I will break the silence: Workplace harassment against women

According to a survey conducted by Oxfam India and Social and Rural Research Institute, 17% of working women claimed to have experienced sexual harassment at workplace. The survey also noted that 87% of general population and 93% of working women showed awareness of sexual harassment, yet majority of them did not take formal action.

Harassment can be defined as all types of abusive behaviour which is intended to upset or show disgrace towards other individual. Today women are working neck to neck with male counterparts in all sectors. However gender sensitivity is still an issue and lot of women face discrimination and harassment.

Harassment can be in any form –

  • Intentional touching, brushing against, leaning over or pinching.
  • Making obscene gestures and suggestive looks.
  • Sexual teaching or remarks.
  • Gender-based comments.
  • Asking sexual favours.
  • Display of pornography.
  • Sexually explicit phone calls, SMS, e-mails, letters.

In many cases the victim suffers in silence and faces psychological symptoms like anxiety, panic attack, loss of concentration and self-esteem, stress and nervous breakdown. They start behaving differently, tend to withdraw and become irritable or tearful. Not only the victim but their colleagues who cannot take a firm step against this offense, experience feeling of shame, guilt and powerlessness.

Various reasons why women bear this torture silently are – adverse effect on career, attitude of society, fear of not being believed, economic loss due to effect on promotion or loss of job, fear of potential danger on rejecting and self blame.

However, it is essential to break the silence and raise your voice against such offenders rather than suffer.

  • Not responding to an offensive behaviour indicates allowing it. Say NO firmly.
  • Speak out to others – Speaking about sexual harassment, itself is an effective tool of combating it. By speaking you make the problem visible, acknowledge that it exist and lead to effective measures against it.
  • Keep record and documents – Keep a note with details like date, time, place and account of what happened in a diary. Also if you receive any messages, SMS, letters keep those. In case there is any witness, maintain the name and details. This will be helpful in proving your case.
  • Try to create witness of the act.
  • Do not ignore the warning of your instinct. If you feel going somewhere or with someone can be dangerous, avoid the situation.
  • If you are raped or physically abused make sure to take medical checkups and keep the reports. These are essential in pursuing a legal case.
  • Most organisations have a women cell or employee unions. Find an appropriate person and talk to him/her about your situation. Be sure to be direct and detailed.

Women subjected to sexual abuse pass through mental and physical stress, hence as a responsible colleague there are few things that can be done,

  • Do not disbelieve when a women shares about harassment, don’t blame her for that.
  • Encourage her to approach a reliable, authoritative person and seek solution.
  • Offer to accompany her to offending person or Complaint Committee.
  • Push for reprisal or seek government/law intervention.

"Sexual Harassment Act" (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal), is effective since April 23, 2013.  It gives women employee’s authority to lodge complaint against the harasser and seek justice.
The government and Law can just make provisions and efforts to help women seek justice, but the efforts to lodge complaint and speak up lies with the victim.

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