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Why All Organisations Should Get This Handbook on Sexual Harassment at the Workplace

Ninety-one per cent women do not report an incident of sexual harassment at the workplace for fear of being victimised.

By Neha Kirpal

Book: Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace
By: Martha Farrell Foundation
Publisher: Hachette India

The #MeToo campaign in India reached its peak in 2018, with several women working in the media taking the lead and encouraging women to report incidences of sexual harassment that they had faced. This led the National Commission for Women to ask women to write in with their complaints, urging women who had been vocal about their alleged harassers on social media to email their formal written complaints. The women, in turn, were assured that their complaints would be taken seriously and appropriate legal action would be taken.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, only 21 women wrote in with complaints. The online complaint management system of the Ministry of Women and Child Development – known as the Sexual Harassment Electronic Box (She-Box) – received a total of only 134 complaints, 40 of which have been disposed of.

One such example was that of award-winning playback singer Chinmayi Sripaada, one of the few women who shared her story of sexual harrasment that she faced at the hands of Tamil lyricist Vairamuthu. This was followed by seven other women calling out the ‘iconic lyricist’s’ behaviour.

As per a survey by the Centre for Transforming India in 2010, 80 per cent of working women in metropolitan cities have been subjected to workplace sexual harassment, 91 per cent women do not report an incident for fear of being victimised, and in 72 per cent of the cases, the perpetrator was a superior.

“Men need to consider their behaviour, because what men consider natural may not be seen the same way by women. Drawing the line means being able to say ‘No’, because as women we have a choice.” This powerful quote is by Dr Martha Farrell, a renowned civil society leader known for her work on women’s rights, gender equality and education.

The Martha Farrell Foundation supports organisations that comply with the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, and creating gender-sensitive, safe workplaces for all employees. In the past three years, the Foundation has trained over 50 organisations and sensitised nearly 30,000 men and women employees.

Image Credit: Simlyn J/Feminism In India

This handbook explains that engendering humane organisations requires a new kind of leadership – one that creates a balanced approach, and sustains a culture that values equal participation and contribution of everyone, irrespective of gender.

The first part of the book is a primer on the A-Z of sexual harassment at the workplace. Comprising a comprehensive explanation of crucial concepts such as body language, equal opportunity, gender-based harassment, hostile environment, intent vs. impact, quid pro quo, rights and responsibilities, sanctions, timeline for redressal and zero tolerance, it simplifies some of the jargon related to the subject.

The second part of the book answers some important FAQs related to the subject, such as legal protection for women who are subjected to sexual harassment, what to do if you are a victim of or witness to sexual harassment at the workplace, what employers should do for the prevention and redressal of sexual harassment at the workplace, and the grievance procedure and timeframe for filing a complaint. It also highlights the significance of the Vishakha Guidelines, which came into effect as a result of Rajasthan-based social worker Bhanwari Devi challenging the status quo.

The book’s third part enumerates steps that organisations should take to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace:

  • Adopting an anti-sexual harassment policy
  • Communicating and enforcing the policy
  • Frequently reviewing the policy
  • Constituting an internal committee to address complaints
  • Carefully selecting internal committee members
  • Conducting awareness programmes for staff, senior management and internal committee members
  • Instituting informal preventive mechanisms, supporting an aggrieved individual and creating a safe environment for all employees

The book’s final section illustrates landmark cases and significant judgements that have impacted the sexual harassment at work law in India and abroad over the years.

Lead image credit: Marva M/Feminism In India

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