Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome sexual advance, physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature, which has implications on an individual’s employment, education or living environment, or which creates an intimidating and hostile environment for the individual.
In India, the response of the state to this menace has been in terms of the 2013 Sexual Harassment Act, amendments to the criminal law to increase penalty for sexual harassment, and issuance of guidelines by SEBI.
Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
The Sexual Harassment Act 2013 covers all women, across all kinds of workplaces in government as well as private – organised and unorganised sector. The law is based on, and has superseded, the Vishakha Guidelines, issued by the Supreme Court in 1997, which were to be followed by establishments in dealing with complaints of sexual harassment.
Organisations with more than 10 employees are mandated to have an Internal Complaints Committee for addressing complaints of sexual harassment. They are also required to give the details of such cases to the government (Ministry of Women and Child Development).
SEBI Guidelines – for listed companies
Under the regulations framed by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), all listed companies are required to disclose the total number of sexual harassment complaints and the unresolved complaints in their annual reports. These disclosure regulations nudge the companies to reduce their pendency of complaints related to sexual harassment.
Opinion – way forward:
Tackling sexual harassment is an ethical imperative, as well as an economic imperative to harness women’s potential by retaining them in the workforce. Single-best solution to harassment is greater gender diversity at workplace. Both men and women need to come to a shared understanding of what sexual harassment is and what to do about it. This requires conversation.