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Sexual harassment in workplace: Causes and remedies
Thursday December 12, 2013 7:21 PM, Syed Ali Mujtaba

The problem of sexual harassment in work place is increasingly coming out of the closet. The case of Tarun Tejpal, managing editor of news magazine Tehalka is a case in point. This particular case has brought this issue to the center stage and there is a need for public debate how to control such occurrence in future.

After this case companies are starting to realize that the problem is real as more victims are gathering courage to complain such offences. The problem has become more complex due of its sexual dimension that adds up to personal, psychological, moral and marital implications.

Sexual harassment occurs in the workplace or in a work-related environment because of the unwelcome, unwanted, uninvited, action or behavior of a person that causes discomfort, humiliation, offence or distress to other. Majority of such cases are directed towards the opposite sex by men working high position in an organization.

Sexual harassment at a workplace is unwelcome behavior and it affects the terms conditions of employment and have huge bearing on the work environment as such. Therefore this problem has to be discussed in public for better understanding of its causes and effective measures for its remedies.

In India, sexual harassment is termed 'eve teasing' and is described as: unwelcome sexual gesture or behavior whether directly or indirectly as sexually colored remarks; physical contact and advances; showing pornography; a demand or request for sexual favors; any other unwelcome physical, verbal/non-verbal conduct being sexual in nature and/or passing sexually offensive and any other such unacceptable behavior.

Sexual harassment includes an array of things. Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault, unwanted pressure for sexual favors, unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering, or pinching, unwanted sexual looks or gestures, unwanted letters, telephone calls, or materials of a sexual nature, unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions.

Referring to an adult as a girl, doll, babe, or honey, whistling at someone, cat calls, sexual comments, turning work discussions to sexual topics, sexual innuendos or stories, asking about sexual fantasies, preferences, or history. Sexual comments about a person's clothing, anatomy, or looks. Spreading rumors about personal sex life.

Touching opposite sex's clothing, hair, or body. Rubbing oneself sexually around another person's body. Standing close or brushing up against the opposite sex. Looking a person up and down with sexual desires. Making sexual gestures with hands or body movements. Sexually suggestive signals, facial expressions, winking, throwing kisses with hand, or lips locking etc.

There are many causes of sexual harassment but most important is the culture and values system and the relative power and status of the men and women in our society.

The way in which men and women are brought up in the society strongly influences their behavior in an organization. Women often lack self confidence because of the way they have been socialized and are customized to suffer in silence. Whereas men brought up with macho beliefs, consider females a mere toy to play with, easily carry these values into the workplace. Such patriarchal viewpoint creates a atmosphere that allows men the freedom of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Women are vulnerable to sexual harassment because they more often lack power, and work in insecure positions. Due to the fear factor women often resign to their fate rather than raise voice against sexual harassment. Since they do not know where to go for complain and how their complain will be treated, compel them to keep quit.

Some times sexual harassment is also seen as a power game, where man insists on sexual favors in exchange for benefits he can dispense with due to his position. The 'casting couch' is probably the best-known example of power game.

As recent economic and social changes have changed power relations between men and women, men are feeling a sense of insecurity. With women now being empowered, some men feel threatened by their career advancement. To over come such insecurity, some resort to harass women in the work place.

Some men feel stressed as even after putting their best, they sometimes do not get proper recognition, where as women with little talent are preferred in an organization. This sometimes causes frustration and such men resort to sexual harassment to overcome their stress.

Its not only men who are to be blamed all the time, some women think that the real women have to look sexy. They see sexuality as their only power base to play along. Such attitude of women sometimes invites sexual advances by men at the work place.

Many organization don't have clear policy on such complaint and disciplinary procedures to deal with sexual harassment. Some of them who have it, do not implement it to safeguard the organization's image.

There should be clear management policy on sexual harassment. Management must develop a clear definition of sexual harassment and a definite procedure to deal with it. This is already in place and needs to be implemented.

An effective employment policy should ensure well planned career paths based on merit to reduce the vulnerability of individuals and harassment by staff who abuse their power and authority.

There should be awareness among the staff members about sexual harassment and the consequences of it. They should know their social responsibilities to prevent such incidents. The staff member subjected to sexual harassment must complain to the committee members constituted for such purposes in the organization, before going to the police.

Sexual harassment in a work place is a sensitive topic. Rather than solely relying on disciplinary action for the inappropriate behavior, the organization must play proactive role provide behavioral support and discuss this aspect as a part of work routine.

Merely providing staff members information about the sexual harassment policy is insufficient, the office staff must nurture an inclusive, supportive, and respectful environment efforts to build a congenial working environment.
Equally important is that the organization and staff must support the victim of sexual harassment and help to overcome the negative effects of such an experience.

Finally, every working women must know that it is high time to stand up and fight for such injustices.

Author is a journalist based in Chennai, can be contacted at

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