Nov 28, 2013

Women Need To Speak Up Against Sexual Harassment

Silent No More: Speaking Up Against Sexual Harassment

These three reports, among several others that go unnoticed, have brought to the surface the basic problem in the country: those who are in powerful positions — the supposed crusaders of justice — are found violating the law and committing the most heinous of crimes. Yes, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, which was implemented in April, does promise to protect women, but how can women protect themselves before taking the issue to court?

Former assistant solicitor general of India, PS Dinesh Kumar, says, "At the moment, the only functional law for sexual harassment is the Vishaka Guidelines." It states that every institution must have a sexual harassment committee with five members, of which three members should be women, including the chairperson. Based on an oral or written complaint, the committee is supposed to question the accused after examining the witness's accounts, if any, and/or, other evidences provided by the complainant. If the person is found guilty, depending on the degree of harassment, suitable action must be taken.

Having handled many cases of sexual harassment in various institutions, Dinesh adds, "What we ignore is that men too are harassed. I've seen several cases where women, to avenge professional disagreements, have lodged complaints of sexual harassment against righteous men. This is equally disheartening." Suggesting a common solution, he says, "Irrespective of the complainant's gender, we must give everyone a fair hearing, look at the issue objectively and punish severely only after we're sure of all the facts."

Practical issues
A profession where sexual abuse is rampant is the film industry. Actress Nikesha Patel says, "The industry is extremely male dominated and that becomes difficult at times. During the shoot of one of my films, the director asked me to wear an extremely deep-neck blouse. Neither my role nor the plot required it as it was about a traditional village girl, but the director insisted I expose or drop out of the film. Uncomfortable with this request of his, I decided to drop out, but since I was firm about my decision, they gave up and agreed to do the film without any vulgarity. However, many actresses agree to such conditions as they fear losing out on opportunities."

Several women, who face sexual abuse at work, prefer to stay quiet in order to avoid further harassment or getting unwanted attention.

Aarti Nagdeo, an advertising professional, says, "One of my colleagues, who was not even a close friend, commented on my dressing sense saying I should wear things that make me look luscious. I was furious, but ignored this because I did not want to court any trouble at work. But another time I told a colleague, who pinched me every day while greeting me, that it hurt me and asked him not to do it again. I had to say it indirectly in order to avoid straining our professional relationship."

Taking the leap
Malayalam actress Shwetha Menon recently accused the Congress MP Peethambara Kurup of grabbing her with sexual intention. However, the actress did not take the case forward and suddenly kept mum about the whole incident. "Women like her need to speak up and make a difference. I don't understand why she suddenly decided to become quiet about the whole thing," says actress Malavika Avinash.

Stressing on the importance of voicing out such issues, the actress adds, "Women who have been sexually harassed should speak up as it will make a lot more people aware and gather voices of support. All that is required is to make peers, seniors in the institution and friends aware of such instances so that action can be taken against the criminal, collectively."

Echoing Malavika's thoughts is actress and mother Priyanka Upendra. "Women must make their problems known to others. If they suffer in silence, they're only encouraging such men to continue with their crime. In order to end one's own suffering and ensure the wrongdoer realizes it to be an offence, it's important to bring the issue to light."

Organizational measures
Sure, women have to muster up the courage to speak out against the crime, but on a more organizational level, the right foundation must be laid for a safe and secure work environment. Sexuality activist Shaibya Saldanha says, "The 2013 act for sexual harassment has clearly specified every function and requirement the committee is supposed carry out, which is great. However, the organizations should ensure the committee is set up according to the act much earlier and not when a case crops up." She adds, "Also, there must be an orientation session for men and women on what constitutes sexual harassment. Once the committee is established, with trustworthy people on the panel, these must be periodic discussions on gender issues. Since the process of lodging a complaint might be scary for many women, the members of the committee must make themselves approachable to the employees at all times and talk to them about their issues before starting the formal procedure."

- An employee of a popular news magazine accused her editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal of sexual assault
- Recently, a young lawyer alleged that a Supreme Court judge sexually harassed her
- Also, a student of a reputed Indian university accused a senior government official of harassing her

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1 Comment:

Jannah Delfin said...

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