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Women Safety

Eve Teasing & Beyond - Sexual Harrasement at Work

Sexual Harassment affects all women in some form or the other. Lewd remarks, touching, wolf-whistles, “looks” are part of any woman's life, so much so that it is dismissed as normal.

Working women are no exception. In fact, working women most commonly face the backlash, to women taking new roles, which belong to male domains especially in the organized sector. In the unorganized sector also it is widely prevalent. Studies have shown that sexual harassment is still endemic, often hidden, and present in all kinds of organisations. 40-60% working women face harassment at working places.

The problem

Revathi worked as Secretary to Ramanatham, the chairman of an export promotion council. He asked her to accompany him to the business centre of a five star hotel. At the business centre, he tried to sit too close to X and touch her and did not give up even after she protested. He also tried to molest her in the elevator.

Janaki did not reciprocate Vijay's love and avoided him. She began to receive crank calls from him and later from his friends/co-workers. She started feeling very uncomfortable in the presence of vijay and her colleagues and her participation in official/non official gathering gradually reduced. Her lack of participation is being noticed by her senior and her performance was getting affected.

Rithika working in an MNC avoids sexual advances from her manager. As a result she is given disproportionate amounts of work and is ultimately bypassed by her junior male colleague for promotion. When she protests, the boss blatantly tells her that “everything is in her hands only”

The problem

  • Subjects another person to an unwelcome act of physical intimacy, like grabbing, brushing, touching, pinching etc
  • Makes an unwelcome demand or request (whether directly or by implication) for sexual favours from another person, and further makes it a condition for employment/payment of wages/increment/promotion etc.
  • Makes an unwelcome remark with sexual connotations, like sexually explicit compliments/cracking loud jokes with sexual connotations/ making sexist remarks etc.
  • Shows a person any sexually explicit visual material, in the form of pictures/cartoons/pin-ups/calendars/screen savers on computers/any offensive written material/pornographic e-mails/sms etc.
  • It is sexual harassment if a supervisor requests sexual favours from a junior in return for promotion or other benefits or threatens to sack for non-cooperation. It is also sexual harassment for a boss to make intrusive inquiries into the private lives of employees, or persistently ask them out.
  • It is sexual harassment for a group of workers to joke and snigger amongst themselves about sexual conduct in an attempt to humiliate or embarrass another person.
  • If anyone displays too much interest in your sex life (or lack there of) and persistently asks you questions or makes remarks of a personal nature.

What an employer can/need to do

  • First and foremost, acknowledge that it is your legal responsibility to provide safe working environment for women free from sexual harassment and discrimination and that you can be held liable for sexual harassment by employees.
  • Know that sexual harassment can have a devastating effect upon the health, confidence, morale and performance of those affected by it. The anxiety and stress produced by sexual harassment commonly leads to those subjected to it taking time off work due to sickness, being less efficient at work, or leaving their job to seek work elsewhere.
  • Understand the reasons why women remain silent about sexual harassment. An absence of complaints about sexual harassment does not necessarily mean an absence of sexual harassment. It may mean that the recipients of sexual harassment think that there is no point in complaining because:
    • Nothing will be done about it
    • It will be trivialised
    • The complainant will be subjected to ridicule
    • They fear reprisals

  • Recognise the tangible and intangible expenses and losses organisations experience

    • Costly investigation and litigation
    • Negative exposure and publicity
    • Embarrassing depositions
    • Increased absenteeism
    • Lowered employee morale
    • Reduced productivity
    • Decreased efficiency
    • Higher employee turn over
    • Erosion of organisation's brand names, goodwill, and public image
    • Negative impact on stock price

The best way to prevent sexual harassment is to adopt a comprehensive sexual harassment policy. The aim is to ensure that sexual harassment does not occur and, where it does occur, to ensure that adequate procedures are readily available to deal with the problem and prevent its recurrence.

What Steps Can women Employees Take To Prevent Sexual Harassment?

  • Identify/Recognise Harassment
  • Ask yourself the following:
    • - Do I agree to the behaviour?
    • - Does the behaviour make me uncomfortable?
    • - Does the behaviour violate my dignity as an individual?
    • - Does it violate my right to work in dignity in a safe working environment?
  • Do not blame yourself. Don't ignore sexual harassment in the hope that it will go away.
  • Do the unexpected: Name the behavior. Whatever he's just done, say it, and be specific. Hold the harasser accountable for his actions. Don't make excuses for him; don't pretend it didn't really happen. Take charge of the encounter and let people know what he did. Privacy protects harassers, but visibility undermines them. 
  • Make honest, direct statements. Speak the truth (no threats, no insults, no obscenities, no appeasing verbal fluff and padding). Be serious, straight forward, and blunt.
  • Demand that the harassment stop
  • Make it clear that all women have the right to be free from sexual harassment. Don't respond to the harasser's excuses or diversionary tactics
  • His behavior is the issue. Say what you have to say, and repeat it if he persists. Reinforce your statements with strong, self-respecting body language
  • End the interaction on your own terms, with a strong closing statement: 'You heard me. Stop harassing women'
  • If you decide to file charges later

1. Keep records: Keep track of what happens in a journal or diary and keep any letters or notes or other documents you receive. Write down the dates, times, places, and an account of what happened. Write down the names of any witnesses.

2. Write a letter. People have successfully stopped sexual harassment by writing a letter detailing the behaviour that is offensive and asking the person who is harassing them to stop the behaviour. The letter should be polite, unemotional, and detailed. Such a letter seems to be more powerful than a verbal request. The recipient of the letter seldom writes back; the person usually just stops the behaviour.

3. Set your own boundaries: Say "NO" emphatically and clearly when you are asked to go places, do things, and respond to questions, or engage in situations that make you uncomfortable. Do not worry about offending the other person or hurting his or her ego. Take care of yourself first.

4. Be aware of situations and people who may harm you: Don't ignore other's warnings about particular people or social settings. Acknowledge their concern for you and for themselves.

5. Take a colleague or sympathetic senior into confidence so that you have reliable witness to stand up for you when it comes down to your word against his.

6. Don't confuse the company with the individual. Just because one person has made life miserable for you, it doesn't mean that the company is at fault.

7. If those in authority, act against him swiftly and firmly, then absolve them of blame and move on.