Why We Need A Global Pact To End Workplace Sexual Harassment
In a recent Ted talk, Tarana Burke – founder of the #MeToo movement – said that “the most powerful movements have always been about a bigger shared vision of what’s possible, not just the acknowledgment of what is now”.
This past year, the movement saw celebrities, journalists, corporates, politicians and several others come out and talk about sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. Over the past couple of months, especially in India, several individuals and groups have been questioning the #MeToo movement, speculating whether or not #MeToo has fizzled out. The question, however, they should be asking is – “Are we working hard enough to end sexual harassment in the first place?”
It’s important to understand that from one level to another, from factories to odd jobs to established boardrooms, sexual violence against women surpasses everything, including pay and job security.
Why global convention?
This year, the United Nations is encouraging people to label online discussions with the hashtag #HearMeToo. UN’s 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, from November 25 to December 10, is aimed at “galvanising action to end violence against women and girls around the world”.
While the movement has helped several survivors across the world, there are countless others who are still living in shadows of violence and insecurity. A global protocol is, thus, required for these countless survivors and potential others.
Global conventions, and organisations have been working on hundreds of treaties — illnesses, global warming issues, anti-corruption measures, world peace, etc. However, time and again, governments have failed to diligently address the one issue that has affected the global population — sexual violence against women.
According to a nationwide online survey, about 78 per cent sexual harassment cases at the workplace go unreported in India. In European Union countries alone, about 40-50% of women have reported unwanted sexual advances, or other forms of sexual harassment at work.
In India, the 2013 Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act lays down rules that organisations with more than ten employees must have an independent committee to investigate cases. However, the survey says, many organisations are not following the law. These committees, designed to cater to these cases, do not act strongly upon them.
The negligent gap in global legislation, to a great extent, also holds back women from achieving greater success in their respective careers.
Where are we still going wrong?
Men underestimating the level of sexual harassment against women
A recent survey conducted across US and European counties revealed that men do not understand the level at which women are sexually harassed at the workplace. The survey brought to the surface the shocking gap between the public’s understanding of the reality of this issue.
Not using privilege accurately to help other people
People in positions of power have the privilege to make a difference. One of several hurdles such movements face is not having these people’s back. Any support in the form of a stricter action, a stand against perpetrators, a policy change in the organisation, and even a tweet in support of the survivors, can go a long way. While there’s immense support on social media from all sections of society, we need to acknowledge the fact that this movement is beyond just being a social media movement. Organisations, employers and lawmakers need to take immediate action when required. That is what will assure women trust and safety.
Also, avoiding women does not help the cause one bit — believing them first, does
A couple of days back, the Wall Street made headlines for its new unwritten rule of avoiding interactions with female co-workers. This, in order to prevent being accused of harassment. This exactly represents everything that is perceived wrongly about how one must can deal with sexual harassment. Believe women — don’t avoid them. That’s when the real progress will begin.
Need for stricter laws
A study by the WORLD Policy Analysis Centre showed that more than one-third of the world’s countries have absolutely no laws against workplace sexual harassment. This leaves about 235 million women vulnerable. And the countries where laws exist, they are considerably ineffective, or almost at the dead end.
Global protocols will help because they will drive national legislation and regulation. These pacts will help dictate stricter laws among countries, designated authorities, businesses and communities to address this issue.
Organisations must end forced arbitration. Keeping survivors silent and dealing with sexual harassment cases in closed rooms not only helps sexual predators get away, but also discourages other women who want to seek help.
Several organisations, however, are working towards betterment. For instance, CARE International is one of many organisations engaging in global campaigns. CARE works with global private-sector organisations in some of world’s poorest places through training initiatives to support women who report abuse.
Authorities and organisations must address attitudes that give rise to sexual abuse in the first place
For instance, software giant Microsoft’s new company policy holds that employees will be able to sue the company for sexual harassment. “We concluded that if we were to advocate for legislation ending arbitration requirements for sexual harassment, we should not have a contractual requirement for our own employees that would obligate them to arbitrate sexual harassment claims,” Brad Smith, the president and chief legal officer, had said in a statement earlier.
Let’s build fairer societies
#MeToo is not about men vs women. It’s about dismantling a toxic culture that has been considered normal for as long as one can remember. How do we dismantle this culture? This starts by raising our voices against it collectively. We need to follow this by creating and upgrading spaces that believe women and their truth. The most vital requirement at present is to educate ourselves and future generations about power, privilege, and respect. This is something that countries need to build on collectively.
What women professionals have to say
Arzoo Gill, an HR manager at a digital media firm in Gurgaon, feels men have definitely become more cautious when it comes to dealing with female colleagues. “I wouldn’t say everything has become as smooth as we would like it to be, but there’s definitely more awareness. #MeToo coming to India has helped a great deal, especially with regard to men talking with women in a certain tone.”
Prabhleen Malhi, an IELTS trainer and Personality development instructor, says there’s still a need for awareness to spread in smaller towns. Malhi, who resides in Rudrapur, Uttarakhand, shares that while women in her town are largely aware of what’s happening around, men hardly pay heed to their actions. “This movement is here to stay. However, awareness needs to spread across places. For instance, men in these small towns feel they are entitled. Even younger boys think they can get away after passing comments on women — on the road, in classrooms, or at work.”
Monika Mehra, a software engineer in Hyderabad, says she has already attended several workshops her organisation has organised with respect to sexual harassment discussions. “Male colleagues have become more cautious. I have personally seen a change in the way men speak with women now during work hours. Having said that, I feel there’s a lot companies can do in addressing this issue.”
According to Gurgaon-based restaurateur Sahiba Gulati, one of the many reasons for harassment lies in the fact that men believe they have the power to abuse women. Gulati says she and her partners have held several discussions about #MeToo. “What we try and explain our employees is that it’s important to speak up and we are there to believe them if they face any issues. We have warned them of dire consequences if any inappropriate behaviour is reported.”
Recalling Dr. King’s famous quoting of Theodore Parker — “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice” — Tarana Burke recently reminded us that we need to collectively bend it. “My vision for the Me Too movement is part of a collective vision to see a world free of sexual violence,” she says. “I believe we can build that world.”