The world was taken by storm when the #MeToo movement came to light in 2018. Worldwide recognition and protest led to a great deal of inspiration for Indians as well. Many women came out in support of the movement. The culture of sweeping sexual, physical, and mental violence against women under the rug was finally called out and criticized publicly.
What started out with global public outrage against Harvey Weinstein’s many crimes petered down into call-outs and accusations of national leaders, filmmakers, actors, writers, comedians, scholars, etc. After years of being silenced, it is no surprise that Indian women did not hesitate to raise their voices against the crimes that they had been enduring.
Over the years, however, the vehemence of the movement had died down. This leads to a simple question.
‘Are the women in India safe now?’
According to a recent report by the Human Rights Watch, we are not.
We do not have to go too far to realize that despite raising voices and fighting back, women are still subjected to violence on a daily basis. Every morning, the news has at least one mention of a crime against a woman. However, just like many other issues in India, what we know is just a drop in the ocean.
The recent murder of a young Dalit girl in Hathras has brought to light the plethora of issues that surround all cases of violence against women. It is not simply a gendered crime. It is also deeply mired in the caste and class hierarchies prevalent in Indian society.
Sexual violence and harassment in the workplace is a rampant issue that has been popping up regularly on the radars. In 2018, a lot of people finally complained against male colleagues and publicly criticized the lack of safety in offices. Some men were arrested, many were not. According to the HRW report, women who speak up, are part of the #MeToo movement, or bring up complaints about harassment at work are more likely to be targeted. They encounter backlash, threats, intimidation, heightened workplace bias. They even deal with physical and sexual violence because of their defiance of the status quo.
The POSH Act Lies Untouched
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act law of 2013 is in essence a progressive act. It requires employers to take steps to protect female employees from sexual harassment in the workplace. They are also supposed to provide procedures for resolution, settlement, or prosecution. This POSH act also calls for a complaints committee. This committee is to monitor all the complaints surrounding sexual violence at the workplace.
However, these laws have been all but ignored (except on paper). Employers often propagate or instigate sexual harassment in offices, and the legal recourse has also failed women multiple times. More often than not, these complaints committees are non-existent or useless. Without recourse to legal help, many women have fallen back upon suffering in silence or choosing to change jobs. Public humiliation and ostracisation come with any sexual harassment trial. Working women are forced to choose between having a job or staying safe. This is especially true for women in the informal sector.
“I didn’t say anything at home because I was scared…we found the driver after three days. But then the police and other ASHA workers asked me to compromise.” an ASHA health worker from Haryana told HRW when asked about sexual harassment at work and the recourse she took.
Many women in the unorganized and informal sectors have access to the act. Even so, they do not have the ability to use it for their own good. There are a lot of barriers when it comes to them seeking their rights against sexual harassment at the workplace. The POSH act states that women working as household help, nannies, cooks, etc, are also under legal protection. Oftentimes, however, they do not have the privilege of ‘calling out’ their harassers with a purse that barely jingles.
“For women like me, what is #MeToo? Poverty and stigma mean we can never speak out,” said a part-time domestic worker. She was sexually harassed by a security guard. “There is no place safe for women like us.”
Women in the Informal Sector Suffer
95 percent of India’s female working population is employed in the informal sector. These include jobs like domestic work, agriculture, construction, weaving, tailoring, embroidery, and being street vendors. After watching hundreds of their female colleagues speaking up against abusers and being treated to a biased, uncaring social system, most of these women have decided to keep their income and (sometimes) their lives.
The callousness of the Indian Justice System when it comes to sexual harassment at work has proven to be an excellent deterrent for any version of the #MeToo movement to trickle down into the masses. The top echelon of society has been afforded the opportunity to stand up for themselves. But the lack of interest shown by the government and the judiciary has effectively curbed resistance and empowerment.
While #MeToo allowed women to shine a light on the atrocities committed against them at the workplace, we as a society can only step out of the darkness if people choose to open their eyes.
Source: Human Rights Watch
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