Nov 22, 2014

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill 2012


A Step Forward or a Step Back?

In a yet another effort to bring about the issues unaddressed in the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill, Oxfam India organised a consultation on “The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill 2012: A Step Forward or a Step Back?” on 27th November 2012 at India Islamic Center, New Delhi. The consultation witnessed the participation from over 50 people representing different NGOs, activist groups, lawyers and academicians.

“Is it a step forward or a step back – we need to think. Oxfam India strongly believes in the right of every woman to a violence free workplace. Ending violence against women and political empowerment are strong issues and programs of Gender Justice within Oxfam India. This consultation is really a conversation on the issues in the bill as it has been passed. The inclusion of domestic workers is definitely a big victory but we need to discuss the ways to get we can pass in the Rajya Sabha taking into account our recommendations,” said Nisha Agrawal, CEO, Oxfam India in her keynote address.

Malini Bhattacharya, Former Chairperson, State Commission for Women, West Bengal said, “In spite of a long history, sexual harassment at workplace is still an invisible offence.” Touching upon various issues related toVishakha Guidelines, domestic violence and sexual harassment at workplace, Ms. Bhattacharya said, “Just as the Domestic Violence Act has brought the issue of domestic violence from a private to public, similarly, the offence of sexual harassment at workplace should be looked as a public offence and not as an individual case between the employer and the employee.”

 Sharing the findings of an opinion poll conducted by Oxfam India on Sexual Harassment at Workplace, Moutushi Sengupta, Director, Program and Advocacy Oxfam India said, “The study was conducted to understand the prevalent attitude regarding sexual harassment at workplace, to access general awareness levels with respect to sexual harassment and to examine the awareness levels of the redressal mechanisms.” She informed that opinion poll was conducted in Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai along with some 21 rural districts in the country.

According to the study, over 17 percent of the working women have faced sexual harassment at the workplace and 66 out of 400 women have faced incidents of sexual harassment. Majority of the women did not resort to any formal action against the perpetrator for the reason of ‘fear of losing the job’ and ‘absence of any complaints mechanism at the workplace. Although there has been awareness on the sexual harassment bill among the general people, only 17 percent claimed to have heard of the Supreme Court Guidelines.

Discussions on the bill centred on the issues related to the role of employer in the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), conciliation and the importance given to in the bill, issues of gender neutrality and its demand from certain sections, false and malicious intent of the complainant and procedures for conducting the inquiry.

Flavia Agnes, Activist Lawyer and Founder Member of Majlis, Mumbai, highlighted the current thinking on conciliation within the judiciary and linked the clause in the bill as an exit opinion for women. She emphasized on the preventive role for the employer, the procedure in ensuring that the recommendations of the ICC is final and acted upon by the employer. The Local Complaints Committee (LCC) is definitely a ‘dark horse’, we need to tap national and regional networks of the unorganised sector into such discussions. With regard to the composition of the LCC and ensuring that strong women who part of it, she said ’there are more women in the public sphere these days who may not be sensitized or speaking the language of the women’s movement yet they are still out there and I am hopeful that they will become members of the LCC.’

In consensus, the consultation agreed to work closely with the parliamentarians, particularly the Rajya Sabha members, to address the need for inclusion of issues related to construction workers and other women working in unorganised sector. The participants also committed to take up the issue strongly as part of the people’s manifesto as developed in the  ‘Jan Sansad’ currently happening in Delhi. 

Story and photo credit: Priyanka Gupta

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