By Sheshu Babu*
With women entering job market, sexual abuse and harassment has increased. But, many women choose to keep ‘silent ‘ on their exploitation by male higher authorities and management or superiors. This is mainly due to fear of job safety, undermined by their own colleagues and lack of support if they come out openly.
Punam Sehgal and Aastha Dang (2017) conducted research to understand the power dynamics and occurrence of sexual harassment at workplaces (outside paywall). While the number of sexual harassment is staggering, little is known about the horrible experience women go through when their personal space and dignity is violated.
The research explores how women manage such behaviour meted out to them, the procedure adopted by companies to stop harassment and whether law is adequate (“Sexual harassment at workplace”, Vol.52, issue22, 3 June 2017, epw.in). In organizations where there was a system in place to report sexual harassment, the companies themselves diluted the system so that women could not report their experiences of abuse to higher legal authorities.
In yet another study, one in four women were found to face sexual harassment at workplace (“23 statistics on sexual harassment in the work place”, May 20, 2017, brandonguille.com). It says, 64% of American women see sexual harassment as a problem in the country, 88% of women have been harassed, 79% of victims are women, 27% experience sexual harassment from colleagues, 66.6% are not aware of the workplace policies regarding sexual harassment, and 81% of women experience harassment in verbal form.
Further, it adds, one in three women in the age group 18-34 has been sexually harassed at work.
Position in companies
Among top establishments in which women face harassment are banks, trading and finance companies, and sales enterprises, civil service and educational institutions. According to “Women in workplace 2016″, a study conducted by leanin.org and McKinsey, women remain underrepresented in corporate pipeline, and corporate America promotes 30% more men than women at the early career stages (mckinsey.com). Also, while bargaining pay rise or access to feedbacks, women face many obstacles; this is especially true of coloured people. The research of the company also finds that coloured people get fewer opportunities for promotion.
Similar is the case with Dalit women in India. They are rarely promoted to top levels of management. Even if some are promoted by filling reserved seats, they face severe insults and discrimination from their colleagues, and even lower cadre upper caste employees, as they feel more privileged than Dalits.
One of the reasons for not reporting is that women ‘underplay’ their experience. Women feel that they might have overreacted to the harassment situation. This is mainly due to the fear of insecurity and lack of support from outside. They deliberately dilute intensity of the situation to adjust and bear the abuse silently. The mindset is so tuned that even harassment and abuse of serious nature is taken as ‘ trivial’ or mild. This type of forced adjustment is due to sense of loss of security.
Harassment and abuse of women at workplace is a serious problem that must be addressed. It is almost similar in developed as well as underdeveloped countries. The plight of working women is deteriorating. Even if laws are made, there is little effect, as most laws are not known to women, and even the company management often do not care to implement laws.
Human rights and feminist activists should conduct lessons and workshops on rights of working women to complain against harassment and sexual abuse at workplace and get their grievances heard by higher authorities and legal cells of companies. They should be made aware of legal recourse in cases of abuse by fellow colleagues or higher-ups, and the type of punishment that can be awarded to the culprits involved in abuses.
*Writer from anywhere or everywhere, seeking to point out present inequalities, especially gender and economic discrimination in society; a staunch supporter of Telugu revolutionary balladeer Gaddar, who (like Bob Dylan) says he is the ‘voice of the voiceless’, and strives for equality of human beings