VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT THE WORKPLACE
Anuradha* and Prof. D. Pulla Rao**
Gender violence manifests itself in various forms starting with female foeticide and infanticide, sexual abuse, incest, molestation, sexual harassment at work, marital rape, domestic violence by husband and in-laws.
The government of India has enacted much women-specific legislation to protect them against violence and discrimination. Despite the existence of special legislations, special protection to women, etc., the proportion of crime against women as compared to the rest of the IPC crimes has increased from 3.5 percent in 1998 to 9.3 percent in 2015. Torture (cruelty by husband and his relatives) occupies the first place and accounts for 37.68 percent of crimes followed by molestation which is 23.59 percent. Both these crimes account for 55 to 60 percent during the period 1996 to 2015. Rape, kidnapping and abduction cases account for 22 to 26 percent while sexual harassment, dowry death, and others account for the rest.
Sexual harassment is “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature”, which has a negative consequence on where you work, or live, or receive services. It can be verbal or physical. Sexual harassment often occurs in a situation where the assault has more power than the victim. The incidence of sexual harassment and eve-teasing are not new in India. Sexual harassment of women at the workplace has an adverse impact on women’s employment. There are 5,671 sexual harassment cases registered in India, which constitute 4.90 percent to total crime in 1996 and it increased to 130195 which constitutes 21.4 percent in 2015.
To sum up, there is a persistent increase in all forms of crimes including sexual harassment against women. It is essential for the government and the society at large to address this issue not only for safeguarding the dignity and person of women but also to realize the Constitutional goal of gender equality. There is a need for an action plan to create awareness amongst women regarding their rights for better living.
Discrimination and exploitation on the basis of gender constitute a serious issue which effectively means that half the human race is unable to realize its potential and condemned to sub-optional standards of existence. This problem has received worldwide attention and several efforts have been made to bridge the seemingly ever-widening gap. Yet, even after years of efforts to integrate women into the mainstream development process, the effectivity of the same remains to be questioned owing to a multitude of factors that aid the continued marginalization of women. Women’s equal access to education, health, employment, and political space still remain distant goals in almost all the countries of the world. One of the most serious impediments to women’s development is the phenomenon of continuing and increasing violence against them. Needless to say, this constitutes a serious violation of a woman’s human rights. Gender violence manifests itself in various forms – female foeticide and infanticide, sexual abuse, incest, molestation, sexual harassment at work and on the streets, marital rape, domestic violence in the form of wife assault and women battering. Of all the forms of violence that women face, domestic violence remains the least reported and largely suppressed.
Violence against women is socially a very sensitive issue and more so in our country where we have a special place for ‘Family Honour’. Any act which affects the family honor is not tolerated and very strongly put down. Therefore the acts of violence are seldom talked-out of the family and its close confines.
Violence against women is widespread and viewed as one of the cruelest social mechanisms to suppress women. Unequal power relations have led to discrimination against women. Violence on women manifests even before birth and early life, married life as domestic violence, rape, murder, dowry death, etc.
The basic reason for violence against women is their inferior status educationally, economically, politically, and socially- in a male-dominated society. Other factors responsible for increasing criminalization of society, media images inadequate means to address the cause and consequences of violence; poor enforcement of legal provisions, unabashed consumerism, and erosion of family values have all added to it. Over the past decade, there has been a growing awareness of this phenomenon and its long-term impact on women empowerment. The media reports extensively on dowry deaths, rape, molestation, incest, assault, etc. and give out information that was virtually unavailable till a few years ago.
Categories of violence against woman in India
Though woman’s movement has had a long history of raising various concerns, violence was not the central issue until the late seventies. Around the late seventies the issues like dowry, wife-beating were at the forefront and through them, women’s concerns were expressed. Initially, the measure like legal aid centers and counseling services were taken by the Government and Non-Governmental Organisations. That was the starting point. The issue of violence against women started coming into the forefront from the early eighties onwards. The issue was widely discussed and advocated due to the continuous efforts of woman’s organizations and activists. Very broadly, if we want to assess the situation of today, we can categorize violence against women in the following manner:
|Violence within family|
|Wife beating and battering||Impact of patriarchal values|
|Dowry deaths||· Domination and control within family|
|· Sexual abuse of female children||· Cultural reasons|
|· Incest at all stages of a woman’s life|
|· Unwanted pregnancy|
|· Female foeticide and infanticide|
|Violence within community or society at large|
|· Sexual Harassment , molestation and intimidation at work||· Women’s rights over their bodies denied|
|· Rape||· Feminization of poverty|
|· Kidnapping and abduction
· Sexual abuse
|· commercial Interests of Sex work industry|
|· Stripping and shaming of women|
|· Forced prostitution|
|· Caste and communal violence|
|Violence in difficult circumstances like Wars and Riots|
|· Rape||· Occupation by opponent’s military|
|· Sexual harassment and abuse||· War crimes
Incidence of Offences against Women by Category
The data in Table-1 represent the incidence of crimes committed against women during1996-2015. Torture (by husband and relatives) occupies the first place and accounts for 37.68 percent of crimes followed by molestation (23.29 %). Both these crimes account for 55 to 60 percent from 1996 to 2015. Rape, kidnapping and abduction cases account for 22 to 26 percent while sexual harassment, dowry death, and others account for the rest.
Of the nine categories of violence, crimes such as torture, rape, kidnapping & abduction, dowry death, and others have increased in 2015 over 2003. Sexual harassment has increased from 8.77 percent in 2003 to 21.4 percent in 2015 due to the intervention of government and follow up action taken to fulfill the directions of Hon’ble Supreme Court.
Andhra Pradesh (with 7.3 % of the population) has accounted for 12.3 percent of total incidents of crime (2949400 cases) in 2015. Uttar Pradesh (with 16.4 % population), has accounted for 10.0 percent of crime against women (115485 cases) in 2015. Six states viz., Andhra Pradesh (12.3 %) Uttar Pradesh (9.9 %), Rajasthan (8.5 %), Maharashtra (7.9 %), and West Bengal (7.2 %) contribute 56 percent of total crimes in 2015.
Table – 1: Category-wise Incidence of Crime in India: 1996-2015
|Types of crimes||1996||1997||1998||1999||2000||2001||2002||2003||2004||2015
Source: GOI, Crime in India, 2001, National Crime Records Bureau, 2003 and 2005, 2015.
Sexual Harassment at Workplace
Even working women are not free from sexual harassment. The non-working are harassed at home while the workings are harassed at the workplace. Sex discrimination and sexual harassment in employment are serious and pervasive problems for women throughout the world. Woman suffers from discrimination in every phase of the employment process– at the time of recruitment and hiring process; in the terms and conditions of women’s employment, and harassment at work-place. Women’s fundamental rights to employment opportunities as well as to just and favorable working conditions are not protected by any phase of the legal process everywhere in the World.
Sexual harassment is not an expression of sexuality; it is an assertion of power in a situation of unequal power relations. Whether it takes the form of physical molestation, verbal comments or jokes of sexual nature, the result is the same; it undermines women professionally and their right to a respectful working environment.
Sexual exploitation of women by employers, contractors, middle-men, and others is another serious issue related to working women. Such instances are more in the informal sector. Women workers in domestic service, fish processing, and drying units, forest produce collection, etc. are more vulnerable to sexual harassment. Those working under the control of contractors and middle-men, especially those working far away from home are sometimes, tortured, threatened, trapped or forced to submit to the lust of the contractor or his men. Instances of sexual harassment, though not that rampant are found in the organized sector also. Ill-treatment, the threat of transfer to distant places, etc. are the other forms of harassment in the organized sector.
For years, sexual harassment at the workplace has been a grey area and due to workplace hierarchy, sexually harassed women are unlikely to complain. Often, she is economically and emotionally dependent on her aggressor. Most of the cases of sexual harassment go unreported for various reasons, for example, due to social stigma, fear of retaliation, and so on. Apart from the fear of losing the job and economic security, a woman also faces psychological trauma and social stigma. Fear of re-victimization, by the legal system also compels her against reporting to higher authorities.
The brave women who come forward to report sexual harassment at the workplace are only the tip of the iceberg. Studies show that most of the women do not report harassment and that usually, only the most outrageous behavior leads to lawsuits. Plaintiffs are more likely to lose their jobs than to win monetary compensations and settlements.
What is sexual harassment?
According to the Supreme Court definition, sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexually determined behavior, such as:
- Physical contact
- A demand or request for sexual favors
- Sexually colored remarks
- Showing pornography
- Any other physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.
Sexual harassment takes place if a person:
- 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 favors from another person, and further makes it a condition for employment/payment of wages/increment/promotion, etc.
- Makes an unwelcome remark with sexual connections, like sexually explicit compliments/cracking loud jokes with sexual connections/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 materials/ pornographic e-mails, etc.
- Engages in any other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which could be verbal, or even non-verbal, like staring to make the other person uncomfortable, making offensive gestures, kissing sounds, etc.
It is sexual harassment if a supervisor requests sexual favors from a junior in return for a 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.
Types of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment at the workplace is generally classified into two distinct types:
- Quid Pro Quo:
“Quid pro quo” means seeking sexual favor or advances in exchange for work benefits and it occurs when consent to sexually explicit behavior or speech is made a condition for employment or refusal to comply with a ‘request’ is met with retaliatory action such as dismissal, demotion, difficult work conditions.
- Hostile working environment:
“Hostile working environment” is more pervasive form of sexual harassment involving work conditions or behavior that makes the work of environment “hostile” for the woman to be in certain sexist remarks, display of pornography or sexist/obscene graffiti, physical contact/brushing against female employees are some examples of hostile work environment, which are not made conditions for employment.
Reasons for Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace
Through legal and constitutional supports are available, yet women are deprived of their rights, which is responsible for their suffering/harassment at the workplace. Some factors which make them stagnant are as follows.
(i). As the bureaucratic set-up is too complex, too slow, too distant even expensive, despite exploitation women do not want to enter the troubled water. If bureaucrats were honest and serious, then the situation could have been different. A few years back Kiran Vedi stood up against such powerful male bureaucrat and won the case. However, every woman is not a powerful woman like Mrs.Vedi.
(ii). As the judicial process is very time taking and expensive, a suffered woman does not want to enter in those jeopardized situations. Moreover, she chooses to keep silence as an expression of her degenerated story would harm her reputation. A raped victim is more highlighted than the rapist.
(iii). When one exploited woman makes a report, it becomes an issue and attracts media. Till the case is not solved, the matter supplies spices to the information world, which the already humiliated dislikes.
(iv). Today’s modernization, mechanization, industrialization, urbanization have caused greater influence in the commission of the sexual offense, like sexual harassment. The modern cinema also bears a major part of the responsibility for senseless violence. Hardly there is a movie in which the villain does not either modest the heroines or make an attempt to seduce her.
Constitutional and legal rights for women in India
The Constitution of India guarantees both rights and privileges to women through Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policies.
- Article-14 confers on men and women equal rights and opportunities in political, economic and social spheres.
- Article-15 prohibits discrimination against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, etc.
- Article-15(3) special provisions enabling the state to make affirmative discrimination in favor of women.
- Article-16 provides for equality of opportunities.
- Article-39(a) Mentions policy security of state equality for both men and women, the right to a means of livelihood
- Article-39(c) Ensures equal pay for equal work.
- Article-42 Direct the state to make provision for ensuring just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief.
Above all, the Constitution imposes a fundamental duty on every citizen through Article-51(A/C) to renounce policies derogatory to the dignity of humans.
- Legal provisions
In order to safeguard the various constitutional rights and provide free and fair justice, the state has enacted many women-specific and woman related legislations.
- Factories Act 1948 (Amended up to 1976):- Under this Act, a woman cannot be forced to work beyond 8 hours and prohibits employment of women except between 6 A.M and 7 P.M.
- The equal remuneration Act of 1976: This Act provides an equal wage for equal work.
- The child Marriage Restraint Act of 1976: This Act raises the age for marriage of a girl to 18 years from 15 years and that of a boy to 21 years.
- Maternity Benefits Act 1961: A woman is entitled 12 weeks of maternity leave.
- Indian Penal Code- Sections 354 and 509 safeguard the interests of women.
- The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961: The amendment brought in 1948 made the husband or in-laws punishable if a woman commits suicide within 7 years of her marriage.
- The medical termination of pregnancy Act of 1971: The Act legalizes abortion by qualified professionals on humanitarian grounds.
- Amendments to criminal law 1983: Provides for the punishment of 7 years in ordinary cases of rape and 10 years for custodial rape cases.
- 73rd /74th Amendment (Constitutional) Act, 1992: It provides for reservation of 1/3 of seats in panchayat and urban local bodies for women.
- The National Commission for Women Act, 1990: It provides for the set-up of a statutory body of National Commission for Women, to review the constitutional and legal safeguards for women. The commission was set-up in January 1992.
- The protection of Human Rights Act, 1993: This Act provides for the Constitution of the National Human Rights Commission and State Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Court for better protection of Human Rights.
Women constitute almost about half of the nation’s human resources. Their participation in the national building as equal partners is of vital importance. Discrimination and exploitation on the basis of gender constitute a serious issue which effectively means that half the human race is unable to realize its potential and condemned to sub-optional standards of existence. This problem has received worldwide attention and several efforts have been made to bridge the seemingly ever-widening gap. All our efforts to integrate women into the mainstream development process could not solve the main problem. A number of factors are responsible for the continued marginalization of women. Women’s access to education, health, employment, and political power still remain distant goals in many countries of the world. One of the most serious impediments to women’s development is the phenomenon of continuing and increasing sexual violence particularly sexual abuse, incest, molestation, sexual harassment at work and marital rape.
The problem of sexual harassment can be treated as a form of sex discrimination and a violation of human rights to equality. It is not a problem between the two individuals, the harasser and the harassed, but also organizational problems since it occurs within the groups, such as academic institutions, commercial organizations, and government agencies, etc.
Sexual harassment at the workplace is pervasive and predominantly endured by females. Yet, despite the publicity given against sexual harassment, it remains hidden by most of its victims. Sexual harassment of women is not only a legal issue; it is also a psychological and social issue. The perpetration of sexual harassment at the workplace is a problem without any perceivable dimensions and the society needs to answer these legitimate questions through their corrective actions, so as to arrest the future degeneration in the society. While analyzing the ratio of sex crimes, the crime rate is phenomenally high, as the conviction percentage is very low. This displays the hedonistic attitude of this generation. Therefore, there is an urgent need to protect the basic human rights of working women against sexual harassment at the workplace and also it is essential that multi-dimensional intervention program both individual and organizational level needs to be emphasized. It is essential for the government and the society at large to address this issue not only for safeguarding the dignity and person of women but also to realize the Constitutional goal of gender equality. There is a need for an action plan to create awareness amongst women regarding their rights for better living along with full protection to the victims.
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