Life is hard for everyone. However, being a woman has its limitations. One day she is treated like a goddess and next beaten to the ground. She is a beauty with scars and bruises, born out of countless abuses. Since childhood, a girl is told to sit properly, laugh properly, talk softly and come home early. Instances of eve-teasing, molesting and sexual harassment have occurred irrespective of how a woman behaves at home, workplace or in public. In such situations, a girl either keeps quiet, scared of critical judgment or suffers the consequences of taking an action.
When I was in school everything felt the same, “Hey, you’re fat!” body shaming, comments, and staring. Whenever anyone would stare at me, I would look the other way, out of fear of being misjudged, instead of speaking up. Ignorance felt like home! My ignorance was a window of opportunity for them to wink, whistle, comment or try to come closer when I walked alone on the road. Due to this, I could never muster the courage to raise my voice.
One of the horrendous incidents was in college when a man was masturbating right outside the college gate in his car. A bunch of girls from my college (all-girls college) wrote to the women cell of the college, protested and tweeted about the incident. Since then, a police van was stationed outside the college. I have been lucky to not have faced sexual harassment at places where I’ve worked, but will this remain the same?
The wave of the #MeToo movement hit me like a rock. Most of the accused were people I admired. I was disappointed in them. The women trusted them at work and treated them as a friend. But what did they do? What should happen next? Will they ever be brought to justice?
Sexual harassment at the workplace is emotionally, mentally and physically traumatic experience for the aggrieved and the people associated with them. To know the answers to the above questions, I read the book by Martha Farrell Foundation, ‘Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace’, a Hachette India publication.
It is a step-by-step guide for the prevention, prohibition, and redressal of sexual harassment at the workplace. The book is divided into parts and intimates the reader about The Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013. After reading the book I came to know about the types of sexual harassment at a workplace which includes stereotypical roles, male work ethics and unequal opportunities along with the body language of the male colleagues, the jargon used to define a woman’s identity, and sexual favors.
Sexual harassment can be verbal in the form of jargon, comments or jokes and physical in the form of inappropriate touching, stalking, unwelcome hugging, etc. Often these are deemed as ‘humour’ and ‘work culture’. I think it is therefore important to know and respect the boundaries of each other, as it is the “impact and not the intent that matters.” The book has listed dos and don’ts as a co-worker as well as a detailed timeline for redressal.
The book also answered my questions like, the steps that need to be undertaken by the organization to adhere to the law, the consequences for non-compliance, and how can workplaces be made safer for women. It summarizes the definitions, forms of sexual harassment, along with the roles and responsibilities of the organizations, employers, and colleagues.
I believe that this book is useful in understanding the Act, its mandates and the procedure to be followed, along with sample formats and forms. Through the book, I came to know that there should be an Internal Committee and Local Committees in every organization. The book also aided me in understanding key concepts related to sexual harassment and provided additional reading material and resources. After reading the book, I realized that schools and colleges also come under the umbrella of the workplace and therefore, every school and college must set up an IC.
On the whole, the book is a visual A-Z manual with easy-to-understand explanations, detailed key processes, and case studies along with sample letters, reporting formats, outlines, and draft policies to aid internal and external compliance. I feel that this book is a must-read for everyone, to understand the impact sexual harassment has on a woman and the people associated with her. How a woman or a man wants to carry themselves in public is their personal choice and no one has the right to interfere with it!
- Akshara Bhargava.
Akshara Bhargava is an alma mater of Lady Shriram College. Currently, she is working as a Social Media and Content Creator at Martha Farrell Foundation.