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

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