Friday, April 4, 2008

Saying no to sexual harassment at work

Sexual harassment affects all women in some form or the other. Lewd remarks, an uncomfortable touch, whistles, and unwelcome looks are part of any woman’s life, so much so that it is often dismissed as normal.

In work places, sexual harassment is a widely spread reality today. Working women most commonly face the backlash to women taking on new roles, which earlier belonged to male domains within patriarchy.

To look into the nuances of the issue, SANHITA, a rights group, released a handbook on Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace on March 26, 2008 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kolkata, India.

Prof. Jasodhara Bagchi, Chairperson, West Bengal Commission for Women was the chief guest at the occasion.

SANHITA, a new initiative by women activists of West Bengal, is a gender resource centre born out of a need for information activism and networking among grassroots organisations working towards empowerment of women.

The organisation has interacted on this issue with a wide range of work sectors such as public sector undertakings, central and state government departments, universities, hospitals and private organisations.

Existing lacunae

Growing evidence suggests that an employer's implementation of a sexual harassment policy, awareness generating mechanisms, investigation of complaints and justice delivery can serve to track the progress on redressing such grievances.

The Vishaka Judgment (1997) by the Supreme Court of India recognised sexual harassment as not only personal injury to the affected woman, but also a violation of fundamental rights.

Soma Sen Gupta, Director, Sanhita said, “Greater political will is required on part of the authorities to create a gender-sensitive culture and develop best practices.”

The commonness of the situations faced by women across work sectors transform these experiences from an individual level to a universal reality and reflect upon the prevalent nature of sexual harassment.

The SC guidelines make employers and institutions responsible for implementing both preventive and remedial measures to make the workplace safe for women.

Yet, it is this very provision that has proved to be a stumbling block in implementing the guidelines.

Studies reveal that not many institutions have set up mechanisms like complaint committees to tackle sexual harassment. And where the committees do exist, they are stooges of the management, with no real powers.

Most of the women too are unaware of the channels of help like where to depose.

Moreover, the Sexual Harassment of Women at their Workplace (Prevention) Bill, 2000, drafted by India’s National Commission for Women has not addressed the problems faced by women employed in the unorganised sector.

This comprehensive handbook attempts to 'demystify' the issue of sexual harassment, and enables those responsible for management as well as individual women workers understand the issue and its dynamics.

The handbook is an endeavour to unpack the experiences gathered, try and answer questions and to present an overall understanding of the issue before the reader.

The chapters have been divided into thematic areas - understanding the issue of sexual harassment at workplace, responsibility of the employers and authorities, looking into complaints committees and, what recourses women can undertake when they face sexually harassing behaviour.

The handbook is a testimony to experiences of scores of women and to integrate a human rights perspective within workplaces.

By Manasi Singh

Source:
http://southasia.oneworld.net/article/view/159202/1/7869

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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