Women are the pride of our country. They are seen as the fulcrum of our society yet till date are subjugated when it comes to the norm of gender equality. Crimes against women is nothing new in the contemporary statecraft. The most dominant being sexual offences against women, primary of such offences being sexual harassment of women at workplace.
A safe workplace is therefore a woman’s legal right. The Constitutional doctrine of equality and personal liberty is contained in Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. These articles promulgate that a person has to be given the right to equal protection under the law, to live a life free from discrimination on any ground and to protection of life and personal liberty.
This is further reinforced by the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979 and which is ratified by India. Often pronounced as an international bill of rights for women, it calls for the equality of women and men in expressions of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural and civil spheres.
Sexual harassment therefore comes across as a gross violation of human and fundamental rights. For elevating the position of woman from the misery of sexual harassment the legislation has brought about the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. This is an important piece of legislation that has come to the rescue of several women across the country.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013: An endeavor of the legislature to eradicate sexual harassment
Section 3(1) of the aforementioned act clearly promulgates that no woman is to be subjected to sexual harassment at workplace. The act includes all women whether engaged directly or through an agent including a contractor, with or without the knowledge of the principal employer are to be included under the ambit of aggrieved women as per the provisions of the act.
It further makes provision for women working for remuneration, on a voluntary basis or otherwise. Their terms of employment could be express or implied. The act goes on to say that aggrieved woman would also include a co-worker, a contract worker, probationer, trainee, apprentice, or called by any other such name. The Act also covers a woman, who is working in a dwelling place or house. The act also defines the term “workplace” and “employer” exhaustively to bring greater areas under its ambit.
Insight into Sexual Harassment and its ingredients
The term “Sexual Harassment” includes anyone or more of the following unwelcome acts or behaviour (whether directly or by implication), namely:
- Physical contact or advances;
- A demand or request for sexual favours;
- Making sexually coloured remarks;
- Showing pornography;
- Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature
Thus, the intent of the legislature is quite evident here, where they have broadened the horizon of the definition of sexual harassment for benefiting the victim of the aforementioned act.
Redressal Mechanism for an aggrieved woman under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
The provisions of the act also provides helpful information on who can complain, to whom, and what a complaint should contain. It also gives information and lays out the steps involved when a complaint has reached the Complaints Committee, in terms of the process, findings and recommendations.
Contents of the complaint: The written complaint should predominantly contain the following information:-
- A description of each incident(s).
- It should include all the relevant dates, timings and locations;
- Name of the respondent(s); and
- The working relationship between the parties.
- A person designated to manage the workplace sexual harassment complaint is required to provide assistance in writing of the complaint if the complainant seeks it for any reason.
Rights of the Complainant: The act also recognizes the following rights of the complainants:-
- An empathetic attitude from the Complaints Committee so that she can state her grievance in a fearless environment
- A copy of the statement along with all the evidence and a list of witnesses submitted by the respondent
- Keeping her identity confidential throughout the process
- Support, in lodging FIR in case she chooses to lodge criminal proceedings
- In case of fear of intimidation from the respondent, her statement can be recorded in absence of the respondent
- Right to appeal, in case, not satisfied with the recommendations/findings of the Complaints Committee
Rights of the Respondent: The act also recognizes the following rights of the respondents:-
- A patient hearing to present his case in a non-biased manner
- A copy of the statement along with all the evidence and a list of witnesses submitted by the complainant
- Keeping his identity confidential throughout the process
- Right to appeal in case not satisfied with the recommendations/findings of the Complaints Committee
The Sexual Harassment Complaint Process: The complaint process incorporates several stages, these stages are listed below:-
Receipt of the complaint. This step is the preliminary step. It further includes the following:
- Receiving and acknowledging the complaint,
- Meeting and talking to the complainant to explore the options for formal and informal resolution,
- Informal mechanism
- Formal mechanism
- Respondent and response
Planning Carefully: This step is the preliminary step. It further includes the following:
- Preparing the file and
Interviews: This step is the preliminary step. It further includes the following:
- Preparing an interview plan for the hearing : Complainant , Witness and Respondent
- Assessing the completeness of the information collected
Reasoning: This step is the preliminary step. It further includes the following:
- Analyzing and assessing the information gathered during the enquiry
- Creating a timeline to help establish the sequence of events related to the complaints
- Comparing similarities and differences with each of the statements made by the interviewees.
Findings and Recommendations: This step is the preliminary step. It further includes the following:
- Jotting down all the relevant findings and
- Pitching forth all the noteworthy recommendations
Reporting: The last stage involved includes the drafting of the written report.
In the contemporary times the workplace sexual harassment can no longer be dismissed as some moral transgression. This is because it is a heinous offence and it’s high time that women are uplifted from this pitiable condition and are allowed to fight for what is their right.
The Vishaka Guidelines has raised that bar, when for the first time it recognized that each incident of sexual harassment is to be interpreted as a gross a violation of the fundamental right to equality. That notion has found its way into the aforementioned Act, which promotes the right of women as citizens to a workplace free of the cruelty of sexual harassment.
Complaints Committees at all workplaces are now charged with the additional role to ensure that the right remains intact, through a fair, informed, user-friendly process of redress. Prioritizing prevention and establishing an adequate redress mechanism, which comprises of 50 per cent women, a woman chair and an external third party expert, is India’s innovative model in responding to working women’s experience of sexual harassment.
It is the first step and there is still a long way in eradicating this menace completely. Assuming adequate changes follow, in both law and practice to meet global benchmarks, that model can evolve into one of the best practice that the country has seen till date. To get there, workplaces in India today, must rise to the requirement of promoting gender equality and recognizing women not merely as a sex object but as a human-being having integrity and dignity.