Violence against women remains one of the most serious obstacles to the realization of women’s political, social and economic rights today. One aspect of this is the scale of prevailing discriminatory legislation and policies. More than 150 countries still have laws that discriminate against women. This phenomenon is seen in both rural and urban areas and transcends borders. Worldwide, one in 10 women, have experienced forced intercourse or another forced sexual act in their lifetime.
In many countries, women candidates contesting for elections face intimation, harassment and violence when contesting elections. An IPU study for Violence Against Parliament (VAP) suggested that roughly 81.8% experienced psychological violence, 44% received threats of rape, kidnapping etc. and 25% experienced physical violence in the parliament. It has been argued by some scholars that sexual harassment in these scenarios has more to do with issues of control and abuse of power for the purpose of humiliation than sexual attraction.
Now, with globalization and the rise of phenomenons like feminism and equality. Unrestricted sources like the internet, women have more avenues to express their views and engage politically. On the other hand, it also gives more access to perpetrators to subject women to violence.
Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women
The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women was adopted on 20 December 1993 without a vote by the United Nations General Assembly. The Declaration states three categories of violence against women in the areas of the state, general community and violence in the family.
According to the Declaration, violence against women is rooted in the historically unequal power relations between women and men. It also explains that violence against women is ‘one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared to men.’
Introduction of right in various parts of the world
The European Union has a directive on sexual harassment which includes ‘any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature occurs, with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’
Harassment and sexual harassment within the meaning of this Directive shall be deemed to be discrimination on the grounds of sex and therefore prohibited.
The United States of America recognizes two forms of sexual harassment, quid pro quo (an employee faces harassment in exchange for a job or promotion) and hostile work environment (offensive work environment or unreasonably interferes an employee’s work performance)
The Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991 further added provisions including expanding the rights of women to sue and collect compensatory and punitive damages for sexual discrimination or harassment.
Laws in India
Sexual harassment cases were initially filed under the IPC. The Vishaka vs the State of Rajasthan, 1997 laid down the specific guidelines for sexual harassment. According to the constitution, sexual harassment infringes the fundamental right of a woman to gender equality under Article 14 and her right to life and live with dignity under Article 21.
However, it was the Company’s Act,2013 which addressed the much-needed issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. It also provided safeguards against false or malicious charges. The Act covered concepts of ‘quid pro quo harassment’ and ‘hostile work environment’ as forms of sexual harassment if it occurs in connection with any act or behaviour of sexual harassment.
Recent reports by the International Labour Organization revealed that very few Indian employers were compliant with this statute. Most Indian employers have not implemented the law despite the legal requirement that any workplace with more than 10 employees needs to implement it. According to a FICCI-EY November 2015 report, 36% of Indian companies and 25% among MNCs are not compliant with the Sexual Harassment Act, 2013. The government has threatened to take stern action against employers who fail to comply with this law.
In spite of these laws, very few women came out to complaint against sexual harassment due to the stigma surrounding the issue. In a 2017 MSN poll, it was found that 31% of people in the U.S have been sexually harassed in the workplace the condition for other countries was even worse. The existing laws were also not comprehensive enough to help women and fewer were even aware of its existence. The burden of proof added another obstacle for the victims. Many of the perpetrators, on the other hand, were able to use contracts like Non- Disclosure Agreements to save themselves.
A report from the Human Rights Watch revealed the widespread sexual harassment that took place during the Kenyan elections in 2017. The 31-page report documented mental physical and gender-based violence that took place during the elections. The victims were ignored by the parliamentarians claiming that they brought it upon themselves. Many were not even provided basic medication.
The social media phenomenon #Metoo brought to light horrid accounts of sexual harassment faced by women on various occasions. The idea of “Empowerment through Empathy” was behind the MeToo Movement. The movement made us aware of the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.
The me-too movement penetrated to various parts of the world. Serious accusations about politicians from Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
A recent article in the New York Times disseminated the hostile working conditions of UK parliamentarians. Young staffers consider sexual harassment a ‘necessary evil’. The #Metoo movement brought into light an avalanche of stories about misbehaviour in the parliament.
Parliamentarians like Damien Green have resigned. Although many of the senior politicians remain protected by strict libel laws that set a high bar for reporting sexual misconduct.
The Me-Too movement in India was a manifestation of the international Me-Too movement that occurred in late 2018.
Union Minister of External Affairs, MJ Akbar resigned from his post-October 17, 2018 over sexual harassment charges leveled against him by several women journalists like Priya Ramani and several others.
The effects of #metoo
A week after former minister of state for external affairs M.J Akbar resigned from his post, a committee of a group of ministers was set up, headed by ex-Union home minister Rajnath Singh. The group has now been given a timeline of three months to address the issue. The committee has to examine various provisions for the safety of women and recommend further measures required to strengthen and make them more effective. The WCD ministry has also launched an electronic complaints box that enables women to bring to light any complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace.
In the United States, Jackie Speier proposed the Member and Employee Training and Oversight on Congress Act (ME TOO Congress Act) on November 15, 2017. The purpose of the bill is to change how the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government treats sexual harassment complaints. It aimed to make the process easier and much faster. The Office of Compliance would no longer be allowed to keep settlements secret and would be required to publicly publish the settlement amounts and the associated employing offices. For the first time, the same protections would also apply to unpaid workers, including pages, fellows and interns.
Movements like #Metoo are necessary to increase awareness of various social evils which are many times overlooked by society. This long-awaited movement was the boon of social media which helped form a community to help each other and also spread awareness of the dangers of the problem. It raised awareness among women about their rights as an individual in the workplace or outside and helped men understand the consequences of the same. A recent survey by Harvard Business Review reported a decrease in unwanted sexual attention and an increase in the number of women reporting such cases.
Another factor that could help in creating better legislation is the participation of women in politics. With increased representation, women would better be able to raise key issues such as reproductive rights and equal pay. Although due to several reforms in various countries participation has increased there is still a gaping gender gap for women in politics. The main reasons are hostile working conditions and harassment. In many countries, women candidates face intimidation, violence and harassment when contesting elections as their participation threatens the dominance of male power
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