The core of an individual’s freedom lies in the ability to exercise their free will, in this century, this translates into the ability to have the freedom to exercise their intellectual and financial ability. Given the environment we live in, a large proportion of us try and attain intellectual and financial freedom by being at the workplace, whether it be as an employer or as an employee, a workplace provides an environment which is most legal, most controlled, most secure and most predictable for living one’s life, which is why the concept of businesses and employment is at an all-time high.
Women have been deprived, for centuries, of exercising their intellectual and financial freedom. Those who fought and exercised their intellectual or financial freedom are talked about today as role models. This however does not mean that women have really got to attain this freedom in the twenty-first century. The doors of workplaces opened to let women in, but the freedom was still being curtailed by sexual harassment. While there is no study that compares the most common reasons for women leaving the workforce, there are studies that clearly say that as many as 46% of women (in India) chose to quit the workforce, forever, as a direct result of being sexually harassed.
Which is why this issue is important to us, we are not talking about a mere act, or mere compliance, we are talking about independence; independence of a significant percentage of citizens of any country who are not being allowed freedom against their free will.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013 (the Act) came into force on 9th December 2013, superseding the Vishakha Guidelines, introduced by the Supreme Court of India in 1997. But, despite the law and the provisions spelled out by the Government of India, the implementation rates are still low. The FICCI-EY report of November 2015 states that 36% of Indian companies and 25% of MNCs (multi-national companies) are not compliant with the Act.
To address the issue and understand the real challenge as to why, despite the law and innumerable measures adopted by the Government and organizations claiming effective implementation of sexual harassment policies at the workplace, there is still an alarmingly high number of cases. The increasing number of cases, of which many go unreported and unresolved, prompted the CSR wing of HRhelpdesk® to undertake an online survey titled Voice of Women.
The survey elicited a response from a global audience of more than 29 countries and revealed startling facts about the struggles most women go through every day at their workplaces, irrespective of the country, society, or culture they belonged to. The findings of the survey were quite an eye-opener as this was, until then, the largest ever collective voice raised by women. Not to forget, that all the earlier research done on the same topic talked about the same level of harassment women go through.
The issue is very much alive, and it is very much prevalent in not only educated but also un-educated women. We believe that Sexual Harassment is like Gravity, and it will reach every working woman at a particular point in time, and the only way to ensure that women can handle this and not end up curtailing their freedom is by spreading awareness; not only in women but in the entire workforce which includes both men and women.
The HRhelpdesk Trust helps women to speak up against hostile behaviors at the workplace. To this end, we conduct awareness campaigns and sensitization workshops about the direct and indirect actions that constitute sexual harassment, provisions of the Act, and actions that can be taken to get the offender punished.