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Here’s Why The Sexual Harassment Bill Is Nothing But A Faux Pas

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By Nidhi Khurana:

Marred by much disruptions and adjournments, the Parliament finally passed the bill on sexual harassment on 26th February, 2013. A great step indeed, but many social activists have shown disappointment with the way the legislation has come about.

The Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Bill 2012 makes it obligatory for hospitals, offices, institutions and other workplaces to have an internal redressal mechanism to handle complaints related to sexual harassment. Stringent punishments and penalties would be imposed against the offenders within a 90-day time frame. Domestic helpers too are protected by this bill.

women

Yes, the formation of an internal committee does sound interesting as the bill calls for formation of a four member committee of which one member should hail from some NGO working on sexual harassment or “committed to the cause of women”. That is quite innovative indeed, but then what about the other three members? They are supposed to be from the same organization or office (preferably women), meaning that they would not be specialists and would be without any prior knowledge that would help them in the verdict. How would they decide? This is much like asking an English teacher to teach French. Isn’t it? Unfortunately, there is a chance that the decision or the verdict given by the committee might not be entirely just.

Perhaps, the most disturbing and polemic provision in the law is the provision that seeks to punish the complainant in case of “false charges”. Having to live with suppression in all walks of life, women always choose to stay silent, whether it is in the domestic sphere or the workplace. Such a provision will further suppress her wish to raise her voice against any gender injustice done to her. However, keeping in mind some of the case studies in the past, there is a possibility that females can also misuse this law. The legislation in that way is gender neutral. But few feminists have expressed ire, they say that until and unless more female-oriented laws are passed, gender equality cannot be brought.

‘Conciliation’ as an option to settle sexual harassment case is another area that has gained a large hue and cry. As per the Bill, it is only upon refusal to reconcile or non-fulfilment of the terms of the settlement, that an inquiry would be initiated — a provision that stands in direct contradiction to the spirit of the Vishaka judgement. Those guidelines invested employers with the duty to provide an official and public hearing in such cases, for it is by the virtue of these steps that the sexual harassment cases would come to the forefront. But it does not seem that the spirit of the law can be affirmed anymore.

The bill has certain other flaws too, for instance, it excludes the universities and educational institutions as ‘places of work’. In a lot of campuses, sexual harassment cases have often been reported. Though few universities do have their discrete sexual harassment committees and forums, but that doesn’t mean that they are to be excluded from any law that is supposed to touch the nation universally.

Of course, the loopholes in the law need to be taken more seriously but before anything else the concern is for the law to be perfectly implemented. Already, we have more than 48 laws to safeguard the interests of women, but the implementation remains far from the reality.

You must be to comment.
  1. pande_aniket

    I do agree with you that there are certain flaws, but we cannot all it “faux pas”. It’ll be quite harsh. The formation of four members committee, in which one member will be from an NGO, needs guidelines about who should be the other three members. Perhaps it needs classification of the members who can be incorporated in the committee. Educational institutions should not be excluded as these are the modern academic ‘industries’. These are the places of work. When it’s the issue about punishing the complainant in case of false charges, I think there should be thorough investigation before taking any such step. You have to except that in every society, some people do exist who can use these laws only to help themselves. It’ll ensure that no innocent is punished. And then Government has another big duty to make all the women understand that they need not be afraid to complaint if any such incident has taken place with them. They should be assured that people and government is with them to help them.

  2. nidhi

    Thanks for your feedback.:)

  3. Raj

    How about making the bill gender-neutral? Or is too much to ask from the feminazis?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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