What women want to feel safer at work - The New Indian Express

What women want to feel safer at work

Published: 25th November 2013 08:18 AM

Last Updated: 25th November 2013 08:18 AM

Aparna S* who works with a production house in the city has been at the receiving end of unrelenting harassment at her workplace for quite some time now. Her boss, a married man with two little children, claims to have fallen in love with her. From late night text messages to threatening to inform her parents about her boyfriend to buying her expensive gifts, he has left no stone unturned in trying to force her into a relationship with him. “I haven’t been able to complain to anyone in the office as there is no committee. I have planned to quit soon. I have endured this for over eight months. I don’t think I can do it any longer as trying to reason with him and getting him to stop is not going to work,” says Aparna.

Earlier this year when Smita Sharma, a design professional, joined a plush new office, she had no clue that only within a month she would be forced to quit. The first few days went great, but after a week, her boss started complimenting the clothes she wore, how she styled her hair and how pretty her smile was. And as days progressed, the compliments got bolder. “He would make me sit in his cabin on the pretext of having a meeting for hours together. In these instances, he never once discussed work but only spoke about irrelevant issues,” she told City Express. She decided to quit as there was no other way out. “He was the head of the company and there was no cell or person I could report to,” she said. Smita’s boss continues to call and text. She has no option but to ignore them.

Public outrage after a reporter with Tehelka alleged sexual harassment by Tarun Tejpal, the publication’s editor-in-chief, has led to a lot of working women demanding for the Vishaka guidelines to be implemented effectively and immediately. It also begs the query if workplaces are doing enough to let women feel comfortable about raising a complaint.

Shakun Doundiyakhed of Vimochana says, “Now that it has become mandatory, more and more organisations are setting up committees. On the upside, people or at least women are becoming more aware. But, when they are faced with actual cases, they are still confused about the execution. The Act itself is ambiguous. For example, it describes as the course to be taken on occasion of sexual harassment as a process of reconciliation, which is a very loose term - the woman could be made to feel intimidated or the matter may be hushed up in some other manner. Also, the act states that if the accusation is not proven as true, the woman can be punished. This would make a lot of women hesitate to approach the committee unless they possess infallible proof.”

Need office workshops

Padma Kishore, a mother of two, working at Accenture, thinks all companies must have relevant workshops that discuss sexual harassment and gender issues. “In most cases, the woman’s families and friends tell her to stay silent and ignore it. Our society is always telling women to cover up the abuse, even though it is rampant. This needs to be changed and that can only happen when proper workshops are held at the workplace, with both men and women attending. Men need to understand how a woman feels when she is leered at or talked about at the workplace because most of the time they don’t realise that they’re in the wrong,” she says.

Raise employee awareness

Anuradha Chakraborty, a sales manager, working with an automobile company in the city, says, “I think these committees need to work as deterrents and not just as redressal mechanisms. Every new person that joins the office must be informed about the committee and how it’s there to help them. Most people are not even aware that these things exist, not until something untoward happens. Women need to be assured that strict and immediate action will take place if  they have been harassed.”

Flirting is not okay

Day Mutum, an architect, thinks the solution lies in changing attitudes and not in setting up of ad hoc committees. “I wish more people would take sexual harassment seriously. Flirting is not okay. Commenting about a woman’s dressing style or her body parts is not okay. But if you try to complain against something like flirting, people ask you to just ignore it or go as far as suggesting that women need to lighten up and go with the flow. It’s just not done. Only a change in attitude can help women feel more comfortable in filing complaints against harassment. Otherwise, it will remain futile,” she says.

* Some names have been changed to protect identities.

Inputs by Saloni Mital & Chetana Divya Vasudev

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