The Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH Act) has been put on stream prevention of sexual harassment at workplaces. However, not a lot of people discuss or talk about its implications on Higher Education Institutions.
In 2016, the University Grant Commission working under the aegis of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, notified the University Grants Commission (Prevention, prohibition and redressal of sexual harassment of women employees and students in higher educational institutions) Regulations, 2015. This regulation is applicable to all higher educational institutions in India to prevent, prohibit and redress incidents of sexual harassment faced by its women employees and students.
UGC’s Gender-Neutral Regulation
Although the POSH Act, 2013 protected only the women, the UGC Regulation is gender neutral for the students studying at the institute and protects them all against any form of sexual harassment.
Who is covered under ‘Higher Education Institution’?
A Higher Education Institution refers to a university, college, or an institution deemed to be a university. Additionally, the Executive Authority is on whom the general administration is vested, or in case of a public funded institution, it means the Disciplinary Authority.
Necessary Steps to-be taken
A fine reading of the POSH Act and the UGC Regulations clearly elucidates responsibilities and duties on the part of all fthe higher education institutions to take necessary steps and create a safe educational space for all. Following are the steps that must be taken by every educational institution in order to comply with the prevailing laws and build a safe campus for its students, teachers and other employees:
Step I: Constituting An Internal Committee
Foremost, the commanding authorities must set up a redressal committee in place to deal with all matters relating to prevention, prohibition, redressal of sexual harassment as defined under the act. For this, the appointment of an Internal Committee compliant with the POSH Act, 2013 becomes vital. A strong, well-trained competent IC ensures timely and efficient disposition of issues as and when they arise.
Step II: Adopting a Zero Tolerance Policy
It is best recommended that every University/College must frame a gender-neutral policy to deal with any form of sexual harassment and post it publically on its website and other places. The insititute must adopt a zero tolerance policy towards any form of sexual harassment. Such public commitment to zero tolerance policy on the part of the Institutions would reflect a deeper level of accountability and create an image of a safe educational space in the public eye.
Step III:Gender Sensitization Training
The authorities must provide informative POSH & sexual harassment training and workshops for the students and employees. Such sessions or e-learning modules containing POSH Act ppt’s and the like should impart knowledge of the prevailing laws, regulations and the resources available to them if subjected to any form of harassment.
In addition, the focus of the POSH act training must be to build an understanding of what acts could constitute an unwanted sexual conduct, inculcate the best habits and develop a healthy culture within the institutional confines of POSH at work.
Step IV: Internal Committee Orientation
Merely appointing the Internal Committee does not suffice. The members of the Internal Committee must be duly trained to deal with complaints in accordance with the principles and procedures embodied in the POSH Act and the UGC Regulation.
Step V: Displaying Posters
Educational PoSH posters and informational sheets, highlighting the names and contact details of the Internal Committee members, should be put in the view of the public at prominent places such as break-rooms, corridors, library, etc. This is beneficial for both the parties as it acts as a means of discharge of the duty bestowed upon the authorities while simultaneously enriching the knowledge of the inhabitants of the college/university with regard to sexual harassment, the method of redressal, etc.
Step VI: Safety Measures
The security must be adequate at the institutions and it is the responsibility of the authorities to ensure the same. Moreover, basic requirements of proper lighting, maintenance of infrastructure and reliable public transport must be fulfilled in earnest.
Step VII: Other Facilities
Counselling and health services constitute an integral part of any university or college. If the problems faced by people are left unresolved, it creates a derogatory effect on their academic performance and overall well-being. Thus, help from trained professionals must be available full-time to all individuals, and such should be procured by the authorities. Additionally, adequate health facilities including gender sensitive doctors and nurses must be secured for the students and women employees.