23 October, 2006

What Is Sexual Harassment?

From: India Together

(In the landmark Vishaka case in 1997, The Supreme Court recognised sexual harassment as human rights violation and gender based systemic discrimination that affects women's Right to Life and Livelihood.)

According to The Supreme Court definition, sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexually determined behaviour, such as:-

* Physical contact
* A demand or request for sexual favours
* Sexually coloured remarks
* Showing pornography
* Any other physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

Sexual Harassment takes place if a person:

# subjects another person to an unwelcome act of physical intimacy, like grabbing, brushing, touching, pinching etc.
# makes an unwelcome demand or request (whether directly or by implication) for sexual favours from another person, and further makes it a condition for employment/payment of wages/increment/promotion etc.
# makes an unwelcome remark with sexual connotations, like sexually explicit compliments/cracking loud jokes with sexual connotations/ making sexist remarks etc.
# shows a person any sexually explicit visual material, in the form of pictures/cartoons/pin-ups/calendars/screen savers on computers/any offensive written material/pornographic e-mails, etc.
# engages in any other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which could be verbal, or even non-verbal, like staring to make the other person uncomfortable, making offensive gestures, kissing sounds, etc.

It is sexual harassment if a supervisor requests sexual favours from a junior in return for promotion or other benefits or threatens to sack for non-cooperation. It is also sexual harassment for a boss to make intrusive inquiries into the private lives of employees, or persistently ask them out. It is sexual harassment for a group of workers to joke and snigger amongst themselves about sexual conduct in an attempt to humiliate or embarrass another person.

Quid pro quo and hostile work environment are the two broad types of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment at workplace is generally classified into two distinct types. 'Quid pro quo', means seeking sexual favours or advances in exchange for work benefits and it occurs when consent to sexually explicit behaviour or speech is made a condition for employment or refusal to comply with a 'request' is met with retaliatory action such as dismissal, demotion, difficult work conditions. 'Hostile working environment' is more pervasive form of sexual harassment involving work conditions or behaviour that make the work environment 'hostile' for the woman to be in. Certain sexist remarks, display of pornography or sexist/obscene graffiti, physical contact/brushing against female employees are some examples of hostile work environment, which are not made conditions for employment.


UNWELCOME is the key in defining sexual harassment. It is the impact and effect the behaviour has on the recipient that will define the behaviour as sexual harassment.

What is a workplace?
A workplace is any place where working relationships exist, where employer - employee relations exist.

For more details like combating Attitudes,
The employers', colleagues' and trade unions' responsibilities
etc., visit India Together

Sexual harassment at workplace

"Sexual harassment at workplace continues"

Special Correspondent

Most women not aware of Supreme Court guidelines, says study in health sector

Appropriate implementation mechanism lacking
No direct action against perpetrators

NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the Vishaka judgment, sexual harassment continues to dog many women in the health sector, a study entitled "Sexual Harassment in the Workplace" and sponsored by the Population Council has said.

What is required is an appropriate implementation mechanism that recognises the obstacles posed by power imbalances and gender norms in empowering women to make a formal complaint on the one hand and in receiving appropriate redress on the other, it said.

The study explored women's perceptions and experiences of sexual harassment in the health sector in Kolkata. It confirmed the reluctance of women to invoke the complaints mechanism and the ineffectiveness of the existing system in punishing the perpetrator.

Power imbalances

While leading forms of harassment were verbal or psychological, a significant number reported unwanted touch, and sexual gestures and exhibitionism. Experiences reflected, by and large, power imbalances that make younger women and those in subordinate positions particularly vulnerable. Incidents of harassment were most often perpetrated by people in authority, such as senior or consultant doctors and even patients and their families, perceived to have the power to influence the women's job security in the institution.

Few women, however, took formal action and complained to their supervisors or to the hospital management. Action taken in these cases was, by and large, indirect and rarely involved confronting the perpetrator or dismissing him.

Most women were not aware of the Supreme Court guidelines and complaints mechanism/formal institutions of redress. Many others feared attitudes that would blame them for provoking an incident or feared the loss of their reputation as a result of complaining.

They also realised their relatively powerless positions and feared job-related discrimination, including dismissal and withholding of promotions.

Much remains

The 135 in-depth interviews with women employees were conducted over a period of 11 months. Respondents were employed in four hospitals — two government and two private. In addition, 40 interviews were conducted with heads of institutions of the four hospitals, unions and association heads.

In 1997, the Supreme Court recognised sexual harassment at the workplace as a violation of human rights.

The landmark judgment outlines a set of guidelines (Guidelines on Sexual Harassment at the Workplace) for the prevention and redress of complaints by women of sexual harassment at workplace.

"While the Supreme Court guidelines have opened up the discourse on sexual harassment at workplace, it is clear that much remains to be done to address gender stereotyping and harassment at the working place and to ensure that women have recourse to effective resolution of complaints," the study said.