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ImageExperts tell Tanya Datta on ways to cope with sexual harassment at work

If you think you cannot go around it, over it or through it, it is always better to negotiate with it. Even though talent is important, so is being a little diplomatic. These days in workplaces, interpersonal skills are a great way to climb up the career ladder.

Be it chatting over lunch, water cooler discussions or some impromptu outings, at times it seems difficult to analys where things are heading to. When you are in such an environment, one tends to trespass limits. But it is only you, who needs to know how and where to stop.

In this corporate world, women are spending nothing less than eight to ten hours a day in their office. And when you are in such close proximity to men-married or single, minds do tend to run. Women, at times, do not realise that they are giving some sort of signals to their counterparts. This is indeed one of the major reasons why guys take their female colleagues for granted. Aarti Sharma, an IT professional, feels that since she was in a male dominated field this was bound to happen, "It was about four months that I had joined my new office and I shared a cubicle with a man. He seemed to be helpful and friendly at first, trying to get me accustomed to the office and my work. But then, he started making these remarks about my dressing style and my looks in a way I was not comfortable with. I tried ignoring at first, thinking he will stop, but he didn't." Aarti then tried by going upto her senior and getting her desk changed.

In many cases, people do not want to make it a public affair and thus do their deed silently, making the person himself realise his mistake. More often than not, One needs to realise that silence can give a signal of weakness to the harasser. Clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, Dr Varkha Chulani believes that silence is golden and absolutely not a sign of weakness, "Being silent does not at all mean that you are being passive. If you know the person harassing you is your high up and you possibly cannot take up issues against him, then the best way is to emotionally make a fence around you to block that person out."

Harassment, whether it is verbal or physical is nothing less than showing male dominance. But is it true that only women are targeted? According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), it is so because 'women lack power and are in more vulnerable and insecure positions, lack self-confidence, or have been socialised to suffer in silence.' Harassment, whether verbal or physical, is nothing but a way to show male dominance.

It can be an emotional turmoil for women when they are undergoing this. Psychologist, Dr Anjali Chhabria feels that support from colleagues- verbal or written- is a great morale booster, "Women seek for comfort from friends and family whenever there is a problem in their lives. They need to realise that it is their 'no-nonsense' attitude that will help them in the long run. Being scared and not facing the situation will take them no where. The key is to be firm."

Says Karan Barua, a lawyer, "I have seen one of my senior's troubling a lot of new female employees. I could feel their helplessness but could not do anything but to give them advice on just staying away from him. He had a knack of getting these girls in a tight spot and then enjoying the rest of the show. Being around him made me feel ashamed of being a man."

Things you should know
All the employers in charge of workplace whether in the public or the private sector, should take appropriate steps to prevent any sort of harassment without prejudice to the generality of his obligation and should take the following steps:

- The rules and regulations of government and public sector bodies relating to conduct and discipline should include rules prohibiting sexual harassment and provide for appropriate penalties in such rules against the offender.

- As regards to private employers, steps should be taken to include the aforesaid prohibitions in the Standing Orders under the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946.

- Appropriate work conditions should be provided in respect of work leisure, health, hygiene, to further ensure that there is no hostile environment towards women and no woman should have reasonable grounds to believe that she is disadvantaged in connection with her employment.

- Where such conduct amounts to specific offenses under the Indian Penal Code or any other law, the employer shall initiate appropriate action in accordance with the law, by filing a complaint with the appropriate authority.

- Victims of sexual harassment should have the option to seek transfer of the perpetrator or their own transfer.

By Tanya Datta

Image Source: BCCL
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