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Adrift in no-man’s land

india Updated: Mar 20, 2013 22:55 IST
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Are men victims of false complaints and sexual harassment at the workplace? Do they suffer gender insensitivity? The logical answer would perhaps be NO! But, reality tells us a different story.

As an ombudsperson and member of several complainant committees, we receive a number of grievances from men. They raise issues ranging from fear of a false sexual harassment complaint because they gave a woman team member a low rating due to poor performance or being threatened by women team mates who were advised to look at other opportunities because they were unable to meet targets despite being put on a performance improvement plan.

There are instances where employees have been in a relationship and after an apparent bitter break up, the woman has filed a case of sexual harassment to get back at the man. Personal intimate details are shared, much to the embarrassment of all privy to such details.

Investigations reveal that in some cases the allegations levelled against the men were unfounded, the employees mutually agreed to engage in a relationship and yet when things went sour the incidents were projected as ones of sexual harassment at the workplace. Other than the fact that sharing intimate details is a blatant violation of privacy, the male colleagues have to endure the label of ‘alleged perpetrators of sexual harassment’.

A few men do complain of being victims of sexual harassment at the workplace: being subject to inappropriate overtures and invitations from their female bosses. Interestingly, they always ask to keep their names and other identifying details confidential. Being viewed as a victim by their colleagues is damaging to their reputation. They seldom want to complain formally for fear of being ridiculed.

They speak of the injustice of being denied requests to work from home, take leave to look after an ailing child or assumed to not need a work-life balance while their women colleagues find it easier to avail of these privileges.

Being committed to the cause of women doesn’t mean one turns a deaf ear to the genuine problems faced by men. Equality is giving a common platform to all employees regardless of gender, caste or creed. Companies that go beyond what the law mandates and set up gender neutral policies, always have a happier work force.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill passed on February 26 will help scores of women at the workplace as have the guidelines laid down in Vishaka v State of Rajasthan (1997). As a lawyer working for the cause of aggrieved women, I welcome the new developments. The important question is: where do aggrieved men go?

We don’t have to be anti-men to be pro women!

Sonal Mattoo is an advocate and director of the NGO Helping Hands. The views expressed by the author are personal.