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Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace in the Light of Me Too Movement

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Women’s safety has always been a concern. In spite of globalization and technical advancement, today societies need to address the notion of gender disparity in it. There still exists discrimination based on gender; be it workplace, educational institutions, armed forces or even sometimes at public places. Women are not given the equal rights and opportunities as available of men. These small uncooperative working environments against women create a negative narrative at workplace. 

At times, they have to face outrage from men. There have been cases that are seen in which women are asked for sexual favours in return of keeping their job or position of seeking for promotion. But are these all reported? Does the society acknowledge their stories of harassment and believe them or they are just mocked down? It showed that women even in powerful positions were afraid for so long to come out with their stories. 

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Me too movement emerged on social media in recent years. This movement gives voice to women to come forward and speak up if they have suffered or survived sexual harassment at workplace. It gives them a platform to speak their stories. Me too movement is also about fighting for the dignity and humanity of survivors of sexual harassment.

Women workforce is continuously increasing in today’s world. They’re today employed in every industry. They are coping with men in unskilled and skilled, physical or mentally challenging jobs. The companies are hiring more women than before because of their skills and promise to future. Some corporate companies are starting to have a certain gender ratio of their workforce as their corporate ethics. But, at the same time, women are still paid less, have to face bias decisions. 

These small uncooperative working environments against women create a negative narrative at workplace. At times, they have to face outrage from men. There have been cases that are seen in which women are asked for sexual favours in return of keeping their job or position of seeking for promotion. Sexual harassment is a major issue in a society. People are sexually abused at workplace, in institutions, even in public places. The major victim of sexual harassment is women in our society. But, we need to realize that women are as important as men. If they’re given the same opportunities, they tend to excel and have proven themselves time and again.

The concerning thing is they don’t even get a voice. They just have to suppress the incident without talking or complaining about it. This is because there is still a lack of strict laws and policies to protect people from such incidents or which would encourage them to raise their voices. “Tarana Burke started the Me Too movement in the year 2006 to fight against sexual violence.”[footnoteRef:1] #Me too movement emerged on social media in recent years. This movement gives voice to women to come forward and speak up. It gives them a platform to speak their stories. Many sexual abusers were at prominent and powerful positions, respected and trusted. 

Most of the women faced huge criticism and backlash when they came out with their stories. Initially many people refused to believe them and shamed them instead. This movement is also about fighting for the dignity and humanity of survivors of sexual harassment. A lot of women came forward and shared their past incidents which made people to reflect about the role of women in society, and why can they no longer be suppressed. This movement has helped common people, men or women, to tell such stories and get justice. As a result of this movement, numerous cases were filed. There were many high profile cases as well against film industries celebrities which were highlighted in media. 

This made people more aware of the concern and realize why their stories matter too. This is a movement where numerous people on their social media accounts; be it Twitter, Facebook etc. posted about any atrocities did happen with them in present or past. This made a world-wide outrage as more and more people spoke against sexual harassment. The number of people that came up and have become victims of sexual harassment itself speaks for the magnitude of the issue and why it needs to be addressed. It is essential to know how this movement unfolded in different countries like USA, Africa, and India etc.

India has patriarchy in its root so as a part of this social tree woman could be anything but strong and self-independent. Though the whole family will depend on its female member for their basic needs like cooked food and washed clothes and the females are the one to manage household yet she is the one dependent at the end of the day. What an irony! So this ‘not so strong section’, the women, initially used to be at home and practice their whole life how to be a great homemaker on the other hand the ‘protectors’, men used to go out and earn for living. 

It was not only education that they were denied of but also social approval. Later with transformation in different field and growing awareness and education woman learnt that equality is her fundamental right. And we know that to keep up with time culture adopt change for survival of the society. And during the early 21st century we saw the shift as women started to work and earn. 

So now this shift resulted from women being a great homemaker to an IPS or a politician or a business tycoon. Women started to work in every field as of men. But have they really broke the taboo of being weak and have become equal? Are the men ready to accept that women are capable of working with them, shoulder to shoulder?

Even if they have stepped out of home, the responsibilities of the household are still on their shoulders. They might have dedicated all their time to improve the economy of the country the whole day and is a genius doing so yet when they come home their in-laws will expect them to be a great family manager. And if a husband is generous enough to support his wife and help her in the household chores, he would be mocked by his friends and family. This results in the situation leading to a little or no help around home. 

Their life becomes miserable when they are not given enough respect at workplace and in society because till today they are taken as a symbol that the family is not well-off. So along with them the family too don’t get respect. And this situation is prevalent in rural as well as in urban areas, only it is worse in rural areas. Again the disparities are seen more in terms of a married working woman. When it comes to travelling or tours for work they are questioned a lot from their family and friends. Everyone will raise his eyebrows and ask why and her professional career comes in hands of those people which are not in case are men. They are allowed to travel. 

On the other hand the objections raised results in degrade of the professional carrier of women or often they opt out of job even. There is still a safety factor revolving around a woman who is out on work. Many companies don’t send women on tour because it’s not safe out there. A woman staying alone in a hotel room, even for the business purpose, might be a woman who is questionable. This thought of the society is questionable in itself. Again women might have legal rights to get paid equally but the actual picture is quite different. 

They are paid less in comparison of their male co-workers. They are paid less than their worth. There are many companies who do not stick to the guidelines provided to them through different provisions like (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and within the ambit of constitution which provides equal pay for equal work and other rights to equality. According to “a 2015 research study, 36% of Indian companies and 25% of multinational companies had not yet constituted their internal complaints committee which is mandatory under the Act”.

Facts of the Case: This was a landmark case regarding the protection of women against sexual harassment at workplace. In 1992, there was an incident where a lower caste social worker for the women’s development programme in Rajasthan named Bhanwari Devi who was trying to stop a child marriage in her village was allegedly gang-raped by five men of the upper-class community. She went to the police station to lodge a complaint against the offenders but no thorough investigation was launched.

Issues: A number of questions were determined through this land mark case in the context of sexual harassment which takes place at a workplace. The issue rose whether the employer has any responsibility in cases of sexual harassment by its employee or to its employees at a workplace? To get justice, she took her case to the Trial Court where Court acquitted the accused for the reason of lack of the medical shred of evidence and other reasons. Due to which so many women’s groups and organizations went for appeal against the judgment. 

The result of which, a public interest litigation was filed in the Supreme Court of India on the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace. This judgment had its basis in so many international treaties which had not been adopted in the municipal law. Supreme Court held that the sexual harassment of a woman at a workplace would be violative of her fundamental rights of gender equality and right to life and liberty under Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. The court concluded that such Act would be considered as a violation of women’s human rights.

Legal changes brought after the case: After this verdict, a statutory vacuum was observed which proposed the route of judicial legislation in the context of sexual harassment at workplace. The case laid down so many guidelines and requirements which need to be fulfilled by the employer as well as other responsible persons or institutions.

“Unwelcome sexually determined behaviour & demands from males employees at workplace, such as: any physical contacts and advances, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, passing lewd comments or gestures, sexual demands by any means, any rumours/talk at workplace with sexually coloured remarks about a working woman, or spreading rumours about a woman’s sexual relationship with anybody.”

So, these guidelines were the first of its type which created for the gender equality rights of women, which should be free from harassment in both public and private employment. This judgment led the Indian Government to enact the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013. This Act superseded the Vishaka Guidelines for prevention of sexual harassment introduced by the Supreme Court of India.

The main objective behind the (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is that women are protected against sexual harassment at all the workplaces whether it is in public or in private which will result in the recognition of their right to equality in terms of gender, life and liberty and the right to live with dignity and safe and harassment free working conditions in all places which is mentioned under Article 14, 15, 21 and 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution of India. This act aims at prevention and redressal of the complaints against sexual harassment. The sense of security at workplace will result in more of their participation bringing about their financial strengthening and comprehensive development.

The employer is also required to monitor the timely submission of reports by the Internal Complaints Committee. If an employer fails to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee or does not comply with any provisions contained therein, the Sexual Harassment Act prescribes a monetary penalty of up to INR 50,000. A repetition of the same offence could result in the punishment being doubled and / or de-registration of the entity or revocation of any statutory business licenses.

As a result of the growing importance of the issues relating to sexual harassment and protection of female employees in India, a new section was added to the Indian Penal Code, 1860 through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, which enlists the acts which constitute the offence of sexual harassment and further envisages penalty/punishment for such acts. A man committing an offence under this section is punishable with imprisonment, the term of which may range between 1-3 years or with fine or both. Since the amendment criminalizes all acts of sexual harassment, employers shall be required to report any offences of sexual harassment to the appropriate authorities.

Me too movement have expanded in India and brought a flood of cases of sexual harassment after M J Akbar’s case who is serving as minister in the present government. This movement has also highlighted the ability to use civil courts and other courts outside of judicial system by the people for their claim. Now there is a rise in the number of registration of the complaints against sexual harassment, there is a growing concern that the Indian legal system as in today’s existence is incapable to meet the new challenges. 

The existing law on sexual harassment i.e.; (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 has been in adequate as the Section 9 of the Act prescribes the obligation upon the employer to address the grievances within a limited period of time and the power of committee to deliberately ignore the delay is also time bound. Hence, the Act cannot be of any help to the victims on account of the provision of limitation contained therein. 

Though there is provision of Section 354A inserted by the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013 to address the threat of sexual harassment yet it is widely known that what matters in the criminal cases is punishment and since there is no time bound for process of completion of investigation or trial of such offences the complainant becomes the victim of it and is most likely to abandon the proceedings after sometime. In India the judicial system cannot handle the cases of offences which have been done ten to fourteen years ago as in case of Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein.

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