Sexual harassment of women not down despite laws to protect them!

By ZRG | Updated: Apr 22, 2013, 22:32 PM IST

Rashi Aditi Ghosh /Zee Research Group

Although the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill was passed earlier this year yet the women groups are not confident of mitigation of the malaise.

The UPA government passed the sexual harassment of women at workplace (prevention, prohibition and redressal) bill on February 26, 2013.

The issue of sexual harassment at workplace came into focus in view of the action taken against employees at the state broadcaster for alleged misdemeanor at workplace. The action was recommended and enforced by Prasar Bharti.

The sexual harassment issue has come to haunt women in India with a growing number of women seeking economic independence. A November 2012 study by Oxfam India and Social and Rural Research Institute found out that 17 per cent of working women faced sexual harassment at their workplace.

The study was done in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Lucknow and Durgapur, among working women from the organised and unorganised sectors.

Among sectors, the three that emerged as ‘unsafe’ for women were labourers (29 per cent), domestic help (23 per cent) and small-scale units (16 per cent). The report concluded that while a majority of respondents were aware of such acts, they were reluctant to take any formal action due to “fear of losing the job”, “absence of any complaints mechanism at the workplace”, “fear of getting stigmatized” and “not aware of redressal mechanism”.

Commenting on the reluctance to fight against injustice, TK Mathew, chief executive at Deepalaya, a Delhi based NGO said, “Indian society has a dubious interpretation on sex and sexual suppression. Everything related to the word ‘sex’ is tabooed in India and thus many women subjected to sexual exploitation at workplace are often forced to keep mum on the agony faced.”

But not all prefer to remain silent and suffer endlessly. The media reported a case of a former employee at an audit firm who has petitioned cyber crime cell in Mumbai to take action against websites that hosted defamatory content against her in wake of her sexual harassment complaint at workplace in 2007.

The question that begs an answer, therefore, is whether the sexual harassment of women at workplace bill would act as a deterrent?

Pauline Gomes at Breakthrough India, a Delhi-based NGO challenging violence against women said, “Until and unless there is a change in the mentality of people through the modes of socialization, a Bill alone certainly would not help.”