Creating a Safe Work Environment –Best Practices to Deal with Sexual Harassment at Workplace

“Giving women equal rights and entire nations are more stable and secure. Deny women equal rights, and the instability of nation is certain.”

                                                                                                            -HILLARY CLINTON

INTRODUCTION

The very Indian Constitution provides right to equality to both women and men. Women have equal right to choose any profession and area of work or business activity. But in practice, women are discriminated against both in their homes and outside their homes.

Discrimination, on most of the times, includes elements of harassment and violence against women. Though the economic liberalization has provided a lot of job options and opportunities to educated women, and availing the same women are coming out of their homes to work in the profession of their choices. And presently, women are more career-oriented than ever before.

The above-mentioned socio-economic change has brought positive changes in the lives of women in the sense that a working woman feels economically independent and liberated. But at the same time, it has also increased the vulnerability of women for the crimes such as sexual harassment at workplace. Still, the things that keep on hovering over my mind regarding the equality of women pings me to think over these following questions that whether being a girl is a punishment? Is being a girl means losing her own self-respect and still working for her family, for others? Is being a girl means to spend her life in just four walls of her house?

The questions above being asked are because of the irrational and undesirable behaviours of men in and outside homes, which every second girl has to face daily in her routine life. This kind of unexpected behaviour is known as Sexual Harassment.

What is Sexual Harassment at Workplace?

To portray it very simply, it can be understood as an unwanted direct or indirect sexual contact, remarks or conduct on part of the male colleagues against their women colleagues at any workplace. Thus, sexual harassment at workplace includes both physical as well as mental aspects. Though it is difficult to put forth what constitutes sexual harassment at workplace but the Supreme Court of India has defined it in the case of Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan, 1997 as:

“Any unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography or any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.”

Thus the above-mentioned definition under the Vishakha Guidelines cases makes it crystal clear that any unwelcome sexually coloured behaviour by a male against a female employee will be treated as sexual harassment at workplace.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND ITS LEGALITY

Sexual harassment is intimidation, bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours. Gender equality in all dimensions is a basic human right and the Constitution of India (“Constitution”) guarantees all its citizens equality of status and opportunity.

  1. Sexual harassment is considered as a violation of a woman’s fundamental right to equality, which right is guaranteed by Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution. Workplace sexual harassment creates an insecure and hostile work environment, thereby discouraging women’s participation in work and adversely affecting their social and economic growth.
  2. The Constitution also provides every citizen the ‘right to practice or carry out any occupation, trade or business’.
  3. It includes the right to a safe environment, free from all forms of harassment. India’s first legislation specifically addressing the issue of workplace sexual harassment was enacted in 2013. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Act”) was made effective from December 09, 2013 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, India[1].

Conclusion

On the crux, The Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Act extends to the ‘whole of India’ and stipulates that a woman shall not be subjected to sexual harassment at her workplace. It can be said that though we now have a specific law to prohibit sexual harassment at workplace apart from already existing landmark guidelines of the Supreme Court of India but the menace cannot be controlled until and unless the mentality of males, in general, would not change. Until and unless the basic human dignity of women is not recognized and respected by men, no law will be effective. It is imperative that constitutionally guaranteed principles of equality among both the genders do not remain only empty words but also upheld in practice.

[1] The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Act”) was made effective from December 09, 2013 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, India.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Priyal Kothari

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Priyal Kothari is a competitive, diligent, hardworking and adaptive law student currently pursuing law from Bangalore Institute of Legal Studies and has chosen law as a career path for its veracity and scope which has thousands of opportunities for intellectuals to succeed in this field.  Open to accepting new challenges and willing to gain practical knowledge and experience for carving a niche in the field of law. Apart from being into this field of law she has a great interest towards the world of writing and has written various articles and research papers too which has definitely given her a better insight. She has interned at Indus Towers Ltd., Shetty and Hegde, Kharliya and Associates, Singhvi and Co., and Mehta Chambers which definitely been an enthralling experience. Among this busy canvas, life’s commitments, personal accordance and passion coupled with the taste of happy and bitter things became and actually are the artist of her life with different colours of strokes getting widened and stretched day by day.

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