, general secretary of the garment labor union said that the reason Vishakha Guidelines are ineffective is that they did not include any representative from labor unions. “We are not represented in these committees and because of which we cannot raise issues of women and take actions whenever necessary,” he added.
In 2013 law to ensure women’s safety in the workplace was introduced. Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act or POSH Act. This act includes women working in all spheres and also working in both formal and informal sectors including domestic help. This law replaced Vishakha Guidelines.
As per the POSH Act, every office both government and private needs to set up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) and a Local Complaints Committee for government offices said KSCW. The ICC is set up in 401 government officers and 1198 private offices. LCC is constituted in all districts. Awareness of women’s laws is being made by conducting legal awareness programs at the district level, taluk, and divisional levels.
KSCW chairperson Nagalakshimi Bai said that all the companies must have an ICC and its application to both private companies and government offices. “We have sent letters to 5500 companies in the state regarding this and have received feedback of details of the ICC from 1080 companies only,” she added.
She said that they, as part of the awareness campaign, have put up 2400 boards. The boards for awareness are put up at public places like bus stops, parks, and all government offices at all levels like taluks to the district level. The number of boards is less because of reduced grants and funds due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We ask women to not keep quiet and complain and file complaint with ICC and if it is not resolved then the commission interferes in the matter. Along with this, we provide support to all victims and proper care like providing fresh food packets, counseling sessions, etc.”
The KSCW handle cases only after a complaint is filed. All the cases are sent to respective departments within 15 days so that the process is not delayed. “We also provide victims with proper care when they visit the commission. They also organize awareness programs for sensitizing people regarding women’s safety,” she added.
Patriarchy is the root cause:
Ranpise said, “The main reason is the patriarchal structure of society and patriarchal power which leads to the secondary position of women. The person or males consider them in a so-called superior position in terms of power, here power is a relative term as its not just physical power but also socio-economic, political, religious, cultural power.”
She said that the mindset is the cause of such incidents because of this women get a kind of secondary status in our society and men get a superior position. This leads to men having the attitude to always dominate and so harassment is one way to show their dominance.
“The social background of the person, his upbringing play an important role. In sociology, we have a concept called socialization of the person. This socialization is also gendered biased as it is governed by patriarchy,” she added.
Ranpise said that women are always blamed in our society, it’s always her fault. “Nahi use aurat ne hi aise kuch kiya hoga islye us aadmi ne aisa kiya.”
Nikam said, “There is a strict dress code for female employees and all of them have to follow the dress code. The dress code is either Indian formals or western formals and any deviation from this is not tolerated and strict action is taken.”
Women take matters into their hands:
Shetty explained how she protected herself and avoided the occurrence of any such incidents in her 23-year career while working late hours. “Any such incidents never happened because I have always been protective and always cautions. I had to carry pepper spray because I work late hours, along with this I trust my instincts and analyze the behavior, and refusing politely helps because we live in society and we are surrounded with people who do such things,” she said.
Rohini Joshi a retired teacher said, “I believe every woman should learn some self-defense techniques or martial arts to ensure their safety. These tricks come in handy both while traveling alone and also when someone crosses our personal space.”
A way forward:
Kakulte said that there are various ways to reduce such incidents. The work environment and the work culture play an important role. “If the work environment is friendly then women can speak freely, communicate and healthy communication leads to a minimum, not 100 percent but reduces these cases to a large extent,” he added.
Along with this, organization of various activities create awareness among people about the intensity and impact it has on women.
Kakulte said, “Various workshops can be conducted which would have various activities like role-playing where opposite gender are assigned roles through which they can learn how the harassment at workplace affects.”
“There are various ways to help the women recover it involves Counselling session, Rehabilitation program, Psychotherapy Rational emotive behavior therapy,” he said.
Ranpise said that the measures like the POSH Act of 2013 are there but these are just laws and like any other laws they are on paper and not effective because laws in our country are made from a pilot perspective and implementation is from top to bottom which becomes impositions, but it has to be inculcation.
“Awareness and sensation of all family members` about gender and gender equality are important along with this looking at gender as a social concept and not biological concept only then these laws will help resolve this issue,” she said.