Sexual Harassment affects all women in some form or the other. Lewd remarks, touching, wolf-whistles, "looks" are part of any woman's life, so much so that it is dismissed as normal.
Working women are no exception. In fact, working women most commonly face the backlash, to women taking new roles, which belong to male domains especially in the organized sector. In the unorganized sector also it is widely prevalent. Studies have shown that sexual harassment is still endemic, often hidden, and present in all kinds of organisations. 40-60% working women face harassment at working places.
- Subjects another person to an unwelcome act of physical intimacy, like grabbing, brushing, touching, pinching etc
- Makes an unwelcome demand or request (whether directly or by implication) for sexual favours from another person, and further makes it a condition for employment/payment of wages/increment/promotion etc.
- Makes an unwelcome remark with sexual connotations, like sexually explicit compliments/cracking loud jokes with sexual connotations/ making sexist remarks etc.
- Shows a person any sexually explicit visual material, in the form of pictures/cartoons/pin-ups/calendars/screen savers on computers/any offensive written material/pornographic e-mails/sms etc.
- It is sexual harassment if a supervisor requests sexual favours from a junior in return for promotion or other benefits or threatens to sack for non-cooperation. It is also sexual harassment for a boss to make intrusive inquiries into the private lives of employees, or persistently ask them out.
- It is sexual harassment for a group of workers to joke and snigger amongst themselves about sexual conduct in an attempt to humiliate or embarrass another person.
- If anyone displays too much interest in your sex life (or lack there of) and persistently asks you questions or makes remarks of a personal nature.
What an employer can/need to do:
- First and foremost, acknowledge that it is your legal responsibility to provide safe working environment for women free from sexual harassment and discrimination and that you can be held liable for sexual harassment by employees.
- Know that sexual harassment can have a devastating effect upon the health, confidence, morale and performance of those affected by it. The anxiety and stress produced by sexual harassment commonly leads to those subjected to it taking time off work due to sickness, being less efficient at work, or leaving their job to seek work elsewhere.
- Understand the reasons why women remain silent about sexual harassment. An absence of complaints about sexual harassment does not necessarily mean an absence of sexual harassment. It may mean that the recipients of sexual harassment think that there is no point in complaining because:
- Nothing will be done about it
- It will be trivialised
- The complainant will be subjected to ridicule
- They fear reprisals
Recognise the tangible and intangible expenses and losses organisations experience
- Costly investigation and litigation
- Negative exposure and publicity
- Embarrassing depositions
- Increased absenteeism
- Lowered employee morale
- Reduced productivity
- Decreased efficiency
- Higher employee turn over
- Erosion of organisation's brand names, goodwill, and public image
- Negative impact on stock price.
**What Steps Can women Employees Take To Prevent Sexual Harassment?
Identify/Recognise Harassment. Ask yourself the following:
- Do I agree to the behaviour?
- Does the behaviour make me uncomfortable?
- Does the behaviour violate my dignity as an individual?
- Does it violate my right to work in dignity in a safe working environment?
- Do not blame yourself. Don't ignore sexual harassment in the hope that it will go away.
- Do the unexpected: Name the behavior. Whatever he's just done, say it, and be specific. Hold the harasser accountable for his actions. Don't make excuses for him; don't pretend it didn't really happen. Take charge of the encounter and let people know what he did. Privacy protects harassers, but visibility undermines them.
- Make honest, direct statements. Speak the truth (no threats, no insults, no obscenities, no appeasing verbal fluff and padding). Be serious, straight forward, and blunt.
- Demand that the harassment stop
- Make it clear that all women have the right to be free from sexual harassment. Don't respond to the harasser's excuses or diversionary tactics
- His behavior is the issue. Say what you have to say, and repeat it if he persists. Reinforce your statements with strong, self-respecting body language
- End the interaction on your own terms, with a strong closing statement: 'You heard me. Stop harassing women'.