Few women have reported cases of sexual harassment at work places recently. One case is with the police, the other within its management.
The two cases may be among the few cases that are rarely reported to authorities or police, but studies have shown that sexual harassment at work places is rampant in the country. About 40 to 60 percent of working women have experienced it.
Sexual harassment includes staring or leering, unwelcome touching, suggestive comments, taunts, insults or jokes, displaying pornographic images, sending sexually explicit emails or text messages, and repeated sexual or romantic requests.
Workplace sexual harassment affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment. It impacts the employee’s productivity besides the emotional and psychological trauma that will last a lifetime. It also costs the company or the organisation.
As what is called a “tolerant society,” there are numerous stories we hear of power relations where heads of organisations or companies take advantage of young officials, rewarding them with promotions and other professional incentives. Such behaviours are equally intolerable like unwelcome sexual advances.
Internationally, it is condemned as sex discrimination and a violation of human rights. More than 75 countries have enacted legislation to prohibit workplace sexual harassment.
At home, we have many laws to safeguard employees from it. It (sexual harassment) is a criminal offense. Section 205 of the Penal Code defines it as an unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal abuse of sexual nature. It is graded as an offense of petty misdemeanour.
The Constitution condemns it. Article 9 mandates the state to take appropriate measures to eliminate sexual harassment. In 2009, labour ministry drafted sexual harassment regulations.
The Labour Employment Act 2007 requires all employment agencies to set up an internal complaint procedure system, where investigation into a complaint should start within five days after the complaint was lodged. The outcome of the investigation should be conveyed within 10 days after the investigation.
The Royal Civil Service Commission has initiated ‘Go to Person’ to help civil servants report incidences related to sexual harassment at workplace including official travels, conferences and meetings.
But all these legal and policy frameworks remained on paper. There is a serious lack of implementation. Sexual harassment victims do not know where to report and how to seek help when they experience it at work. Even if they report, they are put under tremendous pressure to withdraw the case. Some are even coerced. There is no support from colleagues and management. There is so much character assassination and ‘gaslighting’.
Sexual harassment are culturally accepted as aggressive flirtations. Organisations tolerate it. We need empathetic leaders but our compassion should not be misplaced. We care about such issues only when it happens to us, not because it is a social menace.
As a society, we have to condemn any acts of sexual harassment and workplace power relations. There has to be the strongest action against it.