February 15, 2019, at ITC WelcomHotel, Magrath Road, Bangalore
Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at the workplace is a burning topic affecting both the government and the private sector. The POSH law has certainly made some positive changes, but a lot is still to be achieved.
Prevention of sexual harassment of women at workplaces is a daunting task in most of world societies. India is no exception. Society has come a long way from the days of the chambermaids being sexually assaulted. We have seen Vishakha, Nirbhaya the MeToo, and the aftermath. There have been public protests, legal actions, and fresh legislation. But the malaise doesn’t seem to abate much.
The main question is – is there no way out? And then there are others too e.g.
- Are the working women going to feel as uncomfortable working with men as they used to be decades ago?
- Does it affect employees only at lower levels? Do women in higher management also suffer?
- And as a double whammy, will the employed women continue to be penalized if they speak up?
- Or, worse still, are the new women applicants being denied jobs because the employers want to avoid complications?
The Old New Law
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013, aka Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act (POSH Act) has been around for 5 years now.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development, Govt of India (WCD), and the State Govts have been working on formulating policies and overseeing the implementation. The employers both in the government and the private sector have also done their bit.
The point is, has a new law made any difference? Has it made the women employees any safer than they were before it? Has it caused any shift in the behavioral dynamics between the male employer and the female employee?
The latest concern added to the list is the misuse potential of the new law by a few. This does not necessarily mean only a female employee. In some cases, the victims are being used by others for settling personal scores. In a worst-case scenario, the charges are totally fabricated. By now even the courts have started taking note of the same. A case in point is an observation by the Bombay High Court in a defamation case.
I got an opportunity to attend a day-long Conclave which addressed the above issues in great detail. The Conclave held on 15 Feb 2019 at the Welcome-ITC hotel Bengaluru was organized by Parity Consulting, a leading player in the field.
The main issues deliberated upon in varied formats like lectures & panel discussions included:-
- Government initiatives in the field
- Why we should care about sexual harassment in workplaces?
- Effective Compliance of the key provisions of the POSH Act
- The shift in perception about what is improper sexual behaviour
- An empirical analysis of a case law
- MeToo & Aftermath – With reference to a message by Alyssa Milano, the woman who triggered the #MeToo movement.
- How to make a business case for investing in the prevention of sexual harassment
- Equipping ICs: Advantages, challenges, and successes
- Best Practices being followed in the Industry
The law is certainly doing its job in preventing delinquent behavior. But in order to make the workplaces really safer for women, there is a need for attitudinal change amongst the entire community especially the stakeholders. And, this does not mean the men only but the change has to take place across the gender barrier. Let’s hope that this happens sooner than later.