This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Leila Badyari. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Truth About Why Indian Women Don’t Report Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

More from Leila Badyari

The last couple of years have seen a tidal wave of sexual allegations and accusations against men in professionally powerful positions across the globe, and it seems that finally, this wave has now reached Indian shores. What started as a revolutionary movement initially in Hollywood, has now found its way to our very own sanskar-driven India. And I say revolutionary – because it genuinely has led to the downfall of some very powerful men, and has given women all over the world – the courage to use their voices to speak out against sexual harassment.

Compared to the west, for India, it seems that this revolution has been much harder to process, accept and even acknowledge. Why? Because our societal structure is hinged on a deeply cultural and religious foundation that claims to stand for purity, virtuousness, and a higher moral ground compared to the west. The fabric of our belief system is made up of scrupulously designed ideals; intended to help us achieve a more principled nation. As a result of this social, religious and cultural construction, it is no easy feat for an average Indian to come to terms with the fact that women have been mistreated, violated and sexually harassed for decades, even at their workplaces.

The first question that pops into the minds of millions of Indians when they hear about a woman or girl being molested is where was she and why was she there? In today’s article, I will not delve deeper into the internal workings of an average Indian’s mind; instead, I’d like to focus on one singular issue – why do women in our country hesitate to report or talk about sexual harassment in the workplace?

I am emphasising on Indian women – firstly, because this is the only context I am personally familiar with and secondly because I believe in India, we face a unique set of obstacles when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment as compared to our western counterparts. This is largely due to the deeply entrenched religious, misogynistic and culturally driven beliefs of our people.

We Are Afraid Our Choice To Be ‘Independent’ Will Be Questioned

Indian women who work full time are often labelled ‘independent’ or self-sufficient, and this is especially true for married women who have ‘settled down’ with their husbands. A number of women in our country forgo their careers once they marry and as a result, the decision to continue working is not the most conventional choice. I am conscious that many urban women from my generation will not entirely agree with this – because they see their careers as an integral part of their lives. But, we must remind ourselves that not everyone enjoys this freedom of choice and for several women in our country, working after marriage is not the norm.

The independence a woman attains when she has a career is regarded as a blessing by some, but for others, it often feels like a burden. Even for those women who are unmarried and working, many feel that they have to justify their ambitions and careers to their families constantly.

So when male colleagues or male bosses harass ‘independent’ women in our country, their first instinct is to hide this experience. Why?

Because they are afraid that their families, husbands, and in-laws might suggest that they quit their jobs and stay at home – where they can be protected and remain ‘safe’ from the evils of the workplace. Women often choose to ignore mistreatment at the workplace to safeguard their independence and ultimately their careers and instead allow themselves to be subjected to unfair and possibly criminal behaviour.

We Are Not Sure Whether Our Experiences Really Constitute Harassment

This one might come as a shock to a lot of people, but the truth is that almost every woman I have ever talked to about sexual harassment has at least one story where she was not sure if what happened to her constituted a violation.

Nevertheless, as women, we seem to have inbuilt radars (for lack of a better word) that tend to alert us to suspicious and threatening behaviour. There are times when we walk away from an interaction with a male colleague feeling a sense of unease, but we are unable to properly communicate why or how this particular incident made us feel violated. When we find the courage to share these experiences with others – we are able to see how social conditioning and desensitisation to sexual harassment plays a role in our reactions to these incidents.

While we are conditioned to convince ourselves that these interactions are harmless, a part of our emotional being is unable to shake off the nervous feeling. Simply put, we are so used to inappropriate advances or indecent behaviour that we shrug off instances of harassment as ‘innocent’ interactions.

Ultimately, and rather, unfortunately, men are never held accountable for their behaviour and women have to tread on thin ice as they build professional relationships in the workplace; continually questioning and second-guessing the way they speak, laugh or respond to male colleagues.

Think about that time a male co-worker sent you a text in the middle of the night that was completely unrelated to work but had an undercurrent of indecent content.

Consider the time a male colleague got too drunk and made overtures that – to this day seem inappropriate and loaded with sexual innuendo.

Did Your Boss Ever Have One Too Many Drinks And Ask You Very Personal Questions?

Did all of these experiences leave you feeling slightly disconcerted and alarmed but unsure of whether something inappropriate had actually happened or not? Did you change your stance towards this person as a result?

It can take years to realise that a particular incident was not a casual flirtation – but a salacious criminal offence.

It’s important to remember that a man being ‘affectionate’ with you at the workplace without your consent is not acceptable under any circumstances. Do not allow your colleagues or company to convince you otherwise.

A shoulder rub, a stroke on the cheek, an unwarranted arm over your shoulder – none of these are alright unless you consented to them. We are often tempted to ignore what we know is wrong because accepting that we have been violated can be difficult. But, letting molesters get away with their behaviour is far worse.

We Are Certain That Our ‘Character’ Will Be Tarnished Eternally

One of the key reasons rape, molestation, sexual harassment and any kind of sexual abuse does not get reported in our country is because of the tag that is attached to a woman’s ‘character’ as a result of such an incident. This issue is even more pronounced in a workplace where women have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts and prove their worth on a daily basis.

After spending years building our credibility and careers, not many of us dare to let it all crumble because someone mistreated us. This may sound morose, but unfortunately, it is the truth, especially in India.

As a country, we have decided that a woman’s worth lies not in her ambitions and successes – but what we term in India as her ‘izzat’ (honour, reputation, or prestige). As women, we often wonder if we were to spark a controversy that tainted our izzat where we would land? This question sometimes becomes the deciding factor when we experience sexual harassment in the workplace. Sadly, many women choose not to rattle the status quo and hide away their pain, thus protecting their perpetrators in the bargain.

We Question Whether Other Women Will Support Us

One of the most unfortunate things is that many women do not stand up for fellow women when they are wronged. Instead, they not only speak ill of women who find the courage to talk about their experiences, but they also go so far as to stand up for the men who commit such crimes.

In the Indian context, garnering support from women for women is oddly quite a challenge. Whether it is due to the belief that men are more deserving of protection or whether it is because of sheer ignorance it does the same amount of harm.

To all those women who choose to ignore complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace, know this, you have failed not only the women you represent – you have failed yourself too. For the women in HR who have been given the responsibility to look after the safety and security of female employees and professionals, you must realise that when you choose to stand by men who harm women, you are doing a disservice to your profession. If you do not have the courage to stand up against what is wrong, then please make way for someone who does.

In conclusion, I would like to say to all the women who have gone through an unpleasant or downright criminal experience at work; you are not alone. You were not wrong; you did not do anything to lead him on. Even if you cannot find the voice to speak out against your harasser, try to find some means to ensure that other women are saved from similar experiences. Don’t doubt your gut instinct and don’t question your own integrity.

You will find another job, you won’t lose your career. And remember, regret, complacency, and silence are far more burdensome to carry than the repercussions of the truth.

You must be to comment.

More from Leila Badyari

Similar Posts

By Suranya

By Mounika Vurity

By Snayini Das

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below