Written by: Siyathma at Omentra
All your life, you have heard your parents advise you about how you should be careful from a very young age. As a girl, you don’t get the same freedom as a boy would in Sri Lanka, simply because of your gender and you should be sheltered and protected from all the evil in the world. The first thought that comes into your head at an adolescent age is how unfair it is that we are taught to be more careful rather than correcting others. But as you grow up, you tend to start accepting the so called rules of the world as it is drilled into your brain by adults and society itself.
This topic has been perfectly portrayed in the Hindi movie Pink (2016) which showed how three women were being arrested for prostitution solely based on their behavior with no proof. Their lawyer Deepak Sehgal played by Amitabh Bachchan focuses his argument on the issue of consent and women’s rights to say no. The opposing side, Rajveer Singh played by Angad Bedi lashes out in the courtroom saying that the three women have gotten what they deserved. Deepak argues back asking why women are being criticized for actions that would have been acceptable had it been a man’s doing.
But the real question is, will asking women to be more mindful and careful about the way they behave and dress, really going to help protect them more than teaching society the right way to behave and think?
It will come to you of no surprise if you live in Sri Lanka that you get harassed on a daily basis. From the uncomfortable stares you get and even worse the unwanted comments that you are expected to accept as you walk down the road. However, what most people are unaware of is the sexual harassment that women face at their workplace. Nowadays, people have recently started to become more and more aware about this topic as more women are coming out and letting everyone know about their stories to raise awareness about this issue.
Cosmopolitan and Yamu
Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka and Yamu partnered up for a live panel on a workplace sexual harassment on the 23rd of November 2017 at the Hive.
The panel included –
Source: Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka
At the event they discussed, what counts as sexual harassment and what you should do in such a situation.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual Harassment is often defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature (stalking, bullying, unwanted protectors and bribery). It is any type of behavior that causes distress and lack of safety. Harassment could also be caused by racial comments.
Sexual harassment at work does not happen at a rare instance, it happens every day. Below are a few statistics of the Sexual Harassment cases in Sri Lanka.
- 83% – females in the estate sector are victims of gender based violence
- 57% – female garment workers have experienced sexual harassment at their work place
- 62% – Female employees in the industrial sector have experienced unwanted sexual advances at the workplace
Sexual Harassment is criminally punishable under Section 345 of the Penal Code (Amendment) Act, No.22 of 1995. The punishment for the offense is imprisonment of up to 5 years with or without hard labor, or a fine, or both together.
Men get Harassed too
Men could get harassed for various reasons from sexual preferences to their personality.
Most men who get harassed at work do not come forward about their issues, as they are ashamed of it or they have the mindset that its not an important issue as it is when it comes to women. However, this is not the case as each and every one should be able to come forward with their issues. Every voice should be heard and should be given the same level of importance.
Why is it Difficult to call out Sexual Harassment?
People will believe that you are being too difficult
Sexual Harassment is not caused due to what a woman wears or how she behaves. It is done to show dominance. When people cannot handle rejection they will tend to blame women by calling them names.
Most people have a mentality that every woman should get used to such treatment and learn how to deal with the situation as it is only a joke. Our culture believes that “boys will be boys” and they are somehow excused for such behavior.
When such issues are being discussed most people would say that women are overreacting, they are complaining too much and comment about how much they dislike feminists. When in reality, this is not a small problem, such problems should be shared as this will help educate the society in order to be better and help protect women everywhere.
Lot to lose and career set backs
If the complaint is about a senior in their company or even a client of the company, they would be reluctant to come out and voice their concerns due to many reasons.
One of these reasons is that there would not be any action taken against this matter as this individual is more important to the company. This could affect their reputation afterwards for making such a complaint or even worse the individual could lose their job.
No action would be taken against the matter
Firms would not have implemented an effective and strict policy for sexual harassment cases, or even if they have a policy in place they might not follow it. This means that in cases like this, the perpetrator would be able to get away with the problem with just a ‘slap on his wrist’.
Even if a law has been implemented for sexual harassment cases the problem is that these are not followed. Authorities might not always take actions as they would pass it off as a small problem that does not need much attention. This in turn would make it more difficult for victims to come forward. They would feel reluctant to contact authorities and make a complaint.
Others would not report the matter
If you see a fellow colleague being harassed you could help them out. However, most people would be reluctant as they would not want to get involved in the problem as it could affect their career as well. Men would want to complain as well but they could start getting harassed as well as others would start judging and excluding them.
For firms it is vital that there is a strict policy in place for sexual harassment cases. Most big companies do not have a policy as there is a resistance to change by the employees itself, the management as they believe its too cumbersome and the public as they believe that it would disturb the productivity of work. Even if the company has a policy in place, it is not implemented or communicated to the employees, its just in place in case of any legal issues.
Hence, it is imperative that companies have an effective policy that is communicated in a language that everyone understands. Also, if the company policy states that employees would be safe and nothing will be held against them for making a complaint. This will help employees to feel more secure and comfortable enough to come forward with their problems. Employees who do not feel secure in their job are more likely to leave the company which will only increase the firm’s costs as well.
Therefore to make an overall impact in this world, we need to instill the right values in our education system by teaching everyone from a young age about what is right and what is wrong. It is important to teach people that being rejected is alright and that it is never right to harass or put down someone for any reason.
Moreover, advertising and media can make a huge difference in this case as well. Women empowerment and letting others come forward with their problems and giving them the chance for their voices to be heard in order to bring awareness about the situation. Women should not be taught topics such as what will make them more attractive, instead they should be taught how to be more confident. Let their stories be heard, so, that everyone can know about what has been achieved and be an inspiration.
Please comment below and let us know about what you think, share your stories and opinions with us to help raise awareness.