I was forced to ignore sexual harassment in my workplace, because I needed to continue working and earning

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I am a domestic worker in Gautampuri, Delhi. I live in an informal slum settlement with my family and work in 3 households. I started domestic work at a young age and have been working for about 20 years. I came into this profession in search of employment opportunities, to be able to afford my children’s education and give them a good life.

I worked in a house for many years. My employers and their son used to leave for work in the morning. The man, however, was a doctor and he used to come back to the house whenever he found time. Whenever he came back home early, I would find him staring at me, when I cleaned the house and cooked food in the kitchen. Sometimes, he would come and stand in front of me, which would make me feel scared and uncomfortable.

Once I said to him that he could call out to me if he needed something from me, and didn’t need to come all the way to ask me for things. But he continued to do it, and made me feel very uncomfortable.

I considered telling my husband about my experience, but I was afraid he wouldn’t believe me. So, I just ignored these incidents to be able to continue working and earning.

One day, when I was mopping, I saw that my employer was standing behind me, with his genitals out, masturbating. Instinctively, I ran away from there.

A few days later, I mustered the courage to complain to my employer’s wife, but she dismissed my complaint, and refused to believe that her husband would do such a thing. I was forced to quit. I never told my husband what had happened, because I was afraid he would stop me from working.

My sister soon took up a job in the same home, and faced sexual harassment in the hands of the same employer. It was only when she corroborated my story that my family began believing me. But I was never able to seek justice for my experience.

Sunita is among millions of domestic workers who are forced to keep silent about their experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace. Migrant status, desperation to earn and lack of strong legal mechanisms to prevent and redress such instances in their workplace make it harder for them to open up about their experiences. With #MainBhi, Sunita has joined hands with the Martha Farrell Foundation, supported by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, to strengthen institutional mechanisms and response to women domestic workers’ experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace. Find out more about the project here.

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