On Wednesday, 10th September we had a workshop on Sexual Harassment by Advocate Ms Sandhya. There were 4 sessions so that everyone could participate well. Mine started at 10 am. The workshop was conducted as a part of the Sexual Harassment of Women at workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 passed by the Parliament. It was a two hour session. At first, Sandhya presented two scenarios of sexual harassment. Then, she posed to the audience the question of how they would react to the situation. It was interesting to see a mixed set of opinions from different people and it made us understand how sensitive the issue actually was. Later, the meaning of the words “aggrieved woman”, “appropriate government”, “employee”, “employer” were discussed in the context of the Act.
Next, a few myths regarding sexual harassment were discussed. This was the part where most of the audience got actively involved. A lot of questions were raised, and the interesting thing was that most of them were from the men’s side. There was a lot of discussion on the issue of proper dressing and whether it has a role to play in case of sexual harassment. Sandhya replied by emphasizing on the need for a proper dress code for every institution. But, she also insisted that outside the institution – out in the society – every women should have the right to wear what they like, depending on their comfort and choice. An opinion I totally agree with!
The importance of an Internal Complaints Committee within every organization was the next topic that was discussed. According to the Act, every workplace must have an ICC consisting of a presiding officer and two members who are committed to the cause of women. Any complaint relating to sexual harassment can be made in writing to the ICC, within a period of three months from the date of the incident. We were shown two such incidents of sexual harassment that happened outside India and how the situation was dealt with there. It was a bit disheartening to think as to why India is behind in providing such an environment for women. But I am sure that if the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act. is implemented in letter and spirit, we will see a better India – one that is safer for women.
Some other important points relating to the issue were also discussed, which included documentation. Ms. Sandhya mentioned that whenever one confronts a situation that is unpleasant or disturbing in anyway, one should make a note of it on a daily basis, so that later on if a problem arises, documentation can be displayed. It could also become a proof in such cases. Also, any such incident, however small it might seem, should not be ignored and must be dealt with immediately. The need to speak out about any issues that one faces is also critical. This can help in solving the problems faster, and with firmness.
The final part of the session was a Q&A session. Again, it was the men who were more active here! And that was because they were totally irritated as to why there were no laws for men! The law was inclined only to women and children – so, yeah, you can’t blame them for asking that. There should be some laws for men too in my opinion. As my friend said, ‘Why should girls have all the laws!’ What if a women faked a complaint? This was another question that worried the men folk! But then, only 2% of such cases have been reported to be fake.
On the whole, it was a very informative session and as a working woman who has just entered the workforce, I understand the relevance and importance of these laws that the government has created for our protection.
About Advocate Sandhya
Sandhya is the Director of the Women’s Justice Initiative, HRLN (Human Rights and Law Network). She is a practicing advocate with 10 years of experience and was nominated to be part of the International Senior Leaders visitors programme in 2007 by the American consulate. She was also instrumental in setting up the HRLN Kochi Unit in 2002. She has obtained her degree of Law from National Law school of India, Bangalore and LLM from the University of Mumbai. She has also brought out a book on Domestic Violence and the Law, published by HRLN. She is a Member of the Statutory Body of the Local Level Committee under the National Trust Act and also Member of the State Level Advisory team for the Government of Kerala on the Domestic Violence Act. HRLN is a collective of lawyers and social activists dedicated to the use of the legal system to advance human rights in India and the sub-continent.