Monday, August 06, 2007

INDIA: Sexual harassment Bill would 'discriminate against men' - 19/07/2007

INDIA: Sexual harassment Bill would 'discriminate against men' - 19/07/2007

India is considering its first ever legislation aimed at stopping sexual harassment and providing protection to women who want to join the workforce of the country's growing economy. The Bill has been welcomed by women's rights groups across India. But it is being criticised for discriminating against men, and some have even suggested women could exploit the legislation to further their careers.

Presenter - Girish Sawlani Speaker - Dr Ranjana Kumari, president, Women Power Connect; Dr Jaya Arunachalam, president, Working Women's Forum; Swarup Sarkar, coordinator of the Save Family programme at the Save Family Foundation

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SAWLANI: The draft law is an initiative of the Ministry of Women and Child Development. It will be put before parliament when it resumes on the 6th of August. Although the supreme court has tried cases of sexual harassment in workplaces over the past decade, President of Women Power Connect, Dr Ranjana Kumari says the problem is still rampant.

KUMARI: It is fairly common because of a lot of women who are not reporting due to the reasons of social shame and also they are not prepared to face the consequences in terms of what will happen ultimately once they come out with such an issue. Because normally it is between working relationship of the subordinate and the senior, so the reporting is very extremely low.

SAWLANI: If approved by parliament, the bill will offer victims leave from work and compensation from money deducted from the salaries of their tormentors. Dr Kumari explains that women will be able to seek legal advice through sexual harassment at workplace protection cells throughout the country.

KUMARI: The cell will be called 'sexual harassment at workplace protection cell' and they are the ones where women can complain and also of course what you must do and what you must not. What will be considered as sexual harassment is being defined and also the of course the punishment because normally it used to be when a woman will complain but it is she who will be transferred or she who will be seen as somebody who is creating trouble. That approach and attitude will have to change.

SAWLANI: At present, 89 per cent of some 270 million female workers belong to the unorganised sector. President of the Working Women's Forum Dr Jaya Arunachalam says that these women have no protection from exploitation and sexual oppression. She believes that this bill will enable them to seek help when they experience sexual harassment.

ARUNACHALAM: It will actually protect the rights of women in workplaces. I think the most important thing is the women can go to any court as soon as this bill is passed. I think so this is more important even at the district level, that means she can take it up against any employer or any factory.

SAWLANI: One of the main concerns of this proposal is that women will be able to exploit the legislation in order to seek unlawful monetary benefits and career advancement. Such criticisms have been highlighted by men's rights groups. Swarup Sarkar from the Save Family Foundation says that women can easily misuse this law.

SARKAR: Basically, the law has been drafted in very badly. This law is made only with one intention, that people can misuse this law, get the money and there is no punishment. This is absurd. Any woman makes a false complain and after proving that you cannot take the action. What kind of law this is.

SAWLANI: Working Women's Forum's Dr Arunachalam also believes that such exploitation may be inevitable.

ARUNACHALAM: I think some of these women compromise and therefore I think the women's movement or women's leaders who are fighting for this, we lose our credibility.

SAWLANI: Save Family Foundation's Swarup Sarkar adds that current harassment laws are sufficient and the new bill is unnecessary and discriminatory towards women.

SARKAR: Already in IPC law, its there. Why do they need the extra law? Lets implement this law, it is sufficient. That is a gender equal law. Harassment is harassment. There are also a lot of men earning hardly ten rupees or fifteen rupees people accepting. So the government should concentrate to stop the harassment irrespective of any man or woman. 270 million women are working in the unorganised sector. Ten times more men are working in the worst conditions of the two.

SAWLANI: Despite promising signs of this law, president of Women Power Connect Dr Ranjana Kumari says that implementing it is another issue altogether.

KUMARI: Our problem in India is that we have great laws, you know. We have all these things to say that we are now finally protecting our women but implementation is a huge issue here. So I would think that unless implementation is really streamlined and women get justice, all these laws will be of not much use.

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