Be Aware, Be Safe

By Amarpreet Kaur
Partner – Performance & Culture, Diversity & Inclusion, HRhelpdesk

Across the world, 114 countries have provisions in place covering sexual harassment in employment, says United Nations Women. India is one of them. The Ministry of Women and Child Development in India is actively working to ensure safety and security of women at all workplaces by raising awareness around the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013.

Being an empanelled member of the Ministry, HRhelpdesk® is engaged in conducting sensitization programs, workshops, and training sessions to enlighten women, and men, about the provisions of the Act; and specifically educating women, to identify acts that constitute verbal, physical or mental abuse such that they can be reported, and the culprit punished.

In one such Industry Interaction session at IIM Amritsar recently, I had the chance to interact with the bright, young students of the institute. Most participants were aware about the existence of the Act, but very few knew about the actions – direct or indirect – that constitute sexual harassment.

They knew that despite training sessions on Prevention of Sexual Harassment in a number of organizatons, many women employees face the trauma and yet are never able to get the help they deserve. Employees often use quid pro quo techniques to gain sexual favours from women colleagues in lieu of some incentives. Some resort to threats, while others, using their influence create, such a hostile environment at the workplace that it causes immense social, mental, and psychological distress to women. Not to forget the social stigma attached to speaking up against such violent behaviour.

To further compound the problem, employees are not aware as to how much is too much and where to draw the line, especially in set-ups where both the contributions of both men and women are on par. Sexual harassment is a direct consequence of hostile behaviours rampant in day-to-day worklife, causing serious distress to women that adversely affects their productivity.

Like many other places, the participants at IIM Amritsar were also confused as they were not very clear about the cases that could be reported. It was best to clear the confusion such that they knew that direct actions such as cat calling, patting, teasing, prolonged staring etc, and indirect actions such as speaking about or general comments in the vicinity of a woman to make her uncomfortable, all can be reported.

Whether you call it confusion or blame it on the cultures and sub cultures of the society that we live in, women are not yet empowered enough to identify and report inappropriate behaviours. And to add to the grim reality, our socially and culturally accepted norms do not help such cases, which are unfortunately running into thousands. As in other session, this session also corroborated the behaviours and attitudes commonly linked to our culture. For example, one such attitude, so widely prevalent is the role that position and power plays, while silence and ignoring the issue is assumed as acceptance or weakness.

Enacting laws can only help to the extent of providing legislations. Using the law to our benefit is something that needs immediate and urgent attention. It is, therefore, imperative that every young woman, and man, knows how to identify, act, and react in a situation that may present itself.