Effective enforcement of laws need understanding them in social context
Below is the first hand account of workshop conducted by Executive Director of Navjyoti India Foundation with about 30 senior staff members of a reputed PSU on Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2013….
As the trainer entered the room, a mixed group of men and women, young old and middle aged were seen sitting. All had very serious expressions.
The trainer asked by opening questions as to what thoughts were occupying their minds when they were coming for the workshop ?
First reply came from the senior most employee, a woman : ” Madam, although ours is fortunately a very responsible and encouraging office, we have not really heard any such cases in our company, we thought of organizing this workshop because it has become a mandate now.”
Another woman followed : ” I feel it is the matter of mind set and attitude on how we perceive things and not so much legal”
Trainer asked if some male employee would like to comment..
One of them spoke, ” There was no doubt some hesitation was there when we were coming here, but of course it is important for everyone to know about law.”
Trainer then asked the second question :
“Do you think, this law was very much required “
Majority answered in affirmation…
Trainer asked the reason.
Participants were very well informed about the background of the Act and some did mention about Vishakha Guidelines as the reason while others mentioned about more women now joining workforce and more cases being reported…
Now that the stage was set and participants who initially looked uncomfortable were a bit relaxed.
The trainer asked the third question.
“Why do think is the need to have laws to protect women in India?”
The trainer emphasized that she had not come here to train them on clauses of the Act but focus on social context of the related topic and our role not just as coworkers but also as citizens of the country…
One female employee began by focusing on the need for such laws as there is a prevalence of gender inequality in society. Another male employee spoke about how degradation in value system is leading to increase in crimes against women.
Trainer asked : ” So what are these so called values?H ow do we know if we are teaching the right kind of values or not to our children ? What seems to be an important value for one family may not be very relevant for others?”
Participants asked, ” So what should we do?”
Trainer narrated the root cause of existence of all such discrimination in the basic stereotypical ways in which our societies expect men and women : boys and girls to behave.
Discussions were then followed on how expectations from men and women with changing situations have been evolving whereas gender stereotypes are still as strongly embedded as they were there earlier because of which all kinds of contradictions are created.
Another strong factor for this mismatch is how society’s response to upbringing of girls have changed to make them self reliant and empowered whereas boys still continued to be brought up almost in the similar old fashion.
It was then summarized that unless both the gender are considered as one and response and expectations are made same from both, these disparities will continue to exist.
The second part the workshop focused on explaining some common myths and truths about the Act.
First, clarity was given on the fact that even if harassment occurs beyond office hours and venue, still it would be within the scope of the Act and the employer is liable to take action upon receiving complaints.
Second myth that was discussed was related to the scope of this Act. It was clarified that its not just employees but also vendors, clients, contractors etc everyone who comes in the office is covered in the Act.
One participants asked how can they influence and ensure their behavior.
It was emphasized that all depends upon what environment a leader enforces in the team and transfers it among stakeholders.
Yet another aspect discussed was related to how favorable environment can be created so that the affected person feels comfortable in reporting such issues.
Female employees accepted that most of the time they feel uncomfortable to report. First thing that they feel is guilt as to why it has happened to them only. Second thing that is felt by them is fear of rejection by their own colleagues.
One of them remarked that most of the time its only female co workers who discourage in reporting such issues.
Another male employee shared that sometimes it is also the fear of how her own family will react to this. He shared how one of her staff members who faced similar issue long back was apprehensive to take action out of fear of how her own husband will react.
Trainer asked, “So what should we do as coworkers ?”
It was then emphasized it is very important to create on regular intervals such structured platforms where these issues are discussed in a very healthy manner and possible solutions reinforced.
So that just as we don’t feel stigma in reporting or handling issues related to performance, we report and address issues of sexual harassment without any fear of discrimination.
Third section of the workshop focused on some roadblocks and challenges in effective enforcement of the Act.
The first and foremost challenge reported by female employees is that even if complaint if filed, it has mostly been seen that the respondent rarely gets punished.
What can be done in case there is no action. The participants were given tips like keeping people of different levels in the loop all along, marking copy to district levels and others as well.
The group was told that the key is to be aware of who all can be approached and being informed about the hierarchy within the organization as well as those related to enforcement of the Act outside organization.
The next challenge reported by male employees was that since the Act talks about action to be taken even in cases of no evidence and proof, sometimes innocent men also get victimized.
Trainer asked as to how many such cases have they heard where innocent men got framed ?
All replied “very few”
She asked again. “And how many cases are being reported of women facing such harassment ?
All replied “Large numbers”
Trainer asked ” Why is it that no one talks about any laws where innocent people are getting framed? And only talk about it when women oriented laws made?”
There was a complete silence.
Trainer summarized by sharing that when such women oriented laws are made, where as women should feel empowered, it becomes all the more important for men to feel proud about it that an Act has been made to safeguard their counterparts…
Trainer concluded by saying that only when this latent competition between men and women is addressed and only when such laws are viewed as promotion of fair and just society alike by men and women, a real change will not come. – Compiled by Ms Neetu Sharma, Executive Director, Navjyoti India Foundation