Sexual harassment of women at workplace is a form of everyday violence that is discriminatory and exploitative because it threatens women’s right to life and livelihood. Harassment violates a woman’s fundamental rights to equality under Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution and her right to live with dignity under Article 21.
Women’s legal rights have been reinforced by the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against (CEDAW), established by the UN General Assembly in 1979 and ratified by India. It is commonly referred to as an international women’s bill of rights and promotes gender equality as a human right and fundamental freedom in political, economic, social, cultural and civil areas. It states that discrimination and attacks on women’s dignity violate the principle of equality of rights.
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Meaning of sexual harassment of women at workplace
Sexual harassment is characterised as sexual behaviour that is impolite, embarrassing, or intimidating. Harassment can be spoken, written, or physical and can happen in person or online. Anyone, regardless of gender, can be subjected to sexual harassment.
Workplace sexual harassment causes substantial mental stress and is a clear expression of sex discrimination in the workplace.
The sexual harassment of women at workplace violates a woman’s fundamental rights under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Indian Constitution to ‘practise any profession or carry out any occupation, trade or business’. Additionally, harassment jeopardises employees’ dignity, physical, and mental well-being while undermining equality.
Laws governing sexual harassment of women at the workplace
In Vishaka & Ors vs State Of Rajasthan & Ors on 13 August 1997 (the Vishaka Judgment), the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India recognised the seriousness of sexual harassment of women at workplace. In order to stop sexual harassment of women at work and create procedures for handling such cases, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013 was passed for resolving, settling, or prosecuting cases of sexual harassment.
The Act also specifies the situations in which an act is considered sexual harassment and includes the following:
- An Implied or explicit promise of special treatment at work.
- An implied or direct threat of negative treatment at work.
- An implied or explicit threat to her current or future job security.
- Interfering with her job or creating an intimidating, offensive, and unpleasant environment
- Humiliating treatment that can harm women’s health or safety
Features of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act
All employers or those in the authority of workplaces, public or private, should take adequate measures to prevent sexual harassment. They should take the following steps for the generality of this obligation:
- The explicit prohibition of sexual harassment of women at workplace should be announced, published, and widely distributed.
- Government and public sector organisations should incorporate laws preventing sexual harassment in their conduct and discipline policies and suitable punishments for offenders.
- In the case of private employers, it is essential to take steps to include the prohibitions mentioned above in the Industrial Employment Act.
In cases in which such conduct constitutes a violation of the IPC or any other law, the employer must take necessary legal action by filing a complaint with the appropriate authority. When dealing with sexual harassment allegations, it should ensure that victims or witnesses are neither traumatised nor discriminated against.
If the conduct amounts to misconduct in the workplace as defined by the applicable service rules, the employer should take appropriate disciplinary action in line with those rules.
Mechanism for complaints
Regardless of whether or not such conduct is illegal or violates service standards, an appropriate complaint system should be established in the employer’s organisation to address the victim’s complaint. Such a complaint procedure should ensure timely dealing of issues.
Internal complaints committee
The complaint process should be appropriate per the rules of the complaints committee, a specific counsellor, or other support services, and it is essential to maintain the confidentiality of the complaints.
A woman should lead the complaints committee and makeup at least half its members. Furthermore, such a complaints committee should include a third party, such as an NGO or other entity familiar with the problem of sexual harassment, to avoid any undue pressure or influence from management.
Impact on sexual harassment of women at workplace
Sexual harassment affects everyone because it creates a toxic environment. Sexual harassment of women at workplace can have numerous consequences, some of which are elaborated as follows:
Emotional and physical stability
Sexual harassment can put a victim’s emotional and mental health at risk, resulting in low self-esteem and damaging personal relationships. Workplace sexual harassment can create considerable stress and anxiety. Employees who witness workplace harassment are more likely to suffer psychological and physical distress.
Professional and financial challenges
Sexual harassment can harm a victim’s work performance and career path. Because of their anxiety and absence of confidence, some people withdraw from the workplace and isolate themselves from coworkers. They are more inclined to be absent, distracted, and forget their obligations.
If sexual harassment victims report harassment, they may face the consequences in their careers, including getting passed over for promotions, being left out of critical meetings, retribution, and may be labeled a troublemaker. Financial issues such as lost earnings and unpaid leave may also arise.
Less company productivity
Sexual harassment harms an organisation. Everybody suffers in the workplace in case of discrimination and harassment. In organisations in which sexual harassment is frequent, low productivity is more common. Victims and sexual harassment witnesses are more likely to leave, resulting in high staff turnover and higher hiring and training expenditures.
Many believe that sexual harassment exclusively occurs between men and women, but this is far from the truth. Same-sex sexual harassment is just as severe, offensive, and illegal as any other workplace harassment. Women and men may sexually harass someone of the same sex to put them down, force them to quit, threaten, coerce, or harass them through teasing because the harasser is also of the same gender.
How does sexual harassment appear?
The following are examples of sexual harassment:
- Making sexual favours a condition of work or progress, either expressly or informally.
- Physical and sexual assault.
- Sexual favours are requested.
- Making jokes about sexual acts or sexual orientation.
- Physical contact or unwanted touching.
- Embarrassing sexual advances in inappropriate settings
- Discussig sexual relations, fantasies, or dreams.
- Feeling motivated to have sexual contact with another person
- Self-examination or sexual practises carried out on one’s own body.
- Sharing photos, emails, or sexually explicit text messages
Tarana Burke, a New York-based feminist activist, invented the #MeToo slogan in 2006. She intended to empower women victims of sexual harassment by reassuring them that they were not alone and that others had gone through similar experiences.
Sexual harassment and abuse are no longer tolerated. Many people are now willing to debate the concerns and are enthusiastic about doing so. The #MeToo movement has resulted in significant improvements in workplace environments.
#MeToo Movement In India
In India, the #MeToo campaign received attention in 2018. Women from all walks of life spoke out and revealed their stories of abuse by men in positions of authority, inspired by a global campaign against sexual harassment and assault.
A series of posts by women posted stories of harassment in which they shared their stories with the public. Women in the workplace have been called out by actresses, film directors, advertising top guns, artists, writers, and politicians, among others.
Other claims ranged from unwelcome attention in the office to sexual comments on the set. While some still struggle in the sector due to the charges, other people got a clean slate from authorities.
Sexual harassment of women at workplace violates a woman’s right to equality, life, and liberty. It generates an insecure and unfriendly work atmosphere that discourages women from working, undermining their economic and social empowerment and the objective of inclusive growth. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013 was created to prevent and tackle the sexual harassment of women at workplace
India’s laws have worked hard to protect women from sexual harassment. Such legislation has made criminal and civil remedies available at the organisational level; the employer can create a harassment-free atmosphere by enacting policies and procedures.
The sense of security that this organisation’s policy provides can make it easier to perform effectively and efficiently towards a successful conclusion. The institution might provide training, workshops, and educational programmes to avert sexual harassment problems.
FAQs on Sexual Harassment of Women At Workplace
What is the law on Sexual Harassment of Women At Workplace in India?
After the landmark Vishaka's Judgement, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was passed in 2013.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual advances or sexually motivated verbal or physical behaviour.
What is the #MeToo Movement?
The #MeToo is a social movement against sexual abuse, harassment, and rape culture in which people speak out about sexual abuse or harassment incidents they experienced.
What is the internal complaint committee?
The internal complaints committee deals with sexual harassment of women at workplace.
What are the main objectives of the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act?
The act aims to protect, prevent, and redress complaints raised by women against sexual harassment at work.