“I want to be a journalist,” 15-year-old Anita told her father enthusiastically. He glared at her through his glasses. “You will think of no such thing,” he snapped. “But I want to go on TV and cover cases,” she replied innocently. “It is not as easy as you think it is. Instead of that, think of becoming a teacher, engineer or accountant. These are noble professions that pay you well and ensure safety,” her father countered. The writer inside her burned with rage – and she had no option but to comply.
Ten years had passed since this incident. She had been working as an accountant for a reputed firm to the satisfaction of her father. Anita tried hard to like her new workplace and job. However, she could not help but resent her job and was almost on the verge of quitting her job. With the numerous cases of sexual harassment being buried, and the dirty politics that her organisation indulged in to protect its so-called ‘reputation’, she couldn’t help but laugh at the irony as her father’s words echoed inside her head.
Cases like that of Anita’s are very common even today. Sexual harassment at workplaces has increasingly become an important topic of discussion. Most people usually have a misconception that particular age-old conventional jobs are considered to be safe and secure, while the less-conventional ones are not. But this is not entirely true.
Quoting the above example, we can see that Anita’s father was quite apprehensive about her taking up a job in journalism as he felt she would be exposed to a lot of threats and dangers. But little did he know that even a job pertaining to the four walls of an office could also be ‘unsafe’.
To say that a lot of women feel helpless, vulnerable and humiliated is an understatement when they are subject to sexual harassment in any way. But sexual harassment in workplaces is even more painful. Not only are our basic human rights exploited, the freedom to practise any profession of one’s choice (Article 19) is also taken away here.
This is why quite a number of women quit their jobs despite being highly qualified, because they do not want to work in such tense, stressful environments. While there does exist an increasing number of women who are speaking up for their rights, most of them still refrain from calling out such derogatory behavior as they fear losing their jobs. Apart from being deeply dissatisfied with her job, this also diminishes the voice of a woman at the workplace – thus reinforcing the ‘inferior status’ of a woman in this patriarchal society. Although the necessity of having a job varies from one person to another, the fact that it fosters financial independence is something that is very crucial to everyone, especially for women since it empowers them to exercise their own choices and live life on their own terms.
People mostly look at sexual harassment from the ‘physical’ point of view leaving out its other aspects. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexually-determined behavior. This further includes:
1. Physical contact and advances.
2. Demand or request for sexual favours.
3. Sexually coloured remarks.
4. Showing pornography.
5. Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature. Cracking lewd jokes, verbal abuse, circulating lewd rumours also comprise of sexual harassment. Thus, it need not just have a physical connotation to it.
This definition is derived from the Sexual harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, which was implemented with the aim of protecting women from sexual harassment at workplaces. The Supreme Court drew its guidelines from the ‘Vishaka and others vs the state of Rajasthan’ case in 1997. Those who feel exploited can seek protection from this law.
One of the important aspects of this law is the setting up of an Internal Complaints Committee at a particular workplace. It is mandatory for every organisation to have this committee whose presiding officer must be a woman employed at the senior-most level in the workplace. One-third of the committee is to be constituted by women. And its objective is to provide a comfortable environment for women, where they can feel free to report cases of harassment so that the necessary action can be taken against the perpetrators.
Often, people are unaware of the existing laws in our country and even something as apparent as committees which have been set up for the redressal of their grievances. Apart from creating awareness and educating people about this issue through various means, programmes to foster values such as discipline, commitment, honesty, respect and tolerance for another individual’s point of view, must be implemented in every organisation.
The organisation must also recognise the efforts of its employees to promote a positive, co-operative and conducive environment. Lastly, at an individual level, the least we can do is to try and provide some support for individuals who have suffered from sexual harassment.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.