Academic journal article Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences

Sexual Harassment in the Indian Workplace: An Exploratory Study in Civil Society Organisations

Academic journal article Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences

Sexual Harassment in the Indian Workplace: An Exploratory Study in Civil Society Organisations

Article excerpt

Introduction: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (SHW) is one of the most pervasive and insidious forms of gender discrimination at work, which largely affects women employees. It must be understood and addressed within the larger framework of gender discrimination, which has its roots in the unequal power structures that exist in society, and perpetuated in the workplace. SHW can be a cause for extreme humiliation and degradation resulting in loss of self-respect and dignity of the individual concerned and has become one of the most talked about issues today in the context of institutions and their internal systems and polices, as well as amongst lawyers and judges in courts of law across the world.

Definitions and Meanings of Sexual Harassment

Three decades ago, there was no word or phrase to define certain behaviour or conduct that was sexual in nature and inappropriate to the context in which it was expressed. Lack of opportunity and social spaces to speak about such behaviour made it impossible to categorise and define such acts (MacKinnon, 1979). It has now been described as a conduct that is intimidating, coercive and bullying with sexual overtones. Sexual harassment is a behaviour for which there are no apparent boundaries or succinct meanings. Academic definitions of sexual harassment focus on a behaviour, which has sexual connotations, is unwelcome and uninvited, and could consist of single or repeated acts (Barr, 1993).

The issue of sexual harassment is being addressed across the world, "yet we are still without a generally shared social definition that would help people who are targets of sexual harassment to readily identify such behaviour" (Uggen & Blackstone, 2004, p. 48).

The USA was among the first countries in the world to address the issue of sexual harassment through recourse to the law. The Supreme Court Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended in 1991), is a landmark legislation that prohibits all forms of discrimination against women. It "forbids employers to exact sexual contact in exchange for compensation or advancement and/or to subject workers to intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environments because of their sex" (Weiner, Winter, Rogers, & Amot, 2004, p. 48). Legal definitions of sexual harassment at the workplace are gradually emerging from around the world.

The International Labor Organisation (ILO) has addressed sexual harassment as a prohibited form of sex discrimination under the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. C111). The ILO has made it clear that sexual harassment is more than just a problem of safety and health, as well as unacceptable working conditions; it is also a form of gender-based violence. International Conventions such as the United Nations General Recommendation 19 and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) have not specifically addressed sexual harassment in their frameworks. However, many fundamental human rights and international law principles have been applied to these Conventions that prohibit sexually harassing conduct--the right not to be subject to sex discrimination, the right to dignity in the workplace and the right to a healthy and safe work environment.

The European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe (COE) address sexual harassment as illegal behaviour. The European Commission defines sexual harassment as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, or other conduct based on sex, affecting the dignity of women and men at work. This includes unwelcome physical, verbal or nonverbal conduct (Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, 2003).

Sexual harassment can range from mild misbehaviour of an irritating nature to sexual abuse and assault, including rape. Sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour, which can be physical, verbal or non-verbal. …

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