Rights body says Indian women remain at risk of sexual abuse at work

New Delhi, Oct 14 (efe-epa).- Human Rights Watch on Wednesday said the failure of the Indian government to properly enforce its sexual harassment law had left millions of women in the workplace exposed to abuse without remedy.

The global rights watchdog, in a 56-page report, said many victims were not able to speak out against sexual abuse at work because of stigma, fear of retribution, and institutional barriers to justice.

“The central and local governments have failed to promote, establish, and monitor complaints committees to receive complaints of sexual harassment, conduct inquiries, and recommend actions against abusers,” HRW said.

It said the government should ensure compliance with its 2013 Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, or POSH Act as it is popularly known.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, acknowledged that the global #MeToo movement had helped to shine a light on violence and harassment at work.

But the experiences of millions of women in the informal sector remained invisible.

“India has progressive laws to protect women from sexual abuse by bosses, colleagues, and clients, but has failed to take basic steps to enforce these laws.”

The nonprofit said it conducted field research and over 85 interviews in Tamil Nadu, Haryana, and Delhi, including women working in both the formal and informal sectors, trade union officials, labor and women rights activists, lawyers, and academics.

The survey found that women, who came forward with complaints against men in senior positions, have often encountered a backlash, including threats, intimidation, retaliation, attempted bribes, gaps and bias in legal procedure, and stigma.

The report mentioned an alleged gang rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman in Uttar Pradesh state last month that “highlighted both rampant violence against women in India and structural violence against poor and marginalized communities.”

“The authorities’ response illustrates the barriers women face in accessing justice,” it said.

The alleged brutal sexual assault of the woman sparked protests in several Indian cities, particularly after her family claimed that police cremated her body without their consent.

The woman belonged to India’s 200-million Dalit community, who are placed on the lowest rung of the country’s age-old caste hierarchy as they suffer social and economic deprivation.

The country is considered one of the world’s most dangerous places for women, with a woman being raped every 15 minutes, according to government data.

“For women like me, what is #MeToo? Poverty and stigma mean we can never speak out,” the HRW report quoted a part-time domestic worker as saying. A security guard had sexually harassed her.

“There is no place safe for women like us,” the unnamed woman said.

The 2013 POSH Act mandates employers to take steps to protect female employees from sexual harassment in the workplace and to provide procedures for resolution, settlement, or prosecution.

The law widened the definition of the workplace to cover the informal sector, including domestic workers, and protect all workers in any place visited by the employee during her employment, including transportation.

The act requires employers to create an internal committee at each office with 10 or more employees to handle complaints and recommend actions ranging from a written apology to termination of employment.

But studies show that many of these committees do not exist, and when they do, there is no publicly available information on how to access them, HRW said. EFE-EPA

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