In 2013, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act came into being, to protect workers in the formal and informal sectors.
This law was an important legislative step for India, but for most of the country’s women workers, especially those in the informal sector, the law exists only on paper.
The global #MeToo movement began in October 2017, with millions of survivors sharing their experiences of sexual violence on social media. Influenced by this movement, many women in India – mostly engaged in media and entertainment business as well as other women able to use social media – started making public the harassment they faced with this hashtag. This brought men of great stature under fresh public scrutiny and some had to resign and face legal action. However, the #MeToo movement excluded women from the informal sector where 95 percent of women are employed. Human Rights Watch conducted 85 interviews with women, trade union officials, labor and women’s rights activists, lawyers and academics working in both the formal and informal sectors. Based on these interviews, government efforts to enforce the law are limited, especially to provide protection to women working in the informal or unorganized sector, such as millions of domestic workers and personnel employed by the government to implement various welfare schemes. There are huge gaps in the system.
Although many women in the formal sector are raising their voice against sexual harassment, and companies are slowly taking steps to comply with the law, activists reported that women still report stigma, fearing retaliation. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace in 2013 Act broadened the definition of the workplace and brought the informal sector, including domestic workers, under its purview. Popularly known as posh, the act provides protection to all workers in the health, sports, education as well as in public and private sectors or government institutions and in any place of employee’s travel during their planning, including transportation.
This law prohibits sexual harassment through physical contact and attempts, or demands or requests for sexual favors, erotic remarks, display of pornography or pictures, or any other unwanted physical, verbal, non-verbal behavior of a sexual nature. Any of these acts, whether direct or symbolic, is sexual harassment under the law. This law provides another option than filing a criminal complaint with the police. To appoint a law committee to hear complaints, investigate and recommend action against criminals, employers in private company matters, or obliges local government officials in case of the informal sector. Actions can range from written apologies to expulsion from jobs.
Even after all this, women can lodge a police complaint under the Indian Penal Code to deal with sexual harassment or assault. But unlike criminal cases that can be pending for years, the grievance committees are expected to get quick and effective staying remedy. There is no study in India that documents the extent to which sexual harassment in the workplace is responsible for leaving women in jobs.
Seven years after the 2013 Act came into force, the government has not published any data or information on the functioning or impact of local committees, which are responsible for the complaints of sexual harassment in the informal sector. Household workers are another important category of workers who are particularly at risk of sexual harassment and violence due to their isolation in private homes and the exclusion of other workers from several key labor protections guaranteed. Despite the growing national and global movement for recognition and protection of domestic workers, India has not ratified the International Labor Organization’s domestic workers agreement. India’s textile industry is the second largest employer of women after agriculture in the country. Activists say that along with sexual harassment in Indian garment factories, serious flaws in monitoring and addressing them are worrying. Although most of the workers in this industry are women, most men remain in management. Women hear erotic comments, stinging questions about their sex lives, chasing, and lightening their workload and offers of sexual favors in lieu of leave.
India’s “Me Too” movement, which reflects a broader problem, still includes a small group as their fear of retaliation and lack of awareness or trust in internal committees remain major hurdles in the way of filing reports. Powerful men also use legal tricks to stop those who accuse them.
Promptly to raise awareness and implementation of laws and policies prohibiting harassment at workplace in collaboration with state governments, civil society organizations, women rights activists, trade unions and private sector, the government needs to enforce and implement the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013, including the monitoring, inspection and investigation of the formation and effective operation of committees, punishing employers who fail to comply, and the complaint system and compensation of victims including ensuring access to relief measures is included.
The government should publish data annually on the number of sexual harassment cases filed and dealt with by internal and local committees, including the type and resolution of cases. Special attention should be paid to areas of high risk of domestic work such as violence and harassment.
In the last few years, the level of female security has fallen steadily. The reason behind this is the increase in crime. From the medieval era to the 21st century, there has been a steady decline in the reputation of women. Women also have equal rights as men. Women represent half of the country’s population and is also a major contributor to the country’s development.
Despite the enactment of stringent laws, instead of reduction in female crime, there is a continuous boom every day. Women’s safety is a social issue and needs to be resolved as soon as possible. Women constitute almost half of the country’s population, who are physically, mentally, and socially afflicted. It is becoming a hindrance in the development and progress of the country. The responsibility of changing the unsafe environment for women is not only that of the government but of every common man, so that every woman can live her life proudly.
An Article by Saakshi Mayank
Intern, Goa Chronicle