General Studies Paper 2
Context: A recent investigation revealed that more than half of India’s 30 national sports federations do not have an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) which is a legal requirement under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) Act, 2013.
About Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) Act, 2013
- The Government of India has enacted ‘the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013’ (POSH Act) with the aim to provide a safe and secure work environment to women.
- It broadened and gave legislative backing to what is known as the Vishaka Guidelines, which were laid down by the Supreme Court in a judgment passed in 1997.
- The Vishaka Guidelines defined sexual harassment and imposed three key obligations on institutions — prohibition, prevention, and redress.
- The Supreme Court directed that they should establish a Complaints Committee, which would look into matters of sexual harassment of women in the workplace.
- The court made the guidelines legally binding.
- It mandated that every employer must constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)at each office or branch with 10 or more employees.
- It lay down procedures and defined various aspects of sexual harassment, including the aggrieved victim, who could be a woman “of any age whether employed or not”, who “alleges to have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment”.
- The aggrieved victim under the Act can be a woman “of any age whether employed [at the workplace] or not”, who “alleges to have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment”.
- In effect, the Act protects the rights of all women who are working or visiting any workplace, in any capacity.
- The Act in its Section 2n, defines sexual harassment. Sexual harassment includes any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behaviour (whether directly or by implication), namely
- Physical contact and advances, or
- A demand or request for sexual favours, or
- Making sexually coloured remarks, or
- Showing pornography, or
- Any other unwelcome physical, verbal, non verbal conduct of sexual nature
- Section 3 (2) of the Act further elaborates that if any of the following circumstances occurs or is present in relation to or connected with any act or behavior of sexual harassment among other circumstances, it may amount to sexual harassment-
- Implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in her employment, or
- Implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in her employment, or
- Implied or explicit threat about her present or future employment status, or
- Interference with her work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment for her, or
- Humiliating treatment likely to affect her health or safety
- Procedure for complaint: It is not compulsory for the aggrieved victim to file a complaint for the ICC to take action.
- she “may” do so — and if she cannot, any member of the ICC “shall” render “all reasonable assistance” to her to complain in writing.
- The complaint must be made “within three months from the date of the incident”.
- After the ICC has filed its report: If the allegations of sexual harassment are proven, the ICC will recommend to the employer to take action “in accordance with the provisions of the service rules” of the company. These may vary from company to company.
- The ICC may also recommend that the company deduct the salary of the person found guilty, “as it may consider appropriate”.
Issues and Concerns
- Sexual harassment at the workplace is becoming one of the most pressing issues affecting women across the globe.
- The Posh Act, 2013 does not satisfactorily address accountability. Notably, it does not specify who is in charge of ensuring that workplaces comply with the Act, and who can be held responsible if its provisions are not followed.
- Awareness about the Posh Act, 2013 is still low in certain areas, making it difficult for victims to report cases.
- The State Women Commissions should monitor the constitution of Internal Complaint Committees and Local Complaint Committees at district level in their respective States.
- The State Women Commissions should regularly hold programmes to disseminate information about provisions of Act and rules thereto in their respective States for its better implementation.
- Educate all staff on the various aspects of sexual harassment and the necessary steps to be taken if a complaint is made.
- Establish a formal complaint procedure and ensure all complaints are addressed promptly and fairly.
- Ensure all employees know their rights and the procedure for making a complaint.
- Take disciplinary action against those found guilty of sexual harassment.
- Provide counselling services to both the complainant and the accused.