There is not a single place where women don’t have to worry about their safety. If they are assaulted by husbands, fathers or other male relatives in the confines of their own homes or if they experience eve-teasing or rapes on the streets, the workplace is not a safe haven either.
Sexual harassment at workplaces is a rapidly growing issue in today’s society. It includes passing offensive sexist remarks, showing pornography, demanding or requesting for sexual favours and making unwelcome physical advances or contact.
It was in early 2007 when David Davidar, CEO of Penguin Canada, started sending inappropriate text messages and e-mails to Lisa Rundle repeatedly, the former Rights and Contracts director of the company. Davidar would occasionally send her a Hindi/Urdu love song or a compliment like ‘utterly gorgeous’. Sometimes, he would punish her by not talking to her and isolating her from her co-workers.
This went on for three years. Finally after being physically assaulted by him in her hotel room at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Lisa took the big step and slapped a harassment lawsuit against Davidar. Consequently, he was sacked.
Lisa Rundle was brave enough to stand up for safety and dignity. But that’s not the case with every woman.
According to a recent survey conducted by Oxfam India, 17 per cent of working women in both organized and unorganized sectors have faced harassment. The survey indicated that although ‘most’ women were verbally harassed; they didn’t take any formal action against the offender. The reasons for not complaining were fear of losing the job, fear of facing withdrawal from colleagues or being unaware about the redressal committees.
Despite such shocking facts, workplaces have failed to acknowledge the graveness of the matter. However, the Delhi gang rape has changed the course of tide. The corporate sector has finally woken up from a deep slumber and is taking action to ensure the safety of their female employees. Many organizations are now holding discussions to review and enforce tight policies regarding the safety of women.
Last week, FICCI erected a task force for developing ‘National Safety Policy for Women’ that will be implemented soon. The impending legislative bill ‘The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2010’ is expected to be passed soon by the Rajya Sabha.
By looking at the sensitivity with which this problem is being handled, the working women can breathe a sigh of relief. This may be a baby step but it shouldn’t be forgotten that India has a long way to go.
Originally published in Ink, an SIMC initiative.