WOMEN'S CELL

INDIAN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY-BOMBAY


   


                           WRITE TO US: womencell@iitb.ac.in

          The Women's Cell, IIT Bombay

 

  1. the rights of female employees/students and the responsibilities of EMPLOYERS TO prevent and redress sexual harassment in the workplace

    The Women's Cell of IIT Bombay was established in 2002, in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling of 1997 on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. 

    The law on sexual harassment:

    The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace has formed a part of the legal discourse in India, following the 1997 landmark case of Vishaka and Others vs. the State of Rajasthan.

    The Government of India's international (apart from its constitutional) obligations, such as its commitment to CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women), reinforce the legal discourse of sexual harassment.

    Sexual harassment is illegal, and is a violation of human rights.

    The ruling of the Supreme Court on sexual harassment as a violation of human rights is a recognition of this kind of harassment as systematic discrimination against women, rather than crime against individuals.  

    The Supreme Court has issued guidelines to prevent, as well as punish, perpetrators of sexual harassment, and has made it legally mandatory for employers to deploy measures for combating and redressing incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace. 

    Duties and responsibilities of the employer:

    The Vishaka judgement of the Supreme Court has placed the responsibility of addressing and redressing sexual harassment on the employer.

    Failure on the part of the employer to create organizational mechanisms to prevent and redress sexual harassment is tantamount to contempt of court.

    The principal mechanism for redress as required by the Vishaka judgement is the setting up of a complaints committee.  Headed by a woman, and with women constituting more than fifty percent of its members, the committee must also have a third party member. This external member can be any individual/NGO representative independent from the organization, and familiar with the issue of sexual harassment.

    The employer may draft and make accessible to everyone in the organization, a policy that describes sexual harassment to include, besides the Vishaka guidelines (see next section), unwelcome physical advances, demands for sexual favours, display of pornographic material, dissemination of pornographic emails, text messages etc.

    Sexual harassment defined:

    According to the Vishaka guidelines of the Supreme Court, sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexually determined behaviour such as:

             physical contact, gestures, or stalking

             a demand or request for sexual favours

             sexually oriented remarks

             showing pornography

             use of electronic media (phone, internet) for perpetrating offensive acts

             any other unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

     

    It is important to note here that what constitutes sexual harassment is defined by the victim, and not by the perpetrator

    Recognising sexual harassment:

    Sexual harassment could be difficult to identify due to prevailing and pervasive myths such as

    • decently dressed women are not sexually harassed,
    • women who object to sexual harassment are over-reacting,
    • women keep quiet when harassed because they like eve-teasing,

     

    and sexist attitudes such as

    • provocatively dressed women ask to be sexually harassed and have no right to complain.

    The above instances are examples of further victimizing and traumatizing victims of sexual harassment.

    Attempts to influence/intimidate by linking professional advancement with sexual favours, or creating a hostile work environment through (for instance) sexually coloured conversations, letters, telephone calls and text messages, or making demeaning comments about women's roles in society are all cases of sexual harassment.

    In short, the definition of sexual harassment is broad enough to include all kinds of offensive, hostile, intimidating, humiliating and exploitative language, gestures and conduct.