We at Lawcubator have been reflecting upon the work we do and its impact in today’s India, 75 years into being a free country.
In 1997, the landmark Vishakha case around the gang rape of a social worker brought into our constitution the basic definition of sexual harassment at the workplace and guidelines on how to deal with it. Sixteen years later, in 2013, the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, or the PoSH Act, was passed.
This Act has been a huge step in the right direction to ensure autonomy, safety, and basic rights for women. Even so, the true measure of a country’s freedom is not just about the laws present on paper, but how well they uphold a citizen’s right to lead a safe, secure, and fulfilling life.
What does the PoSH Act do?
The PoSH Act provides a simple and approachable structure for a woman to register a workplace sexual harassment complaint.
It mandates any organisation with over 10 employees to set up an Internal Complaints Committee (IC). This committee includes a senior woman employee, 2 other employees, and one member from a relevant NGO. The IC is in charge of investigating and redressing any complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace. This aims to act as a parallel redressal mechanism.
The reports from these cases are to be recorded at the district and then state level. A woman can challenge these reports if she is unsatisfied with the IC’s findings.
How has the Act faired?
Unfortunately, despite such a cohesive Act, its on-ground implementation has not been as effective. A recent article in the Business Standard notes that 56% of districts had no relevant data recorded. Surveys from 2015 have also shown that 31% of companies were not compliant with the law, 35% were not aware of the penalty of non-compliance, and 40% had not trained the members of their internal committee.
The provisions of the Act are still not clear to most women. When women in the formal sector itself have a hard time understanding and acting on their rights, those in the informal sector and from marginalised communities struggle to find space in the law itself. The lack of collated data about these cases makes it equally difficult to implement any meaningful changes to the system.
In 2017, the rise of the #MeToo movement brought new hope and resolve to the working Indian woman. But four years in, registering and receiving justice for a workplace sexual harassment case remains as difficult as ever.
A case study in The Swaddle notes that even in the IT industry, which boasts of a large number of women employees, receiving justice for a PoSH complaint is still rare. Most companies do not clearly and openly share information about when and how a woman can register a complaint.
From internal politics to an IC’s lack of awareness and sensitization on how to communicate with a survivor, each step of the way can feel lonely and draining for a woman. To add to this, most women are still afraid of losing their jobs or being denied opportunities for growth if they make a complaint.
The root of the problem
Professor Maya John from Delhi University argues that the biggest problem is looking at cases of sexual harassment as isolated incidents and not part of a larger systemic issue. We agree.
We know that the situation on-ground is not a rosy picture. We believe that the PoSH law is the first step in building a safe work environment for women. The next steps are to educate ourselves about its provisions, unlearn internal biases, and support each other to speak up when needed.
This is not just applicable to a woman who faces sexual harassment or women in general. This has to be a collective effort by everyone in a workplace, community, and society.
We at Lawcubator are dedicated to educating and empowering workplaces, not just to comply with the law, but to create a safe and healthy workspace where every individual can peacefully work towards their highest potential.
The path has certainly not been easy, but we believe that every step matters. So here’s to working together to create the world we want to live in.