A Four Week Online Certificate Training Course on “Ending Violence Against Women: Awareness of Laws and Policies in India”, organized by the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), at the IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi. The session was on “Ensuring Safety of Women in Public Spaces Special Remarks” with special remarks from Ms. Nandini Sarkar, Director of Business Operations at C-Quel Management Private Limited. Inaugurating the session Bhavni, a researcher at IMPRI, welcomed the speakers and participants to the program with an introduction to the eminent panelists.
Professor Vibhuti Patel, the Chair for the session, started the session by emphasizing on the various factors that influence violence against women and the legal safeguards that should be ensured to be in place in order to protect them. A definition of a safe space was given in the session which was “Safe space is a formal or informal static or mobile place where women and girls feel physically and emotionally safe”.
The beginning of the session also discussed how the Nirbhaya incident in New Delhi changed the law and how the laws were made in place in order to develop a safe place for women in this country. She applauded the recent measures taken by the government to give out Women Security Scorecard Audits to various cities, and suggested safe public infrastructure for women, but also mentioned that without a change in the patriarchal mindset of the society these architectural safety measures might not serve their purpose to their full potential.
The Paradigm Shift Regarding the Registering the Complaints
Ms. Nandini Sarkar mentioned how a paradigm shift had taken place in the country post Nirbhaya incident. With people taking out candle marches in front of India Gate during the chilly winters of Delhi forced the laws and policies around women safety to change. In 2018 post lobbying, it was mandated to the companies to mandate their Constitution of the Posh Committee in their annual reports. She mentioned that there was a 20% increase in the number of harassment complaints reports received by nifty 50 companies in FY22 compared with the year FY21, BSE reported 100 sexual harassment cases climbed up by 27%.
According to the speaker, this is a positive change as now the victims are coming out and reporting the crimes happening against them.
Relentless Media Coverage
Ms. Sarkar also mentioned that relentless media coverage of high-profile sexual harassment cases in the country helped to break down the powerful abuser against the victim. She cited various examples that how public conscience and strong media reporting helped in bring out the underbelly of power politics in corporates, public and private sectors, #MeToo being one of the pioneering events that turned out to be a strong voice for the victims.
Some Loopholes in the Law
Along with mentioning how path breaking the law is and how it has helped to change the corporate DNA in the country regarding reporting of sexual harassment at the workplace, Ms. Sarkar also mentioned how the law is being misused which can lead to an innocent being punished for no reason at all. According to a KPMG study, after the annual report and appraisal season, corporates receive a lot of complaints regarding sexual harassment, and as mentioned in the session, upon further investigation, majority of them turn out to be false.
Ms. Sarkar emphasizes that as this law is extremely crucial to protect women at the workplace, it is also extremely crucial that the resources deployed to do so are not being misused. Corporates might have a knee-jerk reaction to complaints of sexual harassment, i.e., terminating or suspending the accused without proper enquiry to safeguard themselves form the media reporting. Sensitization workshops are necessary to understand the consequences of a fake complaint.
As POSH Guidelines mentions that the complaint can only be a woman, this loophole lets go of the male victims. During the session, Ms. Sarkar mentioned that many corporates have made their sexual harassment laws to be gender neutral, i.e., a complaint need not be of a specific gender, so that no complaint goes unheard of. Ms. Sarkar also hoped that the change in law will help make the workplace a safe space for everyone.
Ms. Sarkar concluded the session by reiterating that having a safe and non-hostile work environment for women is extremely necessary. As women consist of a very large proportion of the workforce in the country, by not providing them a safe environment to work in we leave them with no option but to leave the workforce, having a domino effect on the national GDP. Women have started to speak up against the injustice and violence against them, and having a right societal infrastructure along with a shift from the patriarchal mindset will help women reclaim their safe spaces in public.
Acknowledgements: Abhivyakti is a Research Intern at IMPRI.
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