Standard of Living at the Workplace: Then and Now

Updated: May 15


Sexual harassment at the workplace is an insult to the fundamental rights of a woman. It is defined as uninvited sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. However, harassment need not be of a sexual nature, it can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex too. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about her in general. The protection against sexual harassment at workplace is an universally recognized human right under Convention on Elimination from All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)[1]. Approx twenty-three years of Vishaka Judgement has passed but the standard of living at workplaces against women counterpart is still not so goal oriented.  It is quite pertinent that globalization has accelerated the way for women to enter the field of employment to lead a dignified life[2] but an inclination of the horrible behavior patterns prevailing in the Indian Society giving rise to the emergence of one of the least recognized and most appalling crimes. Such a behavior pattern not only defying the noble goals of equality, life and liberty to all but also creating an insecure and hostile work environment discouraging the women counterpart to participate effectively in social and economic empowerment[3]. The status of Indian women has been at jeopardy through the centuries. If people are not safe even at their respective places of work, then it is a shame for a country like India where the moral values and principles are given great importance[4]. Due to compelling socio-economic conditions women are forced to go out for the sake of earning. However, their involvement is not new but the magnitude of their involvement has grown from past decades. With the change in the outlook, attitudes and approach towards living, it has now become necessary for the families with inadequate incomes to supplement their requirements through additional earnings.

One most important change which can be noticed with regard to such a grave personal attack on women’s minds and bodies is that until now, women have silently endured the sexual harassment at workplace, considering it to be a normal occupational hazard, but with increasing liberation in women’s and society’s outlook the facts regarding this are coming out in open. Such a behavior pattern is accepted by the person at workplace so that woman’s subordinate social status is maintained. After Vishaka guidelines somehow rural women managed to speak up, to get over their fear and to come in front of the society and speak up but not in much effective way. These guidelines initiated a conversation in India, for the first time, to prohibit such a hazardous environment at workplace and ensure safe working environment. Our main concern is whether ignoring such problem can combat the behavioral pattern of patriarchy motivated people at the workplace? Is the problem so small that it can be ignored? No one asks for such an attack on one’s freedom. Everyone has the right to work and live in an environment that’s free from harassment, bullying, discrimination and violence. Sexual harassment is illegal (under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984)[5]. In the male influenced Indian society the efforts are too limited to implement the guidelines laid down in Vishaka’s judgement. Women’s perceptions and experiences of sexual harassment confirms the prolonged conditions of sexual harassment at workplace, the unwillingness of women to invoke the complaints mechanisms in punishing the perpetration[6]. Further, the government had made an official commitment inter alia, to formulate and operationalise a national policy on women and to set up a commission for women’s rights which will act as a public defender of women’s human rights at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.[7] Recently the Apex Court has made a remark in a writ petition and the bench made observations regarding Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and said:


“The Act was enacted to provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace as well as for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment at the workplace is an affront to the fundamental rights of a woman to equality under Articles 14 and 15 and her right to live with dignity under Article 21”[8].

It is important to understand that sexual harassment is a socio-legal issue surrounded by shame, stigma and confusion. A general code of conduct or behavioural pattern may not address the requirements and specifics of the issue. Formulations at an institutional level which can ensure an empathetic response, sensitive handling, mature investigation and prompt implementation of recommendations is compulsory to combat such a loose standard of living at workplaces. Therefore, in accordance with the law, the private sector organizations to need to clearly articulate their position by upholding their code of conduct to prevent and address sexual harassment at the workplace, and by having a transparent system of redressal.[9]

Thus going through such facts and circumstances makes it clear that such a shortcoming on the part of society at workplaces not only leads to gross violation of human rights of harassed but it also challenges the upbringing of the nation. The elimination of gender-based discrimination has been one of the fundamentals of the Constitutional edifice of India.[10] And in country like India the harassment is most often gender oriented, influenced by male influenced patriarchal system. From then to now many things have been changed, the environment at workplaces are also noticing changes in behavior patterns, it is mandatory for every individual, more often females, to raise voice against hostile working conditions, offensive remarks and so on. Hostile environment in any form whether sexual, physical or oral is detriment to the normal working conditions. Our mission 2020 shall be to implement zero-tolerance policies towards such an environment and take an affirmative action against any offensive and reputational risks.


References

[1] https://taxguru.in/corporate-law/metoo-sexual-harassment-women-workplace.html?amp

[2] Dr.Ratna R. Bharamgoudar; SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT WORKPLACE: A DIGNITY WRONG ON WOMEN, Pg 5; DATE DOWNLOADED: Wed Mar 4 14:44:10 2020.

[3]GEETHA К К; Bill on Sexual Harassment: Against Women's Rights, 04-03-2020 18:41 UTC:   https://www.jstor.org/stable/41419731.

[4] Sugandha Sehgal &Deepti Chauhan; Safety at Work Places? , pg 273,  Journal of Business, Law & Review: A Publication of Jus Dicere & Co.

[5] https://au.reachout.com/articles/what-is-sexual-harassment

[6] Dr.Ratna R. Bharamgoudar; SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT WORKPLACE: A DIGNITY WRONG ON WOMEN, pg 7, Wed Mar 4 14:44:10 2020.

[7] GEETHA K K; Bill on Sexual Harassment: Against Women's Rights, Accessed: 04-03-2020 18:41 UTC,  https://www.jstor.org/stable/41419731.

[8] https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/sexual-harassment-at-workplace-affront-to-womens-fundamental-rights-153686.

[9] ANAGHA SARPOTDAR; Sexual Harassment of Women: Reflections on the Private Sector, 04-03-2020 18:43 UTC,  https://www.jstor.org/stable/23528399

[10] India’s Law on Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace; http://www.nishithdesai.com/fileadmin/user_upload/pdfs/Research%20Papers/Prevention_of_Sexual_Harassment_at_Workplace.pdf.


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