The PoSH Act or the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act came into force in 2013. The objective of the act is to, quite simply, prevent any form of sexual harassment from occurring in the workplace. The Act came into being thanks to the struggles a woman faced in the informal sector. The Vishaka guidelines that were codified into law concluded with India’s top companies changing their policies to comply with the new laws.
The corporate sector implementing these laws meant that women now had a way to report cases of sexual harassment. At the time, many saw it as a step towards gender equality and creating a safe workplace.
The origin of the PoSH laws dates back to an SC verdict in the case of Ors and the State of Rajasthan vs Vishaka and Ors in 1995. The case was filed by a non-government organization asking for a punishment on the rapists involved in the gang rape of a social worker. The social worker in question was Bhanwari Devi.
The SC of India pronounced that sexual harassment is a terrible violation of women’s constitutional rights. The SC also agreed to the need for strict laws meant to protect women in the workplace.
Thus, the PoSH came into being in 2013 and drew a line in the sand that companies had to follow. The law existed to protect women from any form of harassment in the office and create a safe workplace for them. Companies quickly adopted the act along with a zero-tolerance policy towards harassing women.
Despite the noise and public support to enforce the PoSH Act, there are no reliable numbers to examine how many companies comply with the Act. Also, there is no data to see the number of complaints raised and redressed.
Perhaps the biggest concern with the PoSH laws is that it does not properly address the issue of accountability. It also does not specify which employee ensures their company complies with the Act. Also, it does not indicate who is responsible if the guidelines are ignored.
Another issue is that the law is inaccessible to female workers in the informal sector. To date, more than eighty percent of India’s female workers are in the informal sector. Also, experts note that sexual harassment cases in this sector are largely underreported for various reasons.
Unfortunately, the inefficient functioning and the lack of clarity in the law make the PoSH laws out to be a toothless tiger. Many women are not aware of the PoSH and even fewer know who to approach in case of sexual harassment. These problems wind up increasing the barriers between victims of sexual harassment and getting justice. Additionally, the power dynamics organizations have over female workers and the fear of professional repercussions deter women from filing complaints.
Considering the above, it looks like the PoSH laws are not achieving the objective. Which begs the question, what can be done to help the PoSH laws address the issue of sexual harassment?
Consider, for a moment, that the PoSH laws provide the groundwork for addressing and stopping sexual harassment and ensuring a safe workplace. With that in mind, it is possible to introduce measures and steps that augment the existing laws. These protocols cover the weaknesses in the PoSH Act and take a necessary step forward toward women’s empowerment.
The first and best way to augment PoSH laws and reduce sexual harassment is to define what that is. Companies should regularly hold meetings with their employees and outline what constitutes sexual harassment. Employees must be made aware of what is and isn’t allowed at the office and the consequences that come from breaking the rules. These programs go a long way to gender sensitization and help create a safe workplace for everyone.
When the first approach is not enough, the next best thing to do is put women’s safety in their hands. Companies can utilize special software or reporting mechanisms to hold employees accountable for violating the rules. Mechanisms, like I’m Safe, are the perfect tools for ensuring women’s safety and promoting women’s empowerment.
The fear of reprisal is often something that prevents female employees from speaking out against sexual harassment. Those instances are where other employees need to speak out on their behalf. Bystander intervention here ensures that the employee crossing the line does not escape from the consequences. It also tells the female worker that her colleagues are there to support her.
A company’s managers must regularly review their zero-tolerance policy and update it as required. This process helps the company identify blind spots in its policies and take the necessary steps to rectify those errors. It also ensures the company is compliant with the existing PoSH laws.
Companies can always implement mentorship or sponsorship programs aimed particularly at their female employees. The measure promotes women’s empowerment and is a step forward toward gender equality in the workplace. It also helps them overcome any barriers they may face in their professional journey.
The PoSH laws were created with good intentions and are essential in ending sexual harassment in the workplace. However, the many weaknesses in the laws make it hard to fully implement. The measures listed above help overcome the flaws in the act and helps the law achieve its true objective. It is up to the companies to implement these measures and create a safe workplace for all their employees.