Breaking Down Sexual Harassment At Workplace For You!
In order to break free from the patriarchy that seeps into all our institutions including the workplace, we need to reflect on the gender biases, norms, and roles that we ascribe to. A greater sense of awareness is the first step in making sense of sexual harassment at the workplace.
As per the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act (2013):
- Any direct, implied or explicit unwelcome acts towards women at the workplace are considered sexual harassment.
- A key feature that distinguishes the physical, verbal or non-verbal act as sexual harassment is when it is unwelcomed by the recipient of the behavior.
- If the perpetrator’s conduct was welcomed by the recipient, the incident does not count as an act of sexual harassment.
- In the implementation of the law, the impact of the act on the recipient is given far more importance than the intent of the perpetrator.
The impact is given more importance because each individual experiences their personal boundaries differently. It is only after the sexual behavior, of whatever degree, has crossed the individual’s personal boundary that the question arises of whether it was welcomed or unwelcomed.
As women, we may be confused about whether a particular behavior counts as sexual harassment and what the consequences will be if it is reported. The following example may help one to understand the nuances of what counts as sexual harassment.
A woman in the purchase department of an organization noticed that a male colleague of hers would stare at her in the office. He would also follow her to the gate of the organization when she was leaving. He never said anything to her and never attempted to touch her in any way. When she mentioned this to her other female colleagues, they asked her to ignore him as he had done this to some of them in the past as well. However, he had never acted further.
This example illustrates how gender inequality is so ingrained, that sometimes women themselves tolerate behavior that is demeaning and dissuade each other from reporting such instances. On a separate note, the organization’s Internal sexual harassment committee dealing with such a report should see this as sexual harassment for the following reasons: It is an unwelcomed behavior that has crossed the recipient’s personal boundary. The behavior is persistent. And there is evidence that other colleagues have also experienced this unwelcomed behavior. It is also important to note that according to the law, a woman should be in no way penalized for making a complaint.
It is also important for a person making a complaint to understand what consequences the Internal sexual harassment committee can give the perpetrator if the investigation finds them guilty of the charge. Actions include an apology in writing, a warning, a reprimand, a transfer, withholding of a promotion or pay raise, a demotion, termination of employment, community service or counseling.
Many companies have now started adopting gender-neutral sexual harassment policies as well. It is important to ensure that your organization has a sexual harassment policy and that you and all employees of the organization are well versed with it. It is also your right to know whether your organization has a sexual harassment committee and who constitutes this committee.
Ashika Mehta practices psychotherapy in Mumbai. She has completed her Master’s in Clinical Social Work from Columbia University along with a BA in Psychology from Vassar College. Ashika also facilitates training programs for corporates and has conducted training for YPO and ASCENT.
Ashika has done intensive post-trauma work with those affected by the 26/11 terror attacks at the Breach Candy Hospital and facilitates therapy groups for those with chronic illness.
Ashika is passionate about working towards the prevention of the sex trafficking of at-risk women and children. As a Board Member of Apne Aap Women’s Collective, Ashika helps rehabilitate women in prostitution and creates educational and job opportunities for the children of sex workers.
To know more about Ashika Mehta, you can visit her website by clicking here.