Gender Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Movements in India
By: Priyanka Hooda* |
Gender discrimination is a curse on our society. Gender discrimination simply indicates the unequal treatment of individuals based on sex. However, today women are self-dependent and are raising their voices against discrimination and sexual harassment, inequality, and bias especially at workplaces. It is well-known that women’s safety and security is the most important for the whole country; even across the entire world—sexual harassment at the workplace has been one of the pivotal subjects of women movements for a long time.
The society has made great strides in curbing discrimination against women and continue to do so by providing free education to girls in many rural areas, enacting the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 for women, etc. Still, on the other hand, we have failed to recognise the fact that men are not immune to gender-based injustices either. People always argue that it is not the same thing- that men cannot be discriminated on a gender basis, but because all genders are not equally treated and do not have equal rights in society, that seems possible. If we talk about domestic violence and assault, men are also its victims, but society, in general, takes such violence less seriously because of the prevailing attitudes towards men- such as the belief that “men are fearless”. Still, in 21st century, the people who belong to the LGBTQ+ community face discrimination at different levels as well as instinctively hate those who are different as we all are biologically wired to fear and mistrust strangers.
All the genders have equal rights to live in society; no one is superior to others. Discrimination on the basis of gender originates harassment in society. All over the world, at different places, people face harassment at different levels- whether it is sexual harassment, Racial harassment, Religious harassment, disability-based harassment, etc. There are several types of harassment which are like poison for society. In India, there was an anti-harassment movement which was carried out as an indictment of an institutionalised culture that protected powerful men from being held accountable for their sexual crimes at the expense of their victims. The movement was started in 2018 and had taken people on a roller coaster ride. This was the #MeToo movement that encouraged women to speak up and to not be ‘OK’ with the unrestrained rape culture surrounding them. Before the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (prevention, prohibition and redressal) Act, 2013, no law dealt with sexual harassment acts and thus gendered equality and the right to work with dignity- both were violated whenever there was any offence of sexual harassment.
This article shall include the reasons behind discrimination with the laws which prevent gender discrimination, and analysis of the anti-harassment movement which was started in 2018 in India called as #MeToo, and also would mention the role of the Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 while giving several suggestions to prohibit gender discrimination in the society.
What is Gender Discrimination?
Gender discrimination describes a circumstance in which people are treated differently basically due to their gender. When people draw a discriminatory line between males, females, and LGBTQ+ community- it’s called gender discrimination. When employers treat employees unfavourably because of their gender, or someone refuses to lease a house to a transgender person, or encourages indirect sex determination, or encourages the wage gap due to gender, etc.- that difference in treatment is indeed gender discrimination.
Gender discrimination is prevented by state and federal law, and the violation of any civil rights may result in severe sanctions against offenders who engage in it. Gender discrimination is not limited to women only. Men can also be aggrieved, and so could other people who are discriminated based on their sexual orientation or transgender status.
There are several modes of gender discrimination, including the following:
● Denying hiring applicants because of their gender
● Paying more salary to one gender than another
● Firing the people based on their gender
● People of one gender being targeted with unwanted sexual advances
● Treating women differently due to pregnancy
Discrimination towards females and Laws to prevent violence against women in India
Swami Vivekanand once said- “just as a bird cannot fly with one wing only, a nation cannot march toward if the women are left behind”. Men and women are two equal holes of a perfect whole. Scientifically between women and men, there is a difference of only one hormone, except that there is no difference between them. Each completes the other and is completed by the other. But unfortunately, most of the women in the country are not aware of their rights because of illiteracy and the oppressive traditions, and as they are equally important and necessary, there are some laws for safeguarding their interest:
Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC): explains the offence of matrimonial cruelty which was inserted by the amendment of 1983 under IPC.
Domestic violence act, 2005: Domestic violence is the depressive reality of the Indian society, and for the protection of women, this act was enacted.
State Government v. Sheodayal: In this case, the High Court of MP said that a woman could outrage the modesty of another woman under section 354.
Dowry death: In the early days of history, the cases of dowry for women increased day by day. Now, the section 304B- added in the IPC against bride burning and dowry death, which is a punishable offence with imprisonment of seven years.
Anti-Harassment Movements in India
We read every day in the newspaper about violence, assault, sexual harassment with women. There are rapes and sexual assault cases increasing day by day; some victims raise their voices and fight for justice. But one dark side of the society is- some cases are not even reported because women are expected to remain silent and accept that India is unsafe since there are some nations that are even worse than India. However, at the beginning of October 2018, many women came forward with their stories of harassment, sexual abuse or any misconduct. Large numbers of women came out with their incidents of harassment and abuse- and soon India was witnessing the #MeToo Movement. As we all know, our Indian society profoundly believes in victim-blaming, which is why victims have faced endless trolls, hate and violence in most of the cases.
Implications of #METOO
On the work culture, the impact of #METOO movement was in both manners positive as well as negative. It started an open conversation about harassment. After this movement, institutions and companies were forced to make an Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) and follow the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (prevention, prohibition and redressal) Act, 2013- also known as the POSH law. After the ICC was constituted, the number of registered complaints under the POSH law spiked up- this indicated the positive result that now women are aware of their rights against sexual harassment. It also showed that women trusted their companies to ensure a proper redressal process. The #METOO movement initially started on social media and provided a platform for women to report their accounts of abuse. Overall, it was a movement which empowered women to speak up or raise their voices against harassment, misconduct, or assaults faced by them.
Role of “Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013”
The working environment should be respectful of all employees. A harasser conducts some irritating acts that affect or weakens the focus of others. He can also carry out activities that create uneasiness and undermines the security of the other employees. The working environment due to harassment includes some practices which lead to an unsafe workplace, and incorporates segregation dependent on race, incapacity, religion etc. The harassment can be verbal or physical, which directly depicts that threatening vibe towards an individual on account of his/her faith.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013 was introduced by the Indian Judiciary. The vital objective of this Act is to cast an obligation on every employee to provide a safe workplace- free from any harassment activities. This Act constitutes the provision of establishing an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) in each office, or any branch of an organisation. In the committee described above, more than ten employees work for receiving complaints and redressal of complaints regarding sexual harassment. If any organisation or institute fails to comply to the norms of the committee then under the aforementioned act the penalty will be imposed on them.
Penalties are: -
● The imposition of a fine
● Cancellation of business licenses
Section 354A of the Indian Penal Code also recognises sexual harassment as a punishable offence.
In 2017, the Ministry of Women and Child Development introduced the SHE-BOX: an online complaint system. It provides open and single window access to every woman, irrespective of her work status; no matter where she is working in- an organised or unorganised, private or public sector.
Guidelines given by the Supreme Court to Prevent Sexual Harassment
In the case of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan and others, the Supreme Court held that the sexual harassment of a woman at a workplace violates her fundamental rights under Article 14, 15, 19 and 21 of the Indian constitution. The Supreme Court concluded that Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013 was considered for protecting a women’s human rights.
Following guidelines were laid down by the Supreme Court which still needs to be fulfilled by every institution: -
● Every employer must prescribe procedures and settlements to prevent the acts of sexual harassment at the workplace.
● It is mandatory to form complaint committees at all workplaces.
● Only a woman employee heads the particular committee, and they must have the participation of an NGO or third- party.
● Half of the members of the committee should be embraced by women only.
● All the complaints related to sexual harassment against a woman should be registered under this committee only, and appropriate action should be taken in this matter- initiated by employers following the concerned law.
● The committee must give advice and recommendations to the victim for further course of action.
● This judgement, as mentioned above, led the Indian government to enact the Sexual Harassment of Women at a Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
Suggestions to Prevent Gender Discrimination
According to the above discussion, it could now be concluded that society needs some changes to reduce gender discrimination and create a safe society for all genders, and so following are the few suggestions:
● Pay attention to the ways that you form the concept of gender in your children’s upbringing as children learn about the genders at an early age from the adults around them. Little girls learn to play with dolls. On the other hand, boys play with cars. Often, the parents encourage this gendered play and always discourage them if they play with toys which belong to another gender. The upbringing of any child is the base of his personality, so the role of parents in this phase is an essential part.
● Reduce gender discrimination in the classroom. Without ignoring it, institutions should learn about gender discrimination, and about how they might be discriminating against individuals and what can they do to stop it.
● Engage men in the fight against gender discrimination: Gender Discrimination mostly occurs because people think that women are inferior to men. If men take the initiative in resisting gender discrimination by treating women with respect, by paying female employees the same rates as men, etc. then that might bring certain changes within the society.
Gender equality should be a norm- this means that there would not be any need of speaking on gender discrimination if maintaining gender equality becomes a default setting of the state. However, Gender discrimination is still out there and will continue to exist as a societal issue unless every last person internalises the idea that it does not matter what the gender of the person is. Gender discrimination occurs when sexes are treated unequally. It is not based only on gender differences but on how people are treated differently because of their gender. Gender discrimination is illegal, and there are several laws in the world to prevent and eliminate discriminatory practices.
Anti-harassment movements stand against sexual abuse and those unwelcoming sexual gestures towards another person which makes the person feel insulted, humiliated, offended, and also reduces the self-confidence of the victim. Acts such as sexual jokes, inappropriate touching, asking favours for sex, discredit any person because of gender- are just some examples. Legally, harassment violates the fundamental rights of the person; it also violates the right to life and personal liberty of the person as sexual harassment is a serious and pervasive problem caused by power and gender-based prejudices. However, several courageous survivors of sexual harassment and assault who raised their voices and told their stories at public domains were able to do so as the #MeToo movement played a major role. Thus, it is appropriate to conclude that by staying quiet- changes are not possible, every victim should raise their voice and look forward to helping others so that everybody is respected and have an equal opportunity at work while leading secured and healthy lives.
* The author is a student at Maharaja Agrasen Institute of Management Studies, GGSIPU, Delhi.
1956 CRLJ 83 MP
JT 1997 (7) SC 384
Gender inequality in India, Mamta Mahrotra, Prabhat Prakashan, 2013
Sexual harassment at workplace, Gaurav Kumar, universal law publishing Co., 2014
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