Women at the workplace have experienced harassment at some point or the other — either the unwanted touch or discrimination at large. While earlier, women rarely spoke out against such harassment, thanks to digital media, they are now aggressively coming forward to make their voice heard. It is all out in the open now.
READ FULL STORY HERE: The TVF Sexual Harassment Case: How Deep Is It?
I worry the number 2…3…4… will keep on increasing if we immediately don’t invoke anger into action.
The ex-employee of ScoopWhoop has accused her boss of sexual misconduct, adding the details of physical assault, including “inappropriate comments and lewd remarks”. He had even sent her sexually suggestive videos, she alleged.
The startup world has been left flabbergasted as many bosses are now being accused of sexual harassment and yes, the number is rising. However, post-these traumatic incidents, when she went and asked for action against the misdeeds, the organisation totally turned against her, publicly humiliated her and even threatened to ruin her career and life.
When you share your concern with a trustworthy person (or, you think they are reliable) in the organization, their clichéd reply is “It Happens”. So, you just have to ignore it, and move on????
This Raises Some Key Questions…
Can you imagine the stress the victim’s parents go through? They live in a society where judging women at every step is hard to resist and even if they forget about society, it is hard to come to terms with the trauma? Why does she have to hide her identity to share her grievances?
We don’t blame her for hiding behind anonymity to air her grievances. Because it’s society which taught us to treat the complainant like a “victim” and c’mon victim blaming is certainly the most common thing we love to do, isn’t it?
The poor complainant waits patiently for someone in the company to acknowledge her complaint, to nurse emotional bruises.
How’s The State Of The Law Helpful?
Eminent lawyer Karuna Nundy tells SheThePeople.TV, “There are two aspects of it — first is sexual harassment at the workplace and an in-house mechanism at the workplace and the second are the criminal laws. It is excellent that the in-house mechanism exists at the workplace. There is a requirement under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act in every company to have a policy that addresses this issue, to have workshops where people understand the policy and the law and also to have a complaints committee, which is a redressal mechanism. It is not a bad structure at all.”
Talking about sexual harassment cases in the workforce, lawyer and author Malavika Rajkotia says, “The Vishakha Act has now been followed by a more comprehensive The Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act of 2013, but no law can deal with social change unless there is a deep tectonic shift in organisations on how they deal with the issue of gender.”
Lawyer Mayank Mukherjee says, “There is ambiguity about what sexual harassment encompasses. Even constant staring at someone is not considered an act of sexual harassment but can be traumatising for the individual.”
The Foremost Problems:
We reached out to Columnist and writer on gender issues, Namita Bhandare, about the gaps in the system. Bhandare says, “Now that an FIR has been filed and the Internal Complaints Committee at ScoopWhoop has begun its legally mandated job of investigating a complaint of sexual harassment, we should allow the due process to take place.”
But the concern remains distinct. She explains, “It might be instructive to look at the rash of sexual harassment complaints in recent years. A study by Mint found that in 2012-13, there was just over one sexual harassment complaint per company. This has increased to over five in 2014-15.”
On the reasons for the rise in complaints, she says, “One reason could be better reporting and increased awareness, but in several high-profile cases in the recent past, we have an almost continuous and depressing failure to deliver justice. To take the high-profile case at TERI against R.K. Pachauri, it was disgraceful to see a brazen disregard for the norms of public probity and decency. TERI’s ICC found Pachauri guilty, and yet the governing council did nothing against him.”
She says the chief problem lies with the way companies look at Sexual Harassment.
“First, is the lack of clarity amongst many companies about the law or even about what sexual harassment is. Companies need to educate employees. They need to clearly set out gender policies. They must signal a zero tolerance regime.
Second, is the failure to institutionally redress many high-profile complaints like the one at TERI that I have referred to above.
And third, is the sad and depressing fact that the Indian workplace remains a male-dominated club where you have a clear sense of male entitlement that women are there for their enjoyment and pleasure. It’s distressing to see this attitude across the board from start-ups like ScoopWhoop and TVF to NGOs like Greenpeace India which was rocked by sexual harassment complaints in 2015 and even in academic institutions like St. Stephens College.”
What Women Entrepreneurs Say:
We caught up with women entrepreneurs about such incidents in the startup ecosystem. Is this the kind of behaviour women need to go through?
Ankita Vashistha, Founder – SAHAFund, that invests in exclusively in women-led businesses says, “Women come to SAHA fund for many reasons based on merit, business, network, scalability, impact and the fact that they believe we can be good partners for them. But yes, on a personal level, it is also about comfort, women to women understanding, mutual respect and equality. I am most passionate about gender equality in society, at the workplace and within the larger community.”
She added, “There are instances of indecent behaviour/talk cited by women entrepreneurs while interacting with male investors/colleagues/acquaintances. It makes us all very angry and as a community, we need to call those people out and support the right thing!”
My Story of Finding Freedom:
So where do we, enthusiastic workaholic women stand in an era where sexual assault at workplace is not such an uncommon affair?
In my case, coming from a conservative family, I always felt the need to be independent. Hearing stories of my mother quitting her job as she was expecting my elder sister, and that she could not get back to work, trapped as she was in an orthodox joint family, I charted my course differently.
I inherited my mother’s strength and resolved to break the glass-ceiling. It took me some years to finally convince my parents to strike out on my own. Trust me, dreaming of becoming a journalist was hard, considering that all my relatives believe the moment a girl hits 20, she should be married off and her husband should decide what she wants to do in life.
Making the trip from a small-town Jiaganj in West Bengal to Bangalore would have been hard if it weren’t for my parents’ confidence in me. But is it as simple as for everyone?
Yes, my parents worry about me, particularly in the wake of the mass molestation incident on New Year’s Eve in Bangalore.
Shapes of Discrimination at Workplace:
Many women come to metro cities in search of jobs or to start their career. Harassment or molestation comes in different forms. It could be sarky remarks about your “ass” – you know they would say they are complimenting you, of course! It could appear when you ask for “maternity leave” and the reply would be you’re “wasting the companies resources”. “Not being serious enough about work” is the expected allegation they could make because you asked for a day-off, etc.
Delhi-based Manishree Gupta, a financial consultant in a corporate firm, gives her take: “Challenges were to make parents understand that my job is for Americans and hence I would need to work late. I work in the 2 pm to 10.30 pm shift. We have office cabs with guards so it was not a major issue.”
What happens if a woman working late shift like Manishree faces sexual harassment? Would her parents be comfortable with her late night work again? How deep would the scar be?
I happen to be privileged working under a woman boss and that gives me a path to raise the concern until the nation wakes up and hears it right & loud. It is high time to call out the misogynists!
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