Every organization has a duty towards its women employees – to provide them with safe working spaces. Women’s safety is paramount, not just for the productivity of the organization, but more importantly, for us as a society to move forward.
We have all come across the term sexual harassment but how many of us actually understand what it means? Sexual harassment includes any kind of unwanted sexual innuendo, blackmailing for sexual favours, verbal harassment or physical coercion at the workplace which makes a person feel humiliated, upset or fearful.
While both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment, women are globally sexually harassed more than men. However, irrespective of to whom it happens, sexual harassment is wrong.
According to recent reports, Indian women form 33% of the country’s labour force. This is a slight increase from the previous 30% but we still have a long way to go. Education and skills enhancement do of course play an important role in increasing women’s workforce participation but another key factor which we cannot afford to ignore is providing safe workspaces that are free from sexual harassment.
Our country has legislations in place for protecting women at the workplace but the purpose of such legislations is lost if women are unaware that they exist.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal), Act 2013
According to this act, no women should be subjected to any form of sexual harassment at the workplace. The following are instances which amount to sexual harassment:
- Any kind of implied or explicit promise of partiality at the workplace.
- Any threat to her employment if she refuses to condone sexual behaviour.
- Exhibiting behaviour that intimidates or offends women, interferes with work and makes the workplace unpleasant.
- Any kind of humiliating treatment meted out to women which affects their health or safety.
Other Associated Factors Which Affect Women
- Women face harassment even while commuting to the workplace.
- Some workspaces do not have proper lavatory facilities for women thus affecting their health.
- Women are often victims of stereotyping and end up losing job opportunities (in fields like marketing) to their male counterparts.
- All these factors affect women participation in the workforce and many women give up their jobs unable to deal with the psychological stress.
Dealing with Sexual Harassment
Put simply, sexual harassment is a violation of human rights. The previously mentioned Act 13 requires organizations to have certain mechanisms in place to prevent sexual harassment, and if it does happen, to deal with it firmly.
- The company needs to have an anti-harassment policy in place which clearly defines what all constitute as sexual harassment and the punishments for the offenders.
- The company needs to set up an Internal Complaints Committee which will take up complaints.
- Regular workshops should be held to inform employees about the mechanisms in place to prevent sexual harassment.
Other than the fact that sexual harassment is a crime, the company also loses out a lot when it chooses to turn a blind eye to sexual harassment.
- Employees who work in an environment which ignores sexual harassment are not as productive as they are capable of being as the general morale is low and even those who are not victims are affected by it.
- Many employees quit their jobs when sexual harassment issues are not dealt with by the company.
- Even if they don’t quit work, they might report late to work or take days off thus reducing overall productivity.
- The company’s name is besmirched and it also loses out financially if sexual harassment crimes take a legal turn.
Thus, safe workspaces translate to happy employees and increased productivity.
Having policies in place for dealing with sexual harassment is just the tip of the iceberg. Implementation is the most crucial part.
Given below are a few steps which can make workspaces safer and more comfortable for women.
General Employee Safety Is a Prerequisite for Women Safety
- Employees are people first. Hence, it is absolutely essential that their safety be the company’s first priority. This means adhering to all regulations concerned with their well-being like fire safety, electrical safety, etc.
- Safe travel arrangements for women have to be made, especially for women working night shifts.
- Closed circuit television cameras need to be installed.
- Stairwells, corridors, pathways to restrooms, etc. need to be well-lit.
Create a Women’s Safety Department
- The company should have a department dedicated to women’s safety under the purview of the HR department.
- This department should not only handle complaints but also provide legal help, counselling, etc.
- They can also hold workshops sensitizing male employees on appropriate behaviour towards women.
Zero Tolerance Policy
- All organizations, whether they are big or small, need to have a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment.
- This includes letting employees know that any form of sexual harassment is unacceptable.
- Letting them know the consequences of their behaviour is also crucial.
- In general, women do not bring sexual harassment issues to the management’s notice. This might be because they feel embarrassed, intimidated or ashamed.
- Society as a whole is responsible for this.
- Women are often said to be at fault when they are harassed. As a result, they fear bringing harassment issues out into the open.
- Women have to be encouraged by the management to speak about such issues and when women do express themselves, they need to be supported.
- A work environment that shuns any form of gender discrimination will go a long way towards preventing sexual harassment.
An Internal Complaints Committee
- According to Act 2013, every company with 10 or more employees needs to have an Internal Complaints Committee which will investigate sexual harassment complaints.
- This committee should have at least 4 members with half of the members being women.
- The chairperson should also be a woman.
- The committee should also have a social worker (who is committed to women’s empowerment) as a third-party member.
- Women who have been sexually harassed can lodge complaints with the committee but they should do so within 90 days of the incident.
- If they do not feel comfortable coming forward, someone else can lodge the complaint for them provided they have written consent from the harassed person.
- The committee has to investigate within 90 days and then give a report within 10 days.
Sexual harassment is unacceptable yet women deal with it daily. Women’s safety is discussed everyday yet the number of sexual harassment cases reported is on the rise. Women are slowly but surely making strides in every field; they are competent and independent but continue to be ill-treated at the workplace.
All of us need to join hands against sexual harassment; only then can this menace be defeated. Addressing the issue, involving everyone and making it clear that harassment will not be tolerated is the only way to overcome this social evil.