How #MeToo Has Helped Working Women Stand Up For Their Rights
- Women-friendly Companies, Working Women, HeForHer
- 26 Oct 2018
The #MeToo campaign has taken social media by storm, demonstrating the extent to which sexual harassment is perpetrated in societies across the world. While this ingenious call to speak out has brought to light the magnitude of the problem, it has also opened the doors to a dialogue on processes to prevent harassment in the workplace. Working women and men deserve to be treated equally and with dignity.
#MeToo encouraged women from all walks of life to speak up about their experiences of harassment and abuse in the workplace. It removed the shame and stigma associated with harassment, making it an empowering and all-encompassing campaign.
There are many insidious ways in which women have faced sexual harassment in the workplace. Hotel room meetings and inappropriate casual advances have long been the norm in the corporate world. Harassment is a considerable grey area in terms of what the limit is before it should be reported. Also, an imbalance of power exists between a manager and his or her subordinate, which automatically creates a situation where one person has more power than the other. Such a situation can, and often does, lead to harassment, thus creating a vicious cycle.
Globally, it’s no surprise why the #MeToo campaign resonated so deeply with women across the board. “A new ABC News-Washington Post poll... shows [that] sexual harassment, especially in the workplace, is a full-blown epidemic.
It found that more than half of all American women - 54% - have experienced “unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances” at some point in their lives. Thirty per cent of women have endured such behaviour from male colleagues and 25% identified men with sway over their careers as the culprits.”
#MeToo has provided a platform on an unprecedented scale, for women to stand up for themselves after generations of being victims of varying forms of harassment.
In India, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 was passed after a horrific case of abuse that had the country up in arms. Before this, the Vishaka guidelines on paper enabled the setting up of processes by which sexual harassment could be addressed in companies.
However, it was only after the Act was passed in 2013 that sexual harassment became a criminal offence in India.
The past four years since the passing of the Act, have seen great strides forward. The law has clearly laid out the definition of harassment in the workplace, and definitely outlines the need for women in the workplace to be protected.
The extent of the law in writing is very strong and unequivocal, in India.
Training and sensitisation are important preventive measures that companies can invest in periodically, to help their employees understand boundaries and acceptable behaviour in the workplace. The Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) is a legally mandated body that every company must constitute internally, to deal with harassment in the workplace. The ICC has been given the role of natural justice, just like any court of law, where it is mandated to conduct an investigation and call witnesses to testify.
Employees also need to be sensitised on how to conduct themselves on these committees, and new recruits need to be trained as part of their induction into the company.
Regardless of the size of the company, the issue of harassment in the workplace has been recognised and accepted by corporate India with the implementation of the Sexual Harassment Prevention Act. This has led to greater investments in training and sensitisation for employees.
#MeToo is a rallying call, for corporate India to work together to change the workplace environment, for both men and women. It is an important step towards achieving equality, and one that women returnees stand to gain from, as they prepare to re-enter the workforce after taking career breaks.
It’s also an opportunity for companies to welcome women back to work with open arms, assuring them of a safe and secure place to work.
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