“It is impossible to think about the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is impossible for a bird to fly on one wing”
The above quote clearly sums up the importance of gender equality for the nation’s growth and development. Women have always played an important role in the evolution of society. History has witnessed that the reason for India’s most violent wars like Mahabharata and Ramayana have been fought for only one reason i.e. disrespect of women. The role of women has been ever-changing. According to Historian Romila Thapar-“Within the Indian sub-continent there have been infinite variations on the status of women diverging according to culture malice’s, family, structure, cast, class, property right and morals.” The philosophies post women with a dual character. On the one hand, she’s considered fertile, patient and benevolent while on the other she’s considered as an aggressor and represent shakti. Our Vedas have given a very high status to women. Rigveda describes women as a queen of her husband’s house and Upanishad’s describe a wife as the true companion of her husband. A man was not considered religiously competent without his wife. In those times, there was no gender discrimination and women were upfront in all the spheres of life, be it art, literature and even warfare. However, post this period, the picture changed altogether due to the restrictions propounded by Manu. This was when all the patriarchal concepts evolved. Effects of this can be seen even now as women even today do not enjoy the same status as men.
Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace
Due to advancements in various spheres like social, political, legal, and economic, etc. women are now stepping out of their households and are pursuing careers to earn bread and butter for the family. They have no longer restricted themselves to their traditional role as a homemaker. Various laws have been made to see that there’s no discrimination made on the basis of sex and women get equal opportunities in every walk of life. This has been enshrined under Article 14 and Article 15 of the Constitution. Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution given equal right to everyone “to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.” The fundamental right to carry on any profession or trade, however, depends on the availability of a ‘safe’ working environment. Article 21 of the Constitution ensures the Right to the life of every individual which means a right to live with dignity. Article 42 provides for “just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief”. Article 51 A (e) of the Constitution provides for renouncing any activity which is derogatory to the dignity of women. However, even after all these provisions, the society hasn’t been able to provide a safe working environment to women at the workplace and they are the constant subject of harassment by their male counterparts. According to Sec 2(d) of Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 “human rights” means the rights relating to life, liberty, equality, and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India. It is necessary and expedient for employers in workplaces as well as other responsible persons or institutions to observe certain guidelines to ensure the prevention of sexual harassment of women as to live with dignity is a human right guaranteed by our Constitution.
Evolution of Anti-Harassment Law
The practice of sexual harassment law is centuries old, at least if we define sexual harassment as unwanted sexual relations imposed by superiors on subordinates at work .There have been many cases where women were harassed in the workplace. Though the case of Aruna Shanbaug Vs Union of India & Orsis known as a case that primarily deals with euthanasia but we must not forget that the women were raped twice when she was in service in the hospital which led to her being paralyzed for years surviving on a ventilator. However, the issue was first put up in the case of Vishakha v/s State of Rajasthan & Ors., where a social worker was brutally gang-raped in a village of Rajasthan. The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace was discussed in detail and twelve-point guidelines were also laid down by the Supreme Court for the protection of women at the workplace which was applicable to all the employers. In the case of Medha Kotwal Lele Vs Union of India,four public interest litigations cases were heard together to focus the judiciary’s lack of attention on the implementations of the Vishakha Guidelines. The Apex court examined affidavits filed by state governments on the status of the implementation of Vishakha Guidelines within their respective jurisdictions. It, however, showed a very poor performance by a majority of the states. The Apex court further issued orders for the implementation of the Vishakha Guidelines which also became the essence of the recent Sexual Harassment Act i.e. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prohibition, Prevention, and Redressal) Act, 2013.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prohibition, Prevention, and Redressal) Act, 2013
- What constitutes to sexual harassment?
As per Section 2(n) of the Act:-
- Physical contact or advances
- A demand or request for sexual favors
- Making sexually colored remarks
- Showing pornography
- Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature
- What are the duties of an Employer?
As per Section 19 of the Act, the following are the duties to be observed by the employer:-
- Provide a safe working environment at the workplace which shall include safety from the persons coming into contact at the workplace.
- Display at any conspicuous place in the workplace, the penal consequences of sexual harassments; and the order constituting, the Internal Committee under subsection (1) of section 4;
- Organize workshops and awareness programs at the regular intervals for sensitizing the employees with the provisions of the Act and orientation programs for the members of the Internal Committee in the manner as may be prescribed;
- Provide necessary facilities to the Internal Committee or the Local Committee, as the case may be, for dealing with the complaint and conducting an inquiry;
- Assist in securing the attendance of respondent and witnesses before the Internal Committee or the Local Committee, as the case may be;
- Make available such information to the Internal Committee or the Local Committee, as the case may be, as it may require having regard to the complaint made under subsection (1) of section 9;
- Provide assistance to the woman if she chooses to file a complaint;
- Cause to initiate action, under the Indian Penal Code or any other law for the time being in force, against the perpetrator, or if the aggrieved woman so desires, where the perpetrator is not an employee, in the workplace at which the incident of sexual harassment took place;
- Treat sexual harassment as a misconduct under the service rules and initiate action for such misconduct;
- Monitor the timely submission of reports by the Internal Committee.
- What is the Complaint redressal mechanism?
Where an Internal Complaint Committee has not been constituted, the complaint can be filed before the Local Complaint Committee by the aggrieved lady. The Local Complaint Committee, in this case, shall follow the same procedure as that of an Internal Complaint Committee even in cases of conciliation but this can only happen at the request of the aggrieved lady. If a complaint has been filed through conciliation, the LCC cannot conduct further inquiry into it.
Sexual harassment at workplace is a very sensitive issue. In my opinion, it cannot be checked merely by making offices and posting some officials to whom the information can be imparted. The authorities need to make sure that the law does not exist in the statutes only. It should be effectively implemented. A proactive role must be played and behavioral support should be provided. Value-based classes should also be organized for the employees inculcating moral values. A healthy environment where women can feel safe should be maintained.
“HAPPINESS LIES WHERE WOMEN ARE RESPECTED”
1Reva B. Siegel , A Short History of Sexual Harassment, http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/excerpts/mackinnon_directions.pdf.
 (2011) 4 SCC 454
 AIR 1997 SC 3011
 (2013) 1 SCC 311
 Section 3, The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prohibition, Prevention, and Redressal) Act, 2013
 Section 2(o), The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prohibition, Prevention, and Redressal) Act, 2013
 Section 10(1), The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prohibition, Prevention, and Redressal) Act, 2013
 Section 10(4). The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prohibition, Prevention, and Redressal) Act, 2013