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When Facing Sexual Harassment At Workplaces, What Options Do Employees Have?

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By Mihika Jindal:

“Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacities. She has the right to participate in very minutest detail in the activities of man and she has an equal right of freedom and liberty with him.”
– M K Gandhi, 1933

After years of being encapsulated in lifestyles and mindsets, compulsorily associating existence with men, women have now stepped forth to break the shackles of inequality and gender dominance to earn their own independent identity. It’s the era where women think themselves capable of shouldering the professional responsibility at par with men, which they are efficiently proving right. Having said so, the point to ponder upon is whether women being latest entrants in the working sphere will be welcomed or will they have to continue fighting this battle of gender inequality?


The sole reason for women facing sexual harassment and atrocities at the hands of men is societal notion of approaching the male gender as the superior sex and the foregoing insensitivity attached to it. Women have always been subservient to men, the reason why male culprits do not flinch a nerve before engaging in immoral and heinous acts of sexual violence. What more? A recent statement by an eminent politician veiled the acts by saying “boys make mistakes”. Women have been facing hurdles at workplaces and despite legislative provisions and reforms, we have seen an exponential rise in violence against women with little or no convictions, for the fear of reporting and saving oneself public and societal humiliation.

The legal provisions and law reforms for protecting women from sexual violence have always emerged from extreme situations of harassment and assault. In yesteryear, no weightage was accorded to sexual crimes and in unfortunate instances, the complainant was branded as a ‘vicious liar’, ‘habituated to sexual intercourse’ and whose failure to ‘resist’ implied consent to abuse. Such barbaric and irrational approach flipped in 1997, when the governing guidelines for protecting women at workplace were laid down in the landmark judgment of Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan and Others, delivered under the efficient aegis of Hon’ble Justice J.S. Verma. It was in this case when Supreme Court explicitly defined ‘Sexual harassment’ for the first time, as an unwelcome sexual gesture or behavior whether directly or indirectly as, sexually coloured remarks, physical contact and advances, showing pornography, a demand or request for sexual favours, and any other unwelcome physical, verbal/non-verbal conduct being sexual in nature.

These guidelines covered women in governmental, private or organized sector who either drew regular salary, received an honorarium or worked voluntarily. It became incumbent on all organizations to incorporate policies to expressly prohibit sexual harassment and provide for appropriate remedies and penalties. The employment bodies had to provide congenial working environment in terms of security, leisure, health and hygiene in order to build an invulnerable working environment for men and women alike.

However, the need for judiciary stepping into the shoes of legislature laying down guidelines in Vishakaha case arose as the moot question in term of necessity. With Article 21 of the Constitution providing for right to life which includes right to live with dignity and Indian Penal Code encompassing various provisions to cover the criminal offences of rape, sexual harassment and assault with rigorous corporal punishments, there is a need to understand the necessity for formulating specific law for sexual harassment at workplace.

Sociologists and jurists believe that the prime reason for non-reporting of cases of sexual violence is lack of faith in the procedure, for our judicial procedure is lengthy and cumbersome, with delayed justice, if at all. With further victimization of victim in terms of trial, hearing, cross questioning et al and the constant fear of societal boycott, the conviction graph has never seen a rise in comparison with the graph showing the crime curve.

With reasons as stated and the rising rate of sexual crimes, there was a need to formulate a law to come to the aid of working women, providing for an efficient redressal mechanism. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 aims to be a holistic statute addressing all women employment issues.

The Act defines ‘sexual harassment at workplace’ in a comprehensive manner, keeping with the definition in Vishakha guidelines to cover circumstances of implied or explicit promise or threat to a woman’s employment prospects or creation of hostile work environment or humiliating treatment, which can affect her health or safety. ‘Aggrieved women’ who will get protection under the act is wide to include the organised or unorganised sectors, public or private and covers clients, customers and domestic workers as well.

It is unfortunate that Indian legislature waited this long before enacting a law on this most pressing issue. It is now imperative for legislature to enact the much awaited law ensuring implementation, for decaying faith is constantly giving rise to vulnerability of situation of women. There is a compulsive need to showcase the intention of protecting the women work force in the corporate sector to consider India as a true civilized society.

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

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.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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