November , 2020
Women's safety starts with the end of objectification of women
11:32 am

Aritra Mitra

Bhanwari Devi, a Dalit woman, employed with the rural development programme of the Rajasthan government, was brutally gangraped in 1992 for trying to stop the prevalent practice of child marriage. This incident highlighted the hazards faced by working women, following which the Supreme Court acknowledged the glaring legislative inadequacy in this area. It framed the Vishaka Guidelines for eliminating discrimination against women. However, sexual harassment in workplaces continue. 

According to the Ministry of Women and Child Development data, the number of cases of sexual harassment in workplace registered in India jumped by 54% - from 371 cases in 2014 to 570 in 2017. The department stated that 533 cases were reported in the first seven months of 2018. As per government sources, a total of 2,535 cases were registered over the four years ending in July, 2018. It is these instances of breaches of consent that culminate into the normalisation of ‘rape culture’ in a society and eventually pave the way for unfortunate incidents like the recent one at Hathras, Uttar Pradesh.


Debanjali Ghosh, a recent post graduate pass-out, told BE, “In our final year, while we were preparing for the next day’s fest, at one time others got scattered and I was left with a guy at a place with certain responsibilities. He came very close to me and placed his hand on my shoulder in a very weird way. I felt uncomfortable and tried to move away but he was holding me very strongly and touching me inappropriately. When I started calling out for people, he backed off.” Ghosh was shaken by this incident. She stated, “Eventually, I decided to complain about this to our women protection cell. As there were only a few months left of our course, the guy apologised and was let off with a warning.”

An article titled, ‘India: Unsafe workspace has resulted in lower female workforce participation’ published by the Business and Human Rights Resource Center, it has been stated, “India has one of the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world.” Concerns of personal safety, security including fear of sexual harassment and oppressive social norms that restrict women’s mobility were stated as factors that prevent women from seeking employment and confine her to caregiving roles.

A faculty member from a reputed college in south Kolkata requesting her anonymity also informed BE that though she never faced sexual harassment, she felt being objectified by a certain male colleague more than once. She informed, “I ignored him and even told him that I was not interested in any kind of personal relationship. Despite that, amid work-related discussion, a passing comment related to my body, sexuality or a proposal for a date is uninviting. It makes me realise that my identity is restricted merely to a ‘female’ body. My discomfort is not taken into account and the ‘no’ is conventionally understood as a feminine shyness.” In these cases, most of the time, victims fail to lodge a proper complaint due to lack of evidence. Moreover, the authorities prefer to suppress such incidents apprehending disrepute.


CNBC Make It spoke to psychologists for possible psychological triggers behind harassments of female employees by male co-workers. Shawn Burn, a psychology professor at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis stated, “Sometimes, sexual harassment is used to intimidate, disempower, and discourage women in traditionally male-dominated occupations.” Burn was referring to fields like the military, technology or politics where men often perform such inappropriate behaviour to protect their occupational territory.

Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie in the book ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ shares an incident that points out the discrimination that working women face. She talks of her American friend who took over a managerial position from a man who was a ‘tough go-getter’ and particularly strict about signing the time sheets. Adichie writes, “She took on her job and imagined herself to be equally tough but perhaps a little kinder than him... Only weeks into her job, she disciplined an employee about forgery on a time sheet.” The employee complained to the top management about she being aggressive and difficult to work to which the other employees agreed to. One expressed that they expected her to bring a woman’s touch to her job - which she did not. Adichie commented, “It didn’t occur to any of them that she was doing the same thing for which a man had been praised.”


Dr. Collen Cullen, a licensed clinical psychologist, in an interaction with said, “An experience (with sexual harassment) can either trigger symptoms of depression and anxiety that are new to the person; or it can exacerbate a previous condition that may have been controlled or resolved. Patients may also see a worsening of symptoms.”

In India, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (‘POSH Act’) was enacted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2013. A report states that there has been a rise in the number of cases reported because of the Act. The report further stated that the Indian National Bar Association, a non-profit organisation, conducted a survey to understand if the internal complaint committees function properly. They spoke to 6,047 participants from various cities in 2016. Around 67% of the respondents gave a negative reply. It is evident that there are certain loopholes in the system and lack of awareness have failed to put a stop to this issue.

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