The Impact of Workplace Harassment Law is Ambiguous
Recently, the Times of India published an article on the increased reporting of workplace harassment faced by women. This was attributed to better awareness about the law regarding the same. The Chairman of Local Complaint Committee (LCC) reported that all the instances of harassment have been reported by women working in multinational companies.
The LCCs are meant to have been setup in every district by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) after approval from the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The genesis of LCC dates back to the year 1997 after a person named Vishaka and other women’s groups filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the State of Rajasthan and the Union of India to enforce the fundamental rights of working women. The PIL was filed when in the year 1992, Bhanwari Devi, a Dalit and Rajasthan government employee working in Women’s Development Project, was gang raped by the higher caste men because she attempted to stop a child marriage in their family. The PIL was converted into a directive in the year 1999 and committee establishment was thence a rule. The bill ‘Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal)’ was passed by Rajya Sabha in the year 2013 and it became a law since. There has been much discussion that Vishaka guidelines and the Sexual Harassment Law are different in its objectives. However, the history of the law’s raison d’être speaks much about the socio-cultural ethos within which it was drafted. In the private sector, businesses are encouraged to setup their own grievance redressal centre so that reporting of workplace harassment can be facilitated and adequate action can be undertaken. These redressal centres are known as Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). There seems to be a collaboration between the government and private grievance redressal committees since the former has tie-ups with Not-for-Profit organizations in creating awareness about the law and it also sends out notifications to schools and companies, informing them about the enforcement.
Prima facie, the arrangement between the government and the private sector seems to be a sensible one. However, it needs to be remembered that majority of the Indian women workforce are employed in the unorganized sector where not only is there wage gap but also sexual exploitation. The choices with unorganized labour are limited, primarily owing to their lack of education. Having said that, the situation does not vary much with women in the organized sector. An OXFAM report (2014), “Women’s Empowerment and Exposure to Violence in India” reveals certain complexities that drive women out of work, “Lower work participation among more educated women is an additional reflection of a context that prevents women from translating their human capital into economic autonomy. Discrimination in wages, irregular payments and ambiguous service conditions, combine with conservative mindsets within families to drive women out of the workforce. A majority of companies have not institutionalized mechanisms to address sexual harassment at the workplace, and continue to rely on individual sensitivities of the management staff.” Regarding the awareness of Vishaka guidelines, the 2014 report states that at the time of the survey, only 17 percent were aware about the same. It was also reported that unorganized sector continues being a challenge in reaching out to those women who are being exploited at several levels. Organizations like SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association) pre-dominantly focused their energies on labour rights and economic empowerment of women. There is little information documented by the Ministry of Human Resource Development on the database of LCCs and the mechanism with which they are being rolled out across the country. Not only the database management needs to be refurbished, but much needs to be worked upon in the unorganized sector and the regressive mindsets of the society in which the educated women may find it difficult to be economically productive.
To the existing scenario, the Gender Training Institute (GTI) seeks to constructively contribute. GTI is a department of Centre for Social Research which undertakes corporate training for gender sensitization and diversity management. GTI has extensive training modules for employees, HR and firm employers. The training also provides consultancy on the existing law and regulations, as well as support in the establishment and management of an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) within the private sector.