Silent Sufferers: Harassment still remains behind closed doors (March 8 is International Women's Day)
Priya Gosain (name changed) never paid heed to her boss' "inappropriate advances". Ignoring him was the only way out, she thought, not realising that raising her voice was the solution.
"I never liked his touch. He used to act friendly and massage by neck while talking. All I could do was feel uncomfortable, yet comply," 22-year-old Gosain, told IANS.
"My colleagues would have mocked me, I feared embarrassment and the prospect of losing my job forced me to keep quiet," she added.
Gosain's fears have been substantiated in a recent study by Lady You're Not a Man (LYNAM), the team behind author Apurva Purohit's book "Lady You're Not a Man - The Adventures of a Woman at Work".
The survey revealed that whilst discussing sexual harassment at work, 45 percent of women in Mumbai and 40 percent in Bangalore said that would not report any incident at work because they believe "nothing will really come out of it".
"While 53 percent in Delhi, 44 percent in Hyderabad and 57 percent of women in Pune believed that they might be the subject of office gossip if they report any sort of sexual harassment at work," the survey said.
The research covered 1,000 women respondents between the aged 25-34 years, who spoke about their work-life scenario.
"Harassment in the form of gaze are a regular feature, which sometimes get ugly and weird. You are a woman, so male gaze following has become more of an obvious feature. This may not exactly be sexual harassment, but it definitely is harassing," Shweta Sengar, a media professional, told IANS.
Agreed Reshma Soni, and said that it is essential for women to fight back.
"It may not always be sexual harassment, but there always exists a level of harassment. So, it is important for people to speak up against this. Often, the victims talk only among their peers and are more scared if such advances are initiated by senior managers," Soni, who works with a research firm in Gurgaon, told IANS.
Social activist Ranjana Kumari said that the "horrific" Dec 16, 2012 Delhi gang-rape has changed women, who were earlier forced to suffer, and empowered them to come out and complain.
"This is how a young intern and a young journalist had the courage to write against her boss who molested her in an elevator. Earlier in India, women were afraid of being confrontational or litigious. Certainly, the more high-profile cases we see, the more the average woman will become conscious of her rights and aware of what steps to take in the event of an incident," Ranjana Kumari, director of NGO Centre for Social Research, told IANS.
Concurred Ruchira Gupta, founder and president, Apne Aap Women Worldwide, a grassroots movement to end the trafficking of women.
Gupta added that speaking up can help overcome fear, and that women may realise that the support they get is greater than the backlash they may face.
"My own experience has been that by speaking up, I overcame the fear and also realised that there was nothing to fear but fear itself. There were more people who were on my side than I realised and certainly more people with me than against me. I also realised that our experience is common and I made more friends by speaking up," Gupta told IANS.
She said that even employers can play a crucial role by listening to the female employees, trusting them and not laughing off or trivialising their complaints.
"(Employers can) put the rights on notice boards prominently everywhere, make employees sign off on office norms regarding women when joining. There should be constant team building, training and orientation on a monthly basis with everyone - from the boss to the junior most employee - on gender sensitisation. Reward whistle-blowers with legal follow-up, rather than hushing-up issues," she suggested.
Ranjana Kumari pointed out that though acknowledgment of harassment at work is a "good sign", more legal protection and social encouragement was needed for victims to help them open up.
"Silence still prevails, girls write about their experiences, but are not confident to come out and take on the system. Sleaze is everywhere and every woman has a story to tell; it is our collective responsibility to ensure that these women can come out and speak," she added.
(Posted on 06-03-2014)