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  • Jharna Jagtiani

What Amounts to Sexual Harassment?


Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a pervasive issue in workplaces across the globe, and India is no exception. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013, commonly known as the POSH Act, aims to protect women from sexual harassment at their place of work. Understanding what constitutes sexual harassment is crucial for fostering a safe and respectful working environment. This article delves into the nuances of sexual harassment, providing clear examples and real-life case studies to illustrate its various forms. By exploring these aspects, I aim to enhance awareness and promote a culture of zero tolerance towards harassment.


What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome behaviour with a sexual connotation that abuses, injures, or intimidates the victim, creating an atmosphere of humiliation or hostility. It can be a single act or a series of actions, and the harasser's intention is irrelevant. The behaviour can be both physical and psychological, including subtle verbal innuendos and inappropriate gestures.


Examples of Sexual Harassment

  1. Sexual Comments or Behaviour:

  • Leering and Gestures: Leering at another's body or making sexually suggestive gestures can create an uncomfortable and hostile work environment. Such actions are not only inappropriate but also undermine the dignity of the individual.

  • Explicit Materials: Displaying sexually explicit materials such as pin-ups, cartoons, graffiti, or computer programs in the workplace is a blatant form of harassment. These materials can create a hostile environment and make employees feel unsafe and disrespected.

  • Comments on Attire: Making unsolicited comments on a woman's attire or suggesting how she should dress is another form of harassment. These comments often have underlying sexual connotations and can make the individual feel objectified.

  1. Inappropriate Communication:

  • Unwelcome Calls: Repeatedly calling a female colleague late at night and requesting dinner dates, especially when she has expressed discomfort, is a clear example of harassment. This behaviour invades the individual's privacy and creates a hostile work environment.

  • Generalisations and Comparisons: Making sweeping generalisations in professional settings, such as stating women are the best models for products or comparing objects to women in a sexualised manner, is inappropriate. Such comments not only trivialize women's contributions but also reinforce harmful stereotypes.

  1. Verbal and Non-Verbal Conduct:

  • Psychological Harassment: Any conduct that is verbal or non-verbal but sexual in nature and creates an uncomfortable or hostile environment qualifies as harassment. This includes making inappropriate jokes, comments, or gestures that target an individual's gender or sexuality.


Misconceptions About Sexual Harassment

A common misconception is that sexual harassment always involves physical contact. However, it can also encompass non-physical actions that are sexually suggestive or create psychological discomfort. Visible proof of harassment is not always necessary, as psychological and subtle forms of harassment can be equally damaging. Understanding these nuances is essential for recognising and addressing harassment in all its forms.


Real-Life Case Studies

Case Study 1: The Persistent Caller

A female employee was repeatedly called late at night by a male colleague who persistently requested to have dinner with her. Despite her clear discomfort and refusals, the calls continued. This behavior created a hostile work environment, making it difficult for her to perform her duties. This case underscores how non-physical actions, such as unwelcome calls, can constitute sexual harassment.

Case Study 2: The Inappropriate Lecturer

During a lecture on advertising, a male lecturer made several inappropriate comments, suggesting that "women are the best models to sell products" and likening a car's design to a woman's body. These statements were not only unprofessional but also contributed to a hostile environment for female students. This case illustrates how verbal conduct, even in educational settings, can amount to sexual harassment.


Understanding and identifying sexual harassment is essential for creating a safe workplace. It encompasses a broad range of behaviours, from overt physical actions to subtle psychological ones. By recognising these behaviours and addressing them promptly, employers can ensure a respectful and supportive environment for all employees. The POSH Act mandates strict measures for the prevention, prohibition, and redressal of sexual harassment, emphasising the importance of a safe and dignified workplace for women.



References

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