Posted by Hrishita Sharma
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013 in India, although historic, has proven to be inconsequential in the informal sector. Gender based violence in the workplace has tampered the social and economic progress of large sects of women. In an economy like India, where social inequalities manifest into harassment, there is a compelling need of a much more inclusive and ubiquitous approach to address the problem of workplace harassment.
In 2013, Leskinen and Cortina developed an index to study sexual harassment as, “sexist remarks, sexually crude/offensive behaviour, infantilisation, work/family policing, and gender policing”. In the workplace, sexual harassment is detrimental to regular functioning putting the victim’s employment status at risk, leads to absenteeism and deteriorates their physical and mental health thereby impairing the person’s growth at work.
Manifestations of Sexual Harassment in the Informal Economy
According to the Economic Survey of India 2018-19, almost 93% of the workforce is in the informal sector. Further, about 94% of women in the total workforce are informal sector workers. The nature of the informal economy is such that it is permeable and has no defined workplace. Domestic workers, street vendors, waste pickers, construction workers etc. thus have a dynamic character of work.
Quite often, there is no contract involved in informal work which makes it harder to trace employers, workers and workplace activities. The workers in the informal economy engage with numerous clients and third parties (such as in case of a street vendor) on a regular basis. All these factors amalgamate to predispose workers to harassment, but the offender often becomes untraceable after the activity. Informal economy workers are also susceptible to assault carried out by local authorities such as confiscation of good and money, extortion of bribery, arrests.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013 in India, although historic, has proven to be inconsequential in the informal sector. Gender based violence in the workplace has tampered the social and economic progress of large sects of women.
Women in India lack the means for mobility which poses as a major hindrance to acquiring the freedom to work. Primary assessment of a work opportunity restricts her to the proximity of her home due to unavailability of safe transportation. Even when women are able to access public transportation to work, the possibility of harassment becomes very high thereby preventing women from working during late hours.
A Culture of Inequality Based Violence
Harassment against certain sections of people are usually interpreted as inherent and underpinned in India’s culture. The Indian workplace witnesses the intrinsic cultural phenomenon of social inequality, and reflects a minuscule version of the Indian society in itself. The power dynamics between employers and workers, as well as among workers are defined by aspects such as caste and gender. The casteist and patriarchal nature of the unit that is family, makes its place in the economy through the homogeneous autonomy of upper class men constituting major decision bodies in the country.
By systematically redressing violence against all genders and other vulnerable identities, we can effectively redefine identity in the workplace and break existing power structures. A workplace, in this sense, can play a fundamental role in disintegrating this authoritative framework.
The power dynamics between employers and workers, as well as among workers are defined by aspects such as caste and gender. The casteist and patriarchal nature of the unit that is family, makes its place in the economy through the homogeneous autonomy of upper class men constituting major decision bodies in the country.
ILO Convention 190
The Violence and Harassment Convention (C190) and Recommendation (R206) was adopted on 21 June, 2019. The construction of this universal framework and the first ever international treaty to refer to work based violence as a human rights violation is revolutionary. An arduous trade union movement and allied activism, amidst the outcry of the #MeToo movement against gendered violence and harassment, led to the development of C190. It provides with an action-oriented guideline structure to create a workplace of freedom and dignity, and has been conceptualised and applauded in the International Labor Conference (2019).
- Redefines “violence and harassment” as a range of unacceptable behaviors that could potentially harm the physical, psychological, sexual or economic well being of the concerned person,
- Protects workers irrespective of their contractual status and form of work, including job-seekers, trainees, interns, apprentices, volunteers etc. Special acknowledgment to extending the scope of the Convention to transport, health, education, domestic work, work during late hours as well in isolated areas,
- Applies to all sectors (whether, private or public), to both the formal and informal economy, as well as urban and rural areas. The Convention extends its bandwidth to cover all activities linked to or arising out of work, even if the physical location of occurrence falls outside the four walls of the office space. These include the workplace itself, where the worker is paid, takes a break or eats a meal, or uses sanitary facilities, during work related trips and activities, through work related communications (including communication using information and communication, technologies), in employer provided accommodation as well as the commute to and from work,
- In addition to the Convention being legally binding, it calls for an inclusive and gender-responsive approach in the workplace and asks all employees to recognize the fundamental principles and rights at work, which promote a decent work environment for all, with no coercion or discrimination.
In order to sustain an intrinsically built safe working environment, the issue of dignity and security in the workplace need to occupy centre space in labor movements and economic reforms in India.The ability of the employer and public authorities to assess from a feminist and intersectional lens can be ensured only when women of various identities become the faces of such policies and decision making.
A pluralistic approach to enforce such legislation across the layers of society by involving NGOs, local governments and rural bodies in the process can radically shift the onus of safety from workers to a community that assumes collective responsibility for the safety of its women workers. A systemic change moving beyond legal compliance, and addressing all forms of sexual harassment is a step towards creating a learning and safe environment for all.
- Prakash, Neha & George, Sonia. (2019). ILO Convention 190: Gender-Based Violence and World of Work. Economic and political weekly. 51.
- International Labor Organization. (2019). C190- Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019.
Hrishita is a student of Economics at Lady Shri Ram College for Women. She is usually found devouring street food in some artsy corner around Delhi, or obsessing over cute stationery. Having worked with women led entrepreneurship projects, she has cultivated a sense of the fabric of communities and her work focuses on women empowerment through education and social support. Brownie points: quirky sense of humor. You can find her on LinkedIn and Instagram.
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