Protection against Sexual Harassment of Women at workplace

Sexual harassment cases have risen among Nifty 50 companies with two-thirds of them disclosing a total 525 complaints in the year ended March 2016, an increase of 26% over the previous year. Information technology and banking companies, which typically employ more women than others, constitute over 80% of the total.

Number of complaints in some companies

  • Wipro – 111 complaints (11% increase)
  • ICICI – 87 complaints (7.4% decrease)
  • Infosys – 62 complaints (17% increase)
  • TCS – 34 complaints (doubled)
  • Axis Bank – 32 complaints (5.9% decrease)
  • State Bank – 27 complaints (93% increase)
  • Tech Mahindra – 26 complaints (last year 0)
  • Indus Ind Bank – 20 complaints (last year 6)

Protection against sexual harassment and the right to work with dignity are universally recognised human rights by international conventions and instruments. Sexual harassment results in violation of the fundamental rights of a woman under articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India and her right to life, to live with dignity under article 21 of the Constitution and right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business which includes a right to a safe environment free from sexual harassment.

sexual-harassment-in-nifty-50Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women has been ratified on 25th June, 1993 by the Government of India. However, a law to protect women in workplace was enacted only 20 years after this ratification and more than 60 years after the Constitution of India came into force.

As per the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 companies shall

  1. Provide a safe working environment at the workplace which shall include safety from the persons coming into contact at the workplace
  2. Display at any conspicuous place in the workplace, the penal consequences of sexual harassments.
  3. Organise workshops and awareness programmes at regular intervals for sensitising the employees with the provisions of the Act.
  4. Provide assistance to the woman if she so chooses to file a complaint in relation to the offence under the Indian Penal Code or any other law

Sexual harassment includes acts like physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours, making sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography and any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature and through them showing implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in her employment, threat of detrimental treatment in her employment, threat about her present or future employment status, interference with her work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment for her or humiliating treatment likely to affect her health or safety.

Any aggrieved woman may make, in writing, a complaint of sexual harassment at workplace to the Committee constituted by the company for the purpose. Presiding officer of the committee shall be a woman employed at a senior level from amongst the employees.

sexual-harassment-womenDuring the pendency of an inquiry the Committee may recommend to the employer to transfer the aggrieved woman or the respondent to any other workplace or grant leave to the aggrieved woman up to a period of three months or grant such other relief to the aggrieved woman as may be prescribed. The leave granted to the aggrieved woman shall be in addition to the leave she would be otherwise entitled.

For the purpose of determining the sums to be paid to the aggrieved woman the Committee shall have regard to the mental trauma, pain, suffering and emotional distress caused to the aggrieved woman; the loss in the career opportunity due to the incident of sexual harassment and medical expenses incurred by the victim for physical or psychiatric treatment among other factors.

sexual-harassment-graph

Image courtesy : economictimes.indiatimes.com

The increase in recorded complaints of sexual harassment in 2015-16 does not mean that in 2015-16 sexual harassment at work place increased suddenly, and prior to that ‘Bharat was a divine land where women are respected and revered’. In our male dominated, superstition ridden society, for a woman to stand-up to sexual harassment results in social stigma. While in developed economies, women avoid filing complaints under economic insecurity, Indian women face the additional burden of this backward culture. Provision of arrangements and processes to complain about harassment and increased awareness are the reasons for this increase in recorded sexual harassment.

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The backward “Bharat” culture considers woman as an object belonging to man.

However, 10-15% of leading corporates have not yet implemented the provisions of this act. In addition, there are thousands of small companies, manufacturing units employing large number of women, house workers and construction workers who have almost no legal protection against sexual harassment.

We call upon all IT professionals to come forward and work against sexual harassment in IT companies. We should also work towards getting rid of this violation of rights of women in schools, colleges, hospitals and industrial units. IT employees organizing themselves as a strong Union will go a long way in ensuring safe work place for women.

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