Drawing the line: Arresting sexual harassment at the workplace

The landmark Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 has come into force in the backdrop of heinous acts of sexual violence on women in the country. Sexual harassment is a serious criminal offence. This is a definitive effort to promote the wellbeing of women employees at the workplace. It is mandatory for every employer to have strict guidelines/policies against sexual harassment in workplace, constitute an in-house committee that will dispose off cases within the stipulated time of 90 days.

Sexual violence against women is ongoing, unabated, horrific, brutal and savage. The bill on Sexual Harassment was drafted way back in 2004 and took nearly a decade for it to be passed in parliament. This wait has been long and costly for the victim.

Women facing sexual violence over the decades have compelled legislative reforms and today affirmative actions are being taken, as seen in the recent amendment of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. These law reforms have come with irksome delay, but women have stood the test of time, fighting tirelessly for change.

Victims have themselves been harbingers of change, in life and death, protecting all women who come after them, that they may live, thrive and succeed in a place of work and home that is safe, humane, that does not destroy their sense of self, dignity, freedom and fundamental right to life.

When looking at a subject such as sexual violence at workplace, one needs to examine each of the words carefully and look at the nuance of what each word means: Violence: what does violence mean to each one of us? Do we relate to violence differently? What is a woman’s language to understanding violence? Is it different from the language of man? Who defines how violent an act is? What is the root of violence ? Where does it begin?

Sex-gender gap: How is the sex-gender debate viewed in our culture? Does it celebrate diversity? What do these laws mean to a woman who is caught in a situation of harassment? What is the impact of this on a victim who feels disenfranchised? The scope of the Act was not extended to cover sexual harassment against male workers, as previously recommended by the Committee. Must the Act be gender Neutral?

Workplace: What constitutes workplace? What constitutes the unorganized sector? Which are the sectors where a substantial women force work? How effective is the law in protecting migrant workers from sexual harassment, gender, wage discrimination?

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