In India, it is estimated that someone is sexually harassed every hour. Legal protections against workplace sexual harassment in India have historically been weak, but the Landmark “Vishakha Judgement” (passed 14 years ago) recommended drafting a law concerning Sexual Harassment in the workplace. This finally happened in December 2010, when the Government introduced the “Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment Bill,” which sought to legislate restrictions and introduce stronger penalties for harassment crimes.
The bill signifies a big step forward; it’s progressive in terms of recognizing workplace sexual harassment as discriminatory against women, and a violation of the right to equality and to work. The act, in essence, seeks to create a safe, secure, and enabling workplace environment free from all forms of sexual harassment. But the formulation lacked the necessary robust mechanisms to address the problem, largely due to the lack of input and guidance from civil society.
A global problem
Sexual Harassment in the workplace is a global problem, and can impact gender equality, career advancement, health and livelihood. Power inequalities can make women especially vulnerable in a workplace setting, particularly when work environments are male dominated. In India, Oxfam – and other organizations across the country – are working to change that.
The Bill is currently pending with the Parliamentary Standing Committee, and Oxfam India has been collaborating with the Lawyers Collective to provide strategic input for amendments to the new law. Three regional consultations, in the North (Lucknow), West (Mumbai) and East (Bhubaneshwar), facilitated conversations amongst key stakeholders to determine how sexual harassment in the workplace can be legally regulated, and to provide feedback to the Standing Committee. Participants included a wide range of academic, government, corporate and civil society members. The groups discussed how to influence positive change in the institutional policies that will impact workplace sexual harassment, and shared best practices for creating harassment-free spaces.
Further research identified ways of combating workplace sexual harassment, located trends and good practices, and determined the challenges to comprehensive legal protections. There is still a question as to whether the law will include domestic workers, which comprise a high percentage of the informal sector in India; however, the Standing Committee report has recommended the inclusion of domestic workers under the legislation.
A stronger legal response and positive approaches
Oxfam India plans to use the collected input and research to advocate for a stronger legal response to sexual harassment in the workplace. Beyond legal reform, it’s imperative that offices and workspaces integrate positive, holistic approaches to addressing sexual and other forms of harassment such that all genders have equal access to opportunity.
Oxfam India is also moving ahead by initiating a Pan India study (in the form of an opinion poll) on sexual harassment in the workplace. The study will generate a database, followed by a national level consultation, to influence policy makers on the severity of the issue and inclusion of pertinent recommendations in the bill.
How else do you think women can raise their voices to speak out about sexual harrassment in the workplace?
More information and details about the consultations: Say no to sexual harassment (Oxfam India)