It is not another take on the firebrand magazine that failed to stand for the very issues it fought for. Neither it is a moral policing on the law intern nor the retired judge involved in the case. What we are trying to explore here is the brevity of the significance of sexual harassment cases in the country.
In India, the first need of law against sexual harassment was realized only16 years back. The law was enacted in April this year and the legislation became an official notification just a couple of days back. This reinstates the fact that on one hand, cases such as these have lived here, bred here and pestered the society for a long time; but provision for curbing such a menace is a fairly new concept for us.
The magazine, which actively covered the gang rape in the national capital in December 2012, admitted to not being equipped to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace. It admitted to have lacked an official process to address the issue, as mandated by the Supreme Court guidelines.
While large cooperate houses have often been questioned on their preparedness to handle issues of sexual harassment. On the other hand, the question of workplace safety issues in the development sector still seems to remain under carpets for most women and employers. Working in this sector often entails women to operate in very difficult terrains. Most of the women working with non-governmental organizations have to visit rural pockets for field work .In such working conditions, the absence of any mechanism to tackle the workplace sexual harassment, would only further compound the issue of women’s safety. Statistics suggest that there are an estimated 3.3 million NGOs in India. It is indeed a staggering number. Even if we can ensure the safety of women in 3.3 million NGOs, it could prove to be an exemplar for many other organizations. It would be an irony if those of us engaged in the social sector that propagate on women’s empowerment; take a lackadaisical attitude against creating its own safe work place environment.
The Apex Court has mandated the Vishaka Guidelines that enjoin employers by holding them responsible for providing safe work environment for women. These guidelines call for both proactive and reactive measures. Before even pointing out to the bigger corporates, the social sector has to ensure that policies are well formulated and reporting processes are clearly carved out. Few of us may accuse the larger players in the market of not having the will to stand up for the cause. But they definitely have the capacity to deal with it. Is our sector willing to capacitate the smaller organizations and help make the larger change?
Although, internationally or nationally renowned not-profit organizations are equipped to tackle safety issues, this could still be a very daunting task for smaller NGOs where Human Resource systems are yet to be strengthened. The challenge lies in creating awareness of rights among women working in the grass-root level who are educationally ill-equipped and more vulnerable. Creating a favorable working environment for women in the development sector could lead to one step closer in enabling progressive workplaces. The recent cases are a wake-up call to reinstate the very essence of the development. It should clearly not be a space that preaches and does not practice.