Swayam Commits To Advance Women’s Right On 16th International Awareness Against Gender

International Kolkata National West Bengal

Kolkata : Swayam is a Kolkata based feminist organisation working for the last 28 years and is committed to advancing women’s rights and ending inequality and violence against women and girls. Each year, Swayam observes 16 Days of International awareness against gender – based violence.

This global programme, which starts on 25th November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) and ends on 10th December (Human Rights Day) aims to raise awareness about violence against women and girls and is observed all across the world.

This year during the 16 days, Swayam is focussing on raising consciousness against Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 completes 10 years in December 2023. 

But after a decade, the question still prevails, “whether the Act has been able to keep its promise of providing a safe and appropriate work environment to its employees especially for the women”?  Despite the availability of legal recourse under the POSH Act, many incidents of sexual harassment still goes unreported either due to a lack of awareness, inaccessibility or inefficient execution of the complaint mechanism.

These issues need to be rectified through robust, efficient and effective implementation of the mechanism provided under the POSH Act. Monitoring effective implementation is critical to understanding the grey areas that may require further introspection and translating into action by employers.

The purpose was to bring to light and showcase the present context of the Act and its implementation in various organized and unorganised workplaces. The program started with a short theatrical representation of the situation of Sexual Harassment at Workplace and implementation of the Act PoSH by a group of women change makers who have formed the collective to work towards gender equality.

After the play, the formal discussion proceeded which highlighted not only the challenges and shortfalls of this law but also shared the effective measures for the implementation of the Law and strategies for effective use of the Act.

Soma Sengupta, the director of Sanhita, having years of experience working with different Internal and Local Committees highlighted the challenges of the implementation of the POSH ACT. She mentioned that the significant aspect for this law is prevention that unfortunately has been forgotten. The Act only benefits women in the organised/formal work sector. There is knowledge gap and lack of awareness among women in the informal sector and women in general. It can be seen that only 9% of women are with the formal sector and the rest are with the unorganised sector, who not only are unaware of the existence of law but also suffers in silence.

She also said that at many formal workspaces the Internal committee is not formulated properly and are functional including the gaps in the knowledge among the IC members about the POSH Act. In the informal sector most the working women are not aware of Local Complaint Committee which are working on the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace at the District level.

Sirsha Gupta, a senior team lead of Sanhita said that based on the diagnostic review conducted by Sanhita we found that only 100 complaints were lodged in the formal sector in order to find out the legal awareness among the IC and the sensitivity towards the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace. More than 70 % respondent in this review were in a secured potion in the formal sector and when the respondent are in the powerful position then there is problem in case handling.

The review also stated that IC is not effective and because of the inadequateness in the functioning of the IC other institutions like Women’s Right Commission and District Courts have to be involved in this process. She also shared the statistics of the outcome of this review found that that among the aggrieved women 12% had lost their job, 16% cases got transferred and 26% of cases witnessed no action after the compliant made.

Another speaker Advocate Debasish Banerjee, who is a senior advocate practicing at the Calcutta High Court talked about the two landmark judgements to help people understand the journey of the POSH Act and its implementation.

He mentioned about the Vishakha judgement in 1997 and the guidelines given in the judgement was implemented in the form of POSH Act in 2013. 2nd judgement he talked about was AurelianoFerdandesvs the State of Goa, 2023. According to this judgement the Supreme Court ruled that there are serious lapses in the enforcement of the POSH Act even after such a long passage of time.

He told that the Sate and Central Government should highlight the points where the IC is lacking in the management and enforcement of the Act. NALSA should prepare a training module and the Bar council is advised to trained the IC staff. He said that the private organised work spaces should come forward for the implementation of both the judgement and the Act to create a nonbiased and gender sensitive society.

Amrita Dasgupta, the Director of Swayam said that Swayam for past many years is working on prevention of the sexual harassment on women at workplace with multiple stakeholders such as civil society organizations, education institutions and corporate houses. We also play as an active members of some of the Internal Committees and through this platform we are not only proving inputs in case proceedings but also are running sensitization and capacity building programs at large scale. She talked about the aim of the introducing the law which was to given the extensive definition of the word workplace and to focus on the ‘impact’ on aggrieved women not the ‘intend’ of the harasser.

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