The recent elevation of the Nobel peace prize winning controversial environmental scientist, R. K. Pachauri, to the role of Executive Vice Chairman by the TERI Governing Council has made a mockery of the sexual harassment law. It squarely puts Indian civil society in the spotlight. Ethics and values regarding gender equality that we fought to bring into the mainstream and uphold, have been blatantly disregarded in this case.
In 1997, the Supreme Court issued the Vishaka Guidelines, a result of the now famous Bhanwari Devi case, which defined sexual harassment at the workplace. These guidelines were mandatory for implementation across all organised workplaces - government, corporates and civil society.
On December 9, 2013, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act came into force. It was the result of 16 years of intense lobbying by the women’s movement which included Oxfam India. Though the law has now been in place for over 2 years it is clear that its implementation has been uneven. The Pachauri case puts the spotlight back on the lack of spirit and energy behind them.
A 2015 study about the status of responsible business practices in India conducted by Oxfam India found that 73 of the top 100 listed companies on the Bombay Stock Exchange have publicly stated policies on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. No similar audit has been done for the top 100 NGOs in the country. Globally, NGOs that are signatory to the INGO Charter of Accountability hold themselves up to scrutiny and standards. It will be good for us to adopt and adhere to similar standards in India.
Last February at the global level, embarrassment and discomfort drove Pachauri to step down as chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It was simply unacceptable. Why is it different within India? What will it take for the Governing Council of TERI to show him the door?
This is a moment of introspection for us. The NGO sector are quick to demand accountability and good governance from others. In fact, raising accountability standards is our primary purpose. It is time to put a distance between TERI’s Governing Council and the rest of civil society. It is also a time for each one of us to put in place our own work place sexual harassment policies and make them public.
Witten By: Dr. Nisha Agrawal, CEO, Oxfam India
Dr Nisha Agrawal
Nisha has been working on poverty, inequality and development issues for almost three decades. She has been the CEO of Oxfam India since its inception in March 2008. Prior to that she has worked with the World Bank on development issues for 18 years. Nisha has experience of working in countries in the East Asia Region (Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia) and in the East Africa Region (Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda). She has a Doctorate in Economics from the University of Virginia, USA. She has also worked as a Research Economist at the Impact Research Centre, University of Melbourne, Australia.