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Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace

11 Mar 2022 6:43 PM | Anonymous

Sexual Harassment is one of the major social issues that are plaguing our country. It is a violation of women’s rights and an infringement of their status of liberty. It is one of the key factors that discourage women from working in office environments and is detrimental to the creation of a healthy and inclusive workplace.

Vishaka Guidelines

The Vishaka Guidelines, laid down by the Supreme Court in 1997, was a landmark event that recognized sexual harassment and required institutions to take proper steps if in case sexual harassment occurs.

Sexual harassment is defined under the Vishaka Guidelines as unwelcome acts which have sexual connotations and can be in the form of:

  • Physical contact and advances.
  • Demands or requests for sexual favors.
  • Sexually colored remarks.
  • Showing pornography.
  • Any other unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

The guidelines provide for in-house complaints committees which are to be formed by the employers of the institution where the wronged woman works at. This was expected to have raised the accountability of workplaces in general.

However, since they were guidelines, they continued to remain on paper. Due to entrenched patriarchal values and the vague nature of the guidelines, institutions and individuals found ways to create loopholes or manipulate the guidelines to escape responsibility and conviction.

Sexual Harassment of woman at workplace (Prevention,Prohibition and Redressal) Act,2013

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is a legislation passed by the Parliament of India to curb the instances of sexual harassment that happen to women in workplaces, to protect women from such instances, and to provide penalties if sexual harassment occurs.

This Act drew a lot from the Vishaka Guidelines and, like the Vishaka Guidelines, defined sexual harassment in the workplace. It also provided for redressal of complaints and suggested safeguards against complaints that were false or malicious.

Some of its major features are:

  • It has a broader definition of the workplace than the Vishaka Guidelines and includes both organized and unorganized sectors in its purview.
  • It clearly defines an employer and what constitutes sexual harassment.
  • It sets a deadline of 90 days for the redressal committee to conclude its inquiry.
  • It makes it necessary for every employer to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee with 10 or more members.
  • The inquiry process is supposed to be confidential to protect the rights of the aggrieved woman.
  • The Act requires employers to conduct sexual harassment education and sensitization sessions to make employees more aware and sensitive to such situations.
  • It sets up penalties for non-compliance with the stipulations of the Act and for anyone found guilty of sexual harassment.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2013 lays down penalties for non-compliance and guilt

The Act, however, has not been free from criticisms. Some criticize it for not including military women and women engaged in agriculture, while others accuse it of being exclusionary towards male victims. Women also find the process deterring as most employers tend to shut down such cases to salvage the reputation of the institution.

Needless to say, we need stringent implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013. A few amendments that can make the Act more inclusionary and approachable will also go a long way in protecting the life and liberty of women.

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