Sexual harassment of women in the workplace is a prevalent and distressing issue that continues to hinder gender equality and create hostile work environments. This explores the impact of sexual harassment on women, the challenges they face in reporting incidents, and the necessary measures to address and prevent such behaviour. It highlights the importance of establishing a culture of respect and zero tolerance for harassment, promoting reporting mechanisms, ensuring confidentiality and impartial action against perpetrators. Furthermore, empowering women through leadership opportunities, career development, and equal representation is crucial for fostering an inclusive and equitable work environment. By acknowledging the significance of this issue and implementing comprehensive strategies, organizations can work towards creating safe, supportive, and gender-equal workplaces that value the rights and dignity of all employees.
KEYWORDS: sexual harassment, gender equality, women, workplace, India
Sexual harassment is behaviour. It is defined as an unwelcome behaviour of sexual nature. Sexual harassment is a widespread problem in the world whether it be a developed nation or a developing nation or an underdeveloped nation, atrocities against women is common everywhere. Sexual harassment of women in the workplace is a persistent and deeply concerning issues that affects the well-being, professional growth, and overall equality of women in various industries and organizations. It involves unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating or hostile environment. It can take various forms, including explicit comments, gestures, or physical contact. Sexual harassment can have severe and long-lasting effects on women, leading to emotional distress, decreased work performance, and limited career opportunities. Laws and regulations are in place in many countries to prohibit sexual harassment, and organizations are implementing policies and training programs to prevent and address such incidents. By fostering a culture of respect and zero tolerance for sexual harassment, we can create safe and inclusive work environments for all individuals. Every country is facing this problem daily. No female worker is safe and the sense of security is lacking in them. There are certain developments in laws of many countries to protect women workers from Sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is major problem in school, colleges, universities and institutions, and its per cent is increasing day by day. Surveys on college campus show the number of respondents reporting have been sexually harassed ranging from 40-70 per cent.
One of the difficulties is to understand this concept as it involves a range of behaviours, even the victims find it difficult to explain what they experienced. There have been efforts from national and international level still there is no single definition which can define prohibited behaviour. The international instrument defines Sexual harassment as “Violence against women and discriminatory treatment” which is a broad definition compared to the national laws. National laws focus on the illegal conduct more.
POSH ACT, 2013 AGAINST SEXUAL HARASSMENT OF WOMAN AT WORK
The Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013 (POSH Act 2013) is a landmark legislation in India that seeks to protect women from sexual harassment. This law has enabled Indian women to stand up for their rights and assert their autonomy in the workplace. Through this Act, the government has sought to provide women with a safe and secure working environment and has put in place mechanisms to prevent and redress complaints of sexual harassment. The POSH Act, 2013 was passed by the Indian government to protect against sexual harassment and abuse of women in the workplace. This Act was created to ensure that workplaces remain free from sexual harassment and to provide a safe and secure environment for women. It also seeks to create awareness about the issue of sexual harassment and to provide the necessary legal remedies for victims. The POSH Act 2013 also provide for establishing Internal Complaints Committee (ICCs) in organisations to address complaints of sexual harassment and to create a safe working environment.
The sexual harassment of Women (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 defines sexual harassment to include any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behaviour namely:
Physical contact and advances
A demand or request for sexual favours
Making sexually coloured remarks
Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.
Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 states that if the following circumstances occur or are present in relation to, or connected with any act or behaviour of sexual harassment, it may amount to sexual harassment at the workplace:
Implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in her employment,
Implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in her employment,
Implied or explicit threat about her present or future employment status,
Interference with her work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment for her,
Humiliating treatment likely to affect her health or safety.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT OF WOMEN AT WORKPLACE (PREVENTION, PROHIBITION & REDRESSAL) ACT, 2013
The prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Act and the Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Rules have been enacted 16 years after the Supreme Court of India’s landmark judgement in Vishaka and others v. State of Rajasthan (“Vishaka judgement”). The Supreme Court, in the Vishaka judgement, laid down guidelines making it mandatory for every employment to provide a mechanism to redress grievances pertaining to workplace sexual harassment and enforce the right to gender equality of working women.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Act”) was made effective from December 09, 2013 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, India. The Government has also notified rules under the Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Act titles the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Rules, 2013 (“Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Rules”).
The Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Act has been enacted with the objective of preventing and protecting women against sexual harassment at workplace and for the effective Redressal of complaints of sexual harassment. The status seeks to fill the legislative void on the subject and provide every woman, irrespective for her age or employment status, a safe and secure working environment free from all forms of harassment. The year 2013 also witnessed the promulgation of the Criminal law (Amendment) Act, 2013 (“Criminal Law Amendment Act”) which criminalized offences such as sexual harassment, stalking and voyeurism.
The Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Act extends to the ‘whole of India’ and stipulates that a woman shall not be subjected to sexual harassment at her workplace. It is pertinent to note that the statute protects only women and is not intended to be gender-neutral legislation. As per the statute, an ‘aggrieved woman’ n relation to a workplace, is a woman employed or not, who alleges to when been subjected to any act of sexual Harassment.
Further, the Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Act applies to both the organized and unorganised sectors in India. The statute, inter alia, applies to government bodies, privacy and public sector organisations, non-governmental organisations, organisations carrying out commercial, vocational, educational, entertainment, industrial, financial activities, hospitals and nursing homes, educational institutes, sports institutions and stadiums used for training individuals and a dwelling place or a house.
LEGAL PROVISION AGAINST SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT WORKPLACE
1. Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946
The Standing Order Act, 1946, is an important labour law in India aimed at ensuring fairness, discipline in industrial establishments and requires an employer in an industrial establishment with more than 100 employees to set up some standing orders i.e. rules such as wages, number of working, disciplinary actions, leave holidays etc. which are followed by employees at the workplace in order to maintain safe working environment. This act provides a framework for defining the terms and conditions of employment, promoting industrial peace, and preventing unfair labour practices.
2. Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860
Section 354A of the IPC criminalises assault or use of criminal force against a woman with the intention of disrobing her or knowledge that it will outrage her modesty. Such an act is punishable with either simple or rigorous imprisonment of up to 2 years, or a fine, or both. Through the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013, several other provisions were added to the section. Section 509 of the IPC provides the punishment for insulting a woman’s modesty by the use of words, acts, or, gestures.
3. Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1987
The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1987 prohibits harassment by “indecent representation of women through advertisements or in publications, writings, paintings, figures or in any other manner. In Section 7, the act holds the company and the people involved in the commitment of such offence liable for the punishment.
Sexual Harassment is a serious problem in the workplace and it has become one that receives a lot of negative attention. However, India is a late entrant in formalizing sexual harassment at workplace as penal offence punishable with imprisonment and penalty. The harsh reality of sexual harassment cases at workplace is that there is more to worry about under-reporting than people misusing the law. With the advent of the present legislation, a paradigm shift can be noticed in the way employees are made liable for the breach of law by its employees. Until the enactment of this law, vicarious liability on sexual harassment at the workplace was non-existent. However, while Government of India has been taking steps to monitor implementation of the 2013 Act in government offices, there is an absence of mechanism to check execution in the private sector. The damage that is happened as result of state apathy is unpardonable and irreparable.
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