The problem of sexual harassment in work place is increasingly coming out of the closet. The case of Tarun Tejpal, managing editor of the news magazine Tehalka is a case in point. This particular case has brought this issue on the center stage as more victims are gathering courage to complain such offences.
After of Tarun Tejpal's case a public debate is raging in the country how to control the such incidents in future. This is because the sexual dimension such cases have implications on personal, psychological, moral and marital status of an individual.
Sexual harassment occurs in the workplace due to unwelcome, unwanted, uninvited, action or behavior of a person that causes discomfort, humiliation, offence or distress to the other. Majority of such cases are directed towards woman by men working at high position in an organization.
Sexual harassment at a workplace is unwelcome behavior as it affects not only the terms conditions of employment but also have huge bearing on the working environment of an organization. Therefore this problem has to be understood looking at its causes and possible remedies for its effective control.
What is Sexual harassment?
In India, sexual harassment is termed as 'eve teasing' and is described as: unwelcome sexual gesture or behavior whether directly or indirectly such as sexually colored remarks; physical contact and advances; showing pornography; a demand or request for sexual favors; any other unwelcome physical, verbal,non-verbal conduct being sexual in nature, passing sexually offensive comments or any other such behavior.
What is considered as Sexual harassment
Sexual harassment includes a long list of things. It is necessary to put them here in some detail in order to caution those who may indulge in such activity. Its actual or attempted rape or sexual assault, unwanted pressure for sexual favors, unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering, or pinching, unwanted sexual looks or gestures, unwanted letters, telephone calls, or materials of a sexual nature, unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions.
It also includes referring to an adult, as a girl, doll, babe, or honey, whistling seeing a lady, cat calls, sexual comments, turning work discussions to sexual topics, sexual innuendos or stories, asking about sexual fantasies, preferences, or history. Sexual comments on a lady's clothing, anatomy, or looks. Spreading rumors about personal life of a woman.
There are many causes of sexual harassment but most important one is the culture and values system and the relative power and status of the men and women in our society.
The way in which men and women are brought up in India strongly influences their behavior in an organization. Women often lack self confidence because of the way they have been socialized and are customized to suffer in silence.
Whereas men are brought up with macho beliefs, who consider females a mere toy to play with and easily carry these values into the workplace. Such patriarchal viewpoints create a atmosphere that allows men the freedom of sexual harassment in the workplace, while women remain vulnerable.
Women are vulnerable to sexual harassment because they more often lack power and often work in an insecure positions. Due to the fear factor women often resign to their fate rather than raise their voice against sexual harassment. Since they do not know where to go for complain and how their complain would be treated, they often keep quit and suffer in ignominy.
Some times sexual harassment is also seen as a power game, where man insists on sexual favors in exchange of benefits he can dispense with due to his prevailed position. The 'casting couch' is probably the best-known example of such power game.
As recent economic and social changes have changed power relations between men and women in the Indian society, men are feeling a sense of insecurity. With women now being empowered, some men feel threatened by their career advancement. To over come such insecure feelings, some men resort to harassing women in the work place.
Sometimes men are stressed in the work place because even after putting their best, they do not get proper recognition, where as women with little talent are preferred for being fair sex in an organization. This sometimes causes frustration and such men resort to sexual harassment to overcome their stress.
Its not only men who are to be blamed all the time, some women think that the real women have to look sexy. They see sexuality as their only power base to play along. Such attitude of women sometimes invites sexual advances by men at the work place and then become a case of sexual harassment.
One of the major reason that sexual harassment goes on unabated because the organization in order to safeguard its image do not entertain complaint and disciplinary procedures to deal with sexual harassment.
In order to check sexual harassment, an organization should have clear cut policy to register complaints of such nature and procedure for taking disciplinary action. Such guidelines is already available through Supreme Court judgment, its only its implementation that is required.
Every organization should have an effective employment policy that should ensure well planned career paths based on merit to reduce the vulnerability of individuals and harassment by those who abuse their power and authority.
There should be awareness among the staff members about sexual harassment and the consequences they may face if they indulge in such an act. They should know their social responsibilities to prevent such incident in their organization.
The staff member subjected to sexual harassment must first complain to the committee members constituted for such purposes in the organization, before going to the police.
Sexual harassment in a work place is a sensitive issue. It cannot be checked merely providing staff members information about the sexual harassment policy or relying on disciplinary action. The organization must play proactive role, provide behavioral support and discuss this aspect as a part of the work routine. The staff must nurture an inclusive, supportive, and respectful environment in the office in order to build a congenial working atmosphere.
Equally important is that the organization must support the victim of sexual harassment, and help to overcome the negative effects of such an experience.
Finally, every working women must know that it is high time to stand up and fight for such injustices. Its only then sexual harassment in work place can be checked.