Naming, shaming sexual predators is no substitute for proper redressal mechanisms
Given the unequal power relations at most workplaces, invariably when the harasser is a man in a superior position, there is a distinct failure on the part of the employer to protect the woman’s career interestseditorials Updated: Oct 27, 2017 11:40 IST
A certain level of desperation could well have pushed many women to narrate their experiences to Raya Sarkar (a master’s student of law at University of California) who put up a post which has now gone viral on a social media site documenting sexual harassment by prominent men in Indian academia. Ms. Sarkar, who has compiled the list based on first-person accounts along with screenshots of chats, WhatsApp messages, emails and call recordings, has put many giant reputations on the line.In many cases in which the victim has sought anonymity, a friend has acted on her behalf.
On the face of it, this may seem like a fitting way to name and shame harassers. But, this method of calling out sexual harassers is problematic and could well be used to settle scores. While no one doubts that it takes a lot for a woman in India to come out and name her harasser, this somewhat unorthodox method could actually, as many prominent women academics put it, delegitimise the long struggle by women against sexual harassment and create a backlash against them in the workplace. The creation of such a list definitely enters the grey area of ethics and legal legitimacy.
However, the fact that such extreme steps are being considered by many women suggests that the institutional mechanisms which are meant to protect against harassers are not working as they ought to. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 provides for all organised-sector institutions to have a committee of five to look into cases of harassment and resolve them. At least three members of this panel must be women. But this is where many organisations have been negligent. Even in cases in which such committees exist, studies find that the issue is rarely resolved in a manner satisfactory to the woman who is almost always in a subordinate position to the harasser.
Many women prefer not to complain to the panel as they lack the confidence in the redressal mechanism and fear vindictive action from the harasser. In March 2017, the ministry of women and child development published a training module to heighten awareness through classroom sessions. However, most employers covered by this chose to do this through online training which was found to be simplistic and generalised and not conducive to understanding the complex nuances of harassment.
Given the unequal power relations at most workplaces, invariably when the harasser is a man in a superior position, there is a distinct failure on the part of the employer to protect the woman’s career interests. This often leads to resignation or termination of services of competent and qualified women who then have no recourse but to approach the police and law courts or as the current trend shows, the media.
India has a serious paucity of women in the workforce. Unless conducive conditions exist for them to enter and do well in their jobs – and this includes protection from sexual harassment – this will not change.