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25 Jun 2022, Edition - 2538, Saturday

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Columns

Gender violence at workplace needs tough tackling

Uma Ram

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Any act that results in `a tangible employment action’ with sexist attitudes, verbal or nonverbal, creating a hostile working environment is classified as sexual harassment. Usually women are victims as they are more vulnerable than men even in today’s society.

Though, the causes for the misbehaviour may vary, they are interrelated, interlinked with culture and values in society and companies, and the relative power of the men and women concerned. There may be many factors contributing to the harassment. Easy access to the internet at tip of the finger and other adult content materials which were till sometime ago inaccessible trigger the beast within.

Stress, in a good sense, can be productive. But, bad stress, caused by competition, steals the time for `the necessary needs’, finding its outlet in workplace.

In a society where men are brought up with `the macho’ image, associated with teasing girls, more girl friends, and the chauvinistic thought that girls are meant only to please men, they carry over the thought to their colleagues, assuming it to be a compliment.

Women, with the influence of western culture, under the illusion that `Real women look appealing’ wear revealing attires unintentionally which are pointed out to be “inviting” by men defending themselves, by pin pointing this as a major provoking factor.

Women, dependent on their jobs, or those who see themselves as dependant or lesser than men, hesitate to complain. There is the fear of losing the job or being mocked at. Nutan Sharma, a steno in the Ministry of Railways, was transferred for filing a sexual assault case against her superior R P Sharma, secretary to the Chief Operating Officer.

Some men, fearing the career advancement of women, take it as an opportunity to harass the women with their power like in the Shailaja Suman’s case (1994). It was filed by the then Doordarshan-Hyderabad, producer, against her superior P L Chawla. It was about defamation and attempt to molest her. But these went in vain as she was transferred to Lucknow.

In today’s world of `moral laxity’, where polygamy is a not considered immoral, despite many sexually transmitted diseases, workplace flirtations continue.

Frictions in relationships and divorce lead people to divert themselves in work. These serve as easy ground for harassers.

Confusions, rising from cultural changes, regarding morality pave the way to torture. With the influence of global trends, the alarming news is that even women harass men sexually, either for power or materialistic needs.

Bravado or male aggressiveness is on rise leading to gangrapes.​ Men in groups often indulge in `gang harassment’, which they can’t even think of as individuals.

Backfiring on the victim by mocking at their credibility is the major cause for rise in gender harassment. When a woman complains, her credibility is doubted first. With men generally at the helm of management who defend their race and those with power and seniority leave the woman’s morality at stake.

The harasser may hold a high irreplaceable position, and in such cases the torture might increase.

It is the lack of policies in companies that aid culprits. Many companies do not have their policies defined regarding legal codes. Many women resign fearing revenge, rather than complain. If the management does not properly define its laws, more women would be harassed. Some countermeasures can effectively prevent and reduce such sexual harassment in workplace like-

* Promulgation of clear cut policies by the management.
* Self awareness, to know about the problem and tackle it themselves.
* Women should be given decent dress codes at workplace.
* Appointing special persons to deal with complaints.
* Post counsellors to guide harassers and victims.
* Assertiveness training for women to boost self esteem
* A well planned employment equity programme based not just on merit but also seniority to help reduce vulnerability of those in lower power.
* A positive corporate culture with the management setting an example.
* Having in place high tech surveillance cameras wherever possible and keep record of the events to prevent such incidents and to defend the victims

Prevention is better than cure as goes the saying. If managements undertake such measures, many incidents can be prevented and many innocent victims can be saved. Apart from all that, to be on the materialistic side of businesses, much of the capital wasted for such cases can be spent productively. According to recent survey, for a Fortune 500 Company $6.7 million is wasted annually on such cases.

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