Balancing Out The Differences: Program On Gender Equality At Workplace
Internal Complaints Committee, NIT Rourkela organized a one-day awareness program on “Gender Equality At Workplace” on 20th of August, 2019. Sponsored by Technical Education Quality Improvement Program of the Government of India(TEQUIP III), it was open for students, staff and faculty members of NIT Rourkela. With a turnout of almost 50 participants, the program ran from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm in Bhubaneshwar Behera Auditorium. The need-based seminar was about detection and prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace; effectively rooting out the disease and making our workplace safe and secure.
Aim of the program:
To create awareness among all the employees and students of our institute about gender equality, nature, identification and prevention of sexual harassment of women at workplace.
To appraise the faculty, officers and students of our institute about the scope of relevant laws and guidelines related to the topic.
It will also help the administrative people to understand the legal proposition on the issue, how to handle sexual harassment complaints and maintain a healthy work environment.
To contribute to this very need of the hour program, proficient activists in this field were invited:
Mr Manoranjan Das - Retired Justice, High Court of Odisha
Smt. Kalyani Sharan- Chairperson, Jharkhand State Commission for Women
Smt. Aarti Rana- member, Jharkhand State Commission for Women
The program also had on-board the Director of NIT Rourkela- Dr Animesh Biswas, Chairperson of Internal Complaints Committee- Prof. Dipti Patra and Coordinator of TEQIP III- Mr C.R. Patra as the guests of the event.
The program was inaugurated by all the chief guests of the event by the lighting of the lamp by all the guests followed by an address by Mr C.R. Patra in which he highlights the importance of gender equality, in not only the educational institute but also in offices and society. He also signifies that since NIT Rourkela is a mentoring institute for many local colleges, the program has an outcome in different levels of the society. He also mentions the role of TEQIP III in conducting similar programs and workshops in different technical institutions.
Following him, the honourable director, Dr Animesh Biswas addressed the audience, thanking Internal Complaints Committee and TEQIP III for supporting such an important topic.
Noticing a less than expected turnout, he mentions:
“ This program is both for both faculty and students. But I am very upset seeing that the turnout is so thin seeing that this is a very important topic in our workplace.”
He also shares his experience that how two of the most important personality that shaped his professional career were women with whom he has interacted and worked with. He ended his speech by highlighting the urgent need of women empowerment in both home and workplace.
Following that was a session by the first spokesperson of the day, Smt. Kalyani Sharan who started her speech in Hindi by showing her gratitude that she has been given such an opportunity to speak on something she has been actively involved in. She grieves upon the current status of women in a society where on one hand we worship them as “DEVI” and when the same women go and work in an office, she is mistreated, undermined and sometimes harassed- both mentally and sexually. She also encourages the whole community to accept a woman working alongside men with total equality and to bring this change we all have to open our minds from the age-old patriarchy that has been running down in our generation since time unknown. To add on to the seriousness of the issue, she also opens up the eyes of the audience to the fact that women are being mistreated in homes also and to bring a change we have to start with our homes only. She ended on a thankful note that although she has conducted workshops in many states of India, this is the first time she has been given the opportunity to speak on this topic.
Following her session, Internal Complaints Committee revealed a poster which promotes Gender Equality At Workplace. The poster is planned to be put up in all the important places of the institute. After that, all the attendees of the program were given a copy of a part of the Indian Constitution which mentions all the laws that have been made to prevent sexual discrimination and harassment against women.
At the peak time, arrived our second spokesperson for the day- Mr Manmohan Das and began his session.
He began his speech by highlighting some of the very basic situations in which women are being discriminated against such as in families or classrooms and gave a deep analysis of how it leads to discrimination against them in a higher level. Then he presented the current status quo of the Indian Society and how it needs to be changed on a basic level to improve the situation. Then he lists out the specific laws that have been made to protect the interest of women and stated how there is a law for almost every type of crime that happens with a woman. He also told stories of how some of these laws were made. He ended his address with a hope that after the session, everyone will see women as equal to men and no woman will feel left out or dominated in the society.
Concluding the first half of the program on a high note, the program was set to a halt for a lunch break, which was followed by a herculean second half and which Smt Aarti Rana briefs the audience about the urgency of such a radical change in the society:
While the world has achieved progress towards gender equality, especially women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence in every part of the world. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large. Implementing new legal frameworks regarding female equality in the workplace and the eradication of harmful practices targeted at women is crucial to ending the gender-based discrimination prevalent in the country.
She also acknowledged the audience, about the famously infamous Vishakha Guidelines.
The Vishakha Guidelines were a set of procedural guidelines for use in India in cases of sexual harassment. The Sexual Harassment at workplace Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on 2 September 2012. It is now The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act, 2013. It defines sexual harassment as laid down by the Supreme Court in the Vishakha and others v State of Rajasthan 1997 case.
Sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as:
Physical contact and advances.
A demand or request for sexual favours.
Sexually coloured remarks.
Any other unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
The five major criteria's which the Vishakha Guideline considers as sexual harassment.
Where any of these acts are committed in circumstances where the victim has a reasonable apprehension that about the victim’s employment or work whether she is drawing a salary, or honorarium or voluntary, whether in government, public or private enterprise such conduct can be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem.
Thus, sexual harassment need not involve physical contact. Any act that creates a hostile work environment - be it by cracking lewd jokes, verbal abuse, circulating lewd rumours, etc. counts as sexual harassment.
The creation of a hostile work environment through unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature may consist not of a single act but a pattern of behaviour comprising many such acts.
The guidelines suggest that the complaint mechanism should ensure time-bound treatment of complaints, but they do not suggest that a report can only be made within a short period since the incident occurred.
The Vishaka Guidelines are not sufficient for legal compliance for employers as the same has been replaced by a full-fledged statute of the Parliament. Although the statute mostly retains the framework provided in the Guidelines, there are significant differences and it is the statute that the employers must follow. Internal Complaints Committee and Local Complaints Committee: The Sexual Harassment Act requires an employer to set up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) at each office or branch that has more than 10 employees of any gender. The government is in turn required to set up a Local Complaints Committees (LCC) at the district level to investigate complaints regarding sexual harassment from establishments where the ICC has not been constituted on account of the establishment having less than 10 employees or if the complaint is against the employer.
The information given about the Vishaka Guidelines seemed to have an impact on the audience. The proceedings came to an end with the final vote of thanks.
Team Monday Morning appreciates the efforts of ICC and TEQIP III in making this world a better place for women.