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20th February 2021 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Topic

  1. A verdict that has ended a long silence

Editorial: A verdict that has ended a long silence

Context:

  • The acquittal of Priya Ramani, a journalist, on a complaint of criminal defamation by former Union Minister M.J. Akbar has come as a vindication to a long line of women who have not been taken seriously earlier when they have alleged sexual harassment.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 2: Historical underpinnings & evolution; Features, amendments, significant provisions, basic structure; Comparison of Indian constitutional scheme with other countries’.

Mains Questions:

  1. The Priya Ramani case is a key moment in the legal process that has often failed to bring justice to women complainants. Discuss. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the article:

  • What is Sexual Harassment?
  • Challenges Faced by working women
  • Vishaka Guidelines against Sexual Harassment at Workplace
  • Provisions of Sexual Harassment Act
  • Way Forward

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual Harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  • Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment.
  • Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual.
  • Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

Challenges Faced by working women

  • Legal Restriction: According to a study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), almost 90% of the 143 economies have at least one important, gender-based legal restriction.
  • Patriarchal attitudes: From NSSO data of 2011, it was found that women from higher castes and higher income families spent less time working outside the house.
  • According to the 2012 “Gender Pay Gap in the Formal Sector” report, pay gap increases with women’s age, work experience, educational qualifications and rise in occupational hierarchy.
  • Biased human capital model in country which focuses on gender differences in skills, education and experience.
  • Workplace insecurity: The rate of crimes against women in India stands at 53.9%
  • Other challenges: Lack of attractive job alternatives and income security, inadequate travel and transport facilities, Societal perception of women who work long hours, lack of crèches facility at workplace etc.

Vishaka Guidelines against Sexual Harassment at Workplace:

All employers or persons in charge of work place whether in public or private sector should take appropriate steps to prevent sexual harassment. Without prejudice to the generality of this obligation they should take the following steps:

  • Express prohibition of sexual harassment as defined above at the work place should be notified, published and circulated in appropriate ways.
  • The Rules/Regulations of Government and Public Sector bodies relating to conduct and discipline should include rules/regulations prohibiting sexual harassment and provide for appropriate penalties in such rules against the offender.
  • As regards private employers, steps should be taken to include the aforesaid prohibitions in the standing orders under the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946.
  • Appropriate work conditions should be provided in respect of work, leisure, health and hygiene to further ensure that there is no hostile environment towards women at work places and no employee woman should have reasonable grounds to believe that she is disadvantaged in connection with her employment.

Provisions of Sexual Harassment Act

  • It widens the definition of ‘aggrieved woman’ to include all women, irrespective of age and employment status, and it covers clients, customers and domestic workers.
  • It expands ‘workplace’ beyond traditional offices to include all kinds of organisations across sectors, even non-traditional workplaces (for example those that involve telecommuting) and places visited by employees for work.
  • It mandates the constitution of the internal complaint committee (ICC) — and states the action to be taken if an ICC is not formed — and the filing of an audit report of the number of complaints and action taken at the end of the year.
  • It lists the duties of the employer, like organizing regular workshops and awareness programmes to educate employees about the Act.
  • If the employer fails to constitute an ICC, or does not abide by any other provision, they must pay a fine of up to ₹50,000. If the offender is a repeat offender, the fine gets doubled. The second offence can also lead to cancellation or non-renewal of his license.

Way Forward

  • Formalization of Workforce to create better job opportunities for women and streamlining labour laws.
  • Skill Development: Vocational and technical training, life skills and financial literacy programmes for women to help them develop marketable skills and better decision-making abilities.
  • Mandating parental leave rather than maternal leave will help women to reintegrate into the workforce after childbearing and allowing men to take on the responsibility of parenthood.
  • Step by Companies: Corporate India need to step up and implement pragmatic policies to bridge the pay gap, change employee perception of a healthy work culture and foster equal opportunities.
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