Know Your Rights Against This Perpetuating Issue – Sexual Harassment at Workplace

what is sexual harassment at workplace - Some Shameful Reasons & Examples

All of us are aware of the recent #metoo hashtag which exploded across all social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. after actress Alyssa Milano called out to women to use it as a way to demonstrate sexual harassment and assault amidst the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Women all around the world came out and called each other to post messages on their social media accounts to support this cause. Look at the humongous responses it generated. Just goes to show the intensity of this grave issue which has been around since the beginning.

Do You Know What Sexual Harassment Is?

First of all, for all of us, let us be ultra-simple on what sexual harassment is. We believe, most of the people still do not understand the transparent definition of it, so it is important we shed light on this.

As per the Vishakha Guidelines of the Supreme Court by the Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act of 2013 –

“Sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behavior (whether directly or by implication) as:

a) Physical Contact and Advances;

b) A Semand or Request for Sexual Favors;

c) Sexually Colored Remarks;

d) Showing Pornography;

e) Any Other Unwelcome Physical, Verbal or Nonverbal Conduct of Sexual Nature.”

Now, here are some surprising numbers:

  • 70% of working women do not respond and report to workplace harassment (as per India Spend)
  • 38% of women have faced sexual harassment at the workplace (as per Scoopwhoop)
  • 65% of women said their company did not follow the correct procedures under the law, more on that below (as per Scoopwhoop)

We have a law articulated by the government, we have the rights, and we have the system in place. Yet we see such shocking numbers.

Why? Why is this still an issue as we can see lots cases, articles, reports and all types of problems around it?

Fast Company leaves us with a chilling emotion when one of their articles on this subject has a discrimination expert who states —

“I see many cases of serious sexual harassment where the victim can’t get any relief because society hasn’t deemed it a serious problem,”

We don’t see it as a serious problem! We as a society scoff at the situation, read a few Times of India articles or watch Crime Patrol episodes, and then never see it as a pervasive problem in the first place.

Shameful Reasons and Examples as to Why:

1.  Not enough police in general

We do not have enough policemen to protect citizens. Even the ones which are on the ground lack basic knowledge and the equipment for investigations and other cases.

Brookings article found many studies on this.

“Delhi, for example, is home to one of the largest metropolitan police forces in the world with some 84,000 officers. But only one-third are involved in any kind of actual “policing” at any given time, while the rest provide protection services to various politicians, senior bureaucrats, diplomats and other elites. According to the Times of India, there is one officer for every 200 citizens and about 20 officers for every VIP. Many of those who do perform police duties can be found shaking down motorists, participating in protection rackets and simply looking the other way as crimes take place. In one incident, the victim herself was allegedly being assaulted on a bus traveling along a major thoroughfare that crossed police checkpoints”

2. Procrastinating court system and procedures

India has about 15 judges for every 1 million people. In fact, a Delhi judge once stated that it would take 466 years to go through the complete backlog of pending cases. One can only imagine how sluggish the system is.

There are many other reasons to be embarrassed about:-

  • Very fewer convictions inside our jurisdiction
  • Acceptance of domestic violence in some places
  • Blaming clothes and dressing sense
  • Public safety which is extremely less

Let’s look at a couple of examples of how it occurs in the form of promotion or some benefit.

Company: Air India

Accused: Senior Air India official

Case: In 2012, a senior Air India official was accused of sexual assault by a woman employee who worked in a restaurant at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. It was an outsourcing company which worked for Air India.

The woman in her complaint said the official showed her nude pics, porn clips and also made sexual advances.

Result: The case was ignored and on top of that, the woman was sacked from her job for complaining against a higher authority.

“I complained to the AGM who said that I should take a 15-day break and would be given a job at a different department. When I went back, the security staff refused to let me in. I was sacked for complaining against a higher official”, she said

Company: Doordarshan

Accused: Assistant Director General, Doordarshan

Case: A production assistant working for India’s television broadcaster Doordarshan filed a case in 2015 against her supervisor who was the assistant director for sexual harassment. In her case, she said the accused made physical advances, obscene comments and harassed her by calling her to his chamber after office hours for over a year.

Result: While her allegations by doing an internal investigation were found out to be true, no action was taken. In fact, it created a hostile environment for the employee. Later, she was penalized by getting transferred to another Doordarshan office.

“All this while he made me uncomfortable either by explicit sexual overtures and by lewd facial expressions,” she said.

There are plenty of other similar cases from even recognized organizations like Infosys, Wipro, and the most recent one TVF.

How do we Combat this Menacing Problem?

So, how do we act and take action against this? Shameful to us as a country, India is far behind the US in addressing sexual harassment at the workplace. Some ways on how we can tackle this:-

1.  Going by the law

The official handbook of the Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act of 2013 is available to everyone publicly in a pdf form. It covers everything you need to know and what you can do. So, we highly recommend reviewing it thoroughly.

To make it easier, here is the download link for you.

Also, any workplace that has more than 10 employees has an internal complaints committee where you can file a case.

2.  Come out and SPEAK it up

Any victim who encounters any unusual behavior must confront directly and on the first attempt itself. Even stating something like “This is gross” or “I’m uncomfortable with this type of behavior” to the harasser sends a strong message of strength and that you’re a gallant individual.

This doesn’t apply only to the victim, but also to anyone – her friends, colleagues, family, who witnesses any sort of strange activity from the harasser.

Apart from supporting the victim, the witness ought to speak up and take a firm stand. That means walking up to the accused and making it crystal clear what the boundaries are. It also means not leaving your coworker alone with any creeps.

3.  Talk to your manager

Another solution is to go to your office support system who have higher authority than you. Going to your manager is one. In any situation, the manager has to respond. In case he doesn’t, go to your HR. The HR department is equipped with all the right resources even specifically for such situations. Whoever you go to, it is important to describe exactly what’s happening and bothering you.

4.  Take notes and be detailed

Like we mentioned above, anything you feel weird or unusual can be subjected to sexual harassment. Thus, take notes and jot down everything that has happened in extreme detail. It will be very handy in case you file a case or a complaint against the harasser later. It is also recommended that you file an FIR immediately since you’ll be able to remember the incident more in detail. Write down events as they happened.

5.  Management should send effective signals all the time

In her book, Woman on Top: How to get ahead at work, Seema Goswami says the most effective way to stop sexual harassment is for the management to constantly send out strong messages that it takes sexual harassment very seriously and will not tolerate it in its male employees.

One incident of sexual harassment is enough to learn a lesson from – it shouldn’t be repeated!

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