An unwelcome touch by a colleague, being ogled at, being shown pornographic photographs or being gossiped about personal preferences — all these could amount to sexual harassment of a woman at workplace.
Despite the Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, the fear of an adverse impact on career often forces many women to not report the harassment at all, several speakers said at a programme in the city on Friday.
“Sexual harassment at workplace is a very subjective concept that can take different forms and shapes which women need to be aware of,” said advocate Ramya Hariharan.
Hariharan elaborated on what is a workplace.
“A workplace is no longer confined to your office. Any place you visit during the course of employment is your workplace,” she said.
“If a colleague sends you an objectionable text message after your working hours, that too would amount to sexual harassment at the workplace,” she added.
The advocate stressed the fact that the concept of sexual harassment was as dynamic as that of “consent”.
Women need to know that the element of consent always has to come from the giver and not the other way round.
“If a woman does not say ‘no’, it is often taken as a ‘yes’ by men. But that’s wrong. There has to be a clear expression giving consent to participate in the act, violation of which could lead to sexual harassment. It should be unequivocal and voluntary,” she said.
“Women often stay silent fearing an adverse impact on their jobs if the person concerned happens to be the boss or the employer. So even if someone gives consent fearing impact on her job, that can’t be considered as consent actually.”
The talk on “Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace” was organised by the Indian Women Network, a wing of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
Much of the talk was on the Vishakha guidelines, which were laid down by the Supreme Court to counter sexual harassment at workplace.
Former Bengal advocate general Kishore Dutta emphasised the need for the law (prevention of sexual harassment of women act) to protect the rights of working women.
“The law has become relevant because more and more women have started working now. They are stepping out to participate in the family’s earning. This law has created a difference between offenders who are accused of outrage of modesty and the ones who commit the same offence inside the workplace of the woman,” Dutta said.
Dutta said another aspect that had become pertinent was discrimination on the basis of gender.
“If I have a male and a female junior colleague and if I allot a particular work to the male colleague without looking into the capabilities of both juniors, just because of a frame of mind that a woman would not be able to do the work, is a form of sex discrimination,” Dutta said.
Dutta and Hariharan both said it was most important to report any form of harassment to the internal complaints committee in office.