In the 21st century the patriarchal ideology of home being woman’s ‘real domain’ and marriage her ultimate destiny has seen a paradigm shift. With access to education and employment, millions of Indian women are entering the country’s workforce. Furthermore, the sex ratio of women has also seen an improvement i.e. 945 females per 1000 males. However, Indian women who fought shoulder to shoulder with men in the nationalist struggle have been reduced to second class citizens. With sexual harassment extending its clutches to workplaces it has wrecked hell on the working women. Sexual harassment is not limited to developing countries like India but has also extended its reach to developed countries like United States of America. In 2016, the EEOC released a comprehensive study of workplace harassment in the United States, which concluded that “anywhere from 25% to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.” According to survey by Indian National Bar Association, 25 per cent women were sexually harassed by inappropriate touching, the same percentage of women were harassed by comments and physical harassment while 12.5 per cent were harassed by sexism and by asking for sexual favors. Though sexual harassment at the workplace has assumed serious proportions, women do not report the matter to the concerned authorities in most cases due to fear of reprisal from the harasser, losing one’s livelihood, being stigmatized, or losing professional standing and personal reputation.
As enriched in the Indian Constitution, “equality of status and opportunity” must be secured for all its citizens; equality of every person under the law is guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution. Therefore, a safe workplace is a women’s right which cannot be ignored. “The meaning and content of the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution of India are of sufficient amplitudes to encompass all facets of gender equality….”1 This is further by the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979 and which is ratified by India. Often described as an international bill of rights for women, it calls for the equality of women and men in terms of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural and civil spheres. It underlines that discrimination and attacks on women’s dignity violate the principle of equality of rights.
Sexual harassment constitutes a gross violation of women’s right to dignity. It has dug its roots in patriarchy and its attendant perception that men are superior to women and that some forms of violence against women are acceptable. Often, sexual harassment is excused or ignored as ‘natural’ male behavior or ‘harmless flirtation’ which supposedly women enjoy. However, on the contrary, such behavior not only causes serious harm but also is a strong manifestation of sex discrimination at the workplace. Such an act is not only a violation of the ‘Right to practice any profession or to carry out any occupation, trade or business’ but also a prima facie violation of ‘Right to life’. It erodes equality and puts the dignity and the physical and psychological well-being of workers at risk. This leads to poor productivity and a negative impact on lives and livelihoods. To further compound the matter, deep-rooted socio-cultural behavioural patterns, which create a gender hierarchy, tend to place responsibility on the victim, thereby increasing inequality in the workplace and in the society at large
1 Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan,Sexual harassment at workplaces affects interpersonal relationships.