Comment

To Prevent Harassment

To Prevent Harassment
26th March 2013

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2012 was passed by the Parliament on Feburary 26, 2013.

Passing a law is but one step in the long journey towards gender justice in the workplace and in society in general. To make the law effective, people in all workplaces must be aware of the law, be committed to ensuring a safe working environment, and know how to handle complaints in a timely and dignified manner. This will require awareness, policy advocacy and legal actions, both in the organized and unorganized sector, and also to extend this to the Armed Forces, which are not covered by the current act. It is an arduous task and needs much more support from the government, courts, and employers, along with organizations of women, workers and lawyers who have been concerned with this issue for decades. Many people have written about the issues concerning difficulty of reporting and proving harassment, safeguarding against retaliation for reporting, especially in cases where one does not obtain a conviction.

To prevent sexual harassment of women at the workplace, however, we need to prevent more than sexual harassment alone. We also need to prevent discrimination of women. To address the issue of equal pay for equal work, one must first value the work that women do. In many fields men and women are segregated and men’s work is paid more. Even so, men and women must be paid at the minimum wage (Rs. 115 / day) or higher. Though the Constitution of India guarantees equality before the law and Article 39d specifically states that “that there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women,” most working women in India earn less than their male counterparts and often earn below minimum wage.

Fighting for minimum wages is no simple task. Recently a team from Hyderabad responded to a call from bonded laborers in the brick kiln industry. While trying to meet the workers, the people faced assault and threats of abuse and murder. Though they contacted many government officials and media persons to witness the plight of the workers, there were ignored, both before and after the attacks.

These are the kinds of battles that those concerned about ensuring safe and dignified workplaces need to fight. As long as threats like those faced by the concerned citizens from Hyderabad go uninvestigated and unpunished, the environment will not be safe for men or women workers to report harassment and oppression, nor for concerned citizens to extend solidarity.

For further reading …

Attack on Volunteers Investigating the Condition of Workers at Brick Kiln in AP
March 19, 2013, http://sanhati.com/articles/6239/

Parliament passes Bill to prevent sexual harassment at workplace
Gargi Parsai, February 26, 2013,
http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/parliament-passes-bill-to-prevent-sexual-harassment-at-workplace/article4455795.ece

Sexual harassment of women at workplace bill 2012 passed by Lok Sabha
September 6, 2012
http://www.lawyerscollective.org/blog/sexual-harassment-women-workplace-bill-2012-passed-lok-sabha.html

Kiran Moghe (2007), Maharashtra President of AIDWA (All-India Democratic Women’s Association)
“Almost 400 million people – more than 85% of the working population in India – work in the unorganised sector. Of these, at least 120 million are women.”
from “Understanding the Unorganized Sector” http://infochangeindia.org/agenda/women-a-work/understanding-the-unorganised-sector.html

A Brief History of the Battle Against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace
Vibhuti Patel, 2005
http://infochangeindia.org/women/analysis/a-brief-history-of-the-battle-against-sexual-harassment-at-the-workplace.html

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