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26 Feb 2024, Edition - 3149, Monday

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Women construction workers, domestic helps easy prey to sexual harassment

Sunandha Vijayakumar


Any woman , at least once in her life would have been abused sexually. This abuse impacts every aspect of her life. The level of grief is relatively large to working women who earn to feed themselves and their family. This livelihood hence turns into a prolonged nightmare and ultimately drains their will to live.

While awareness is created across the world amongst the white-collared employees on the aspects of sexual abuse at workplace, very few activists reach out the daily wage working class women.

The Covai Post spoke to Dr. Vasantha Kumari Jeyaraman, one such activist, who is a Consultant Psychologist, diligently working against sexual harassment against women, for the past two decades. She is the committee member of POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment – Act), a movement which creates awareness about sexual harassment in work place and counsels the victims to overcome their grief.

Dr. Vasantha, who is associated with Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board as a trainer, painfully recollects stories of poor, illiterate women who earn to support their family but fall prey to sexual harassment . “This torment deeply affects their mental health, livelihood and even their children. These women are abused on a regular basis by one or multiple men in their work place, exploiting their poverty and fear. When a woman has to earn her living based on everyday’s wage, to feed herself and her family, she remains muted against these harassments. Victims resort to alcoholism, suicide , self loathing, depression, trauma and they start taking out the agony on their children as well.”

Mariamma (name changed) , 21-year-old construction worker working in city and the mother of two kids was continuously harassed by her supervisors. She was pushed to such an extent that she had only one option to get out of this situation, which is to quit her job. With no provision to question the offenders and protect her from the predators or guarantee her employment, she was forced to give up her job, though her next meal depended on the wages she earned that day.

The term “adjustment” is tutored everyday as a negotiation routine in the life of Meenakshi (name changed), a domestic help in the city outskirts who is harassed by her own employers, regularly. She has now learned to by-pass sexual innuendos, comments, cat calls and proceed with her work because she knows she has to survive. She however says that she is wary of physical abuse and that it will be the breaking point when she would call it quits.

Dr. Vasantha pointed out that that the housekeeping staff in corporate companies were also subjected to prejudice within the organization, especially when these women reported sexual abuse by their own employers. They do not come under the white-collar category hence the complaints they file are often overlooked by the management. If they press for fair trails, their job is taken away unfairly. She rued that their plight is similar to daily wage earning women even though they worked in corporate companies .

Dr. Vasantha is planning to facilitate a POSH workshop in Coimbatore, on March 3, 2019 to corporate fraternity and NGO workers among others.

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