With the #Me Too movement in place, understanding the aspects associated with the movement and sexual harassment becomes essential.
Nothing we do can make this world perfect. It can only make our situations better.
Setting up a Legal Panel
WCD ministry will set up a committee of senior judicial and legal persons to look into the issues that are coming out of the #MeToo movement.
The committee will look into the legal & institutional framework which is in place for handling complaints of sexual harassment at work
The panel will advise the WCD ministry on how to strengthen these frameworks.
It will include four retired judges and a strong lawyer as an amicus and will conduct independent hearings.
Hearing to be like Nirbhaya Case
The public hearings will not be for individual complaints, but where stakeholders can come and depose before the committee if they wish to.
A similar process was followed by the Justice Verma Committee set up to reform the laws against rape after the December 16, 2012 gangrape incident.
Some initiatives for immediate reporting
#HelpMeWCD using Tweet
Internal Complaints Committees (ICC) under SHWW Act
The ‘MeToo’ movement was founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke.
It was to help survivors of sexual violence, by creating a community of survivors who move forward together.
The #MeToo spread virally as a hashtag used on social media in an attempt to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual harassmentin the workplace.
It started gaining national attention in October 2017 in the U.S, after allegations of sexual assault by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced.
It has gained momentum in India in the recent weeks.
As women increasingly speak up on harassment experiences, the general criticism is about the delay in the reporting.
But it is to be understood that the dominant status of men in workplaces i.e power and privilege, the very lack of understanding on what constitutes sexual harassment, the social stigma associated with the instances, the lack of trust on people to share this, the lack of awareness on the legal recourses available and above all the emotional trauma out of the incident, significantly, silence women from opening out.
Why is #Me Too a better tool?
With opinions that the #Me Too movement is not the legal way of addressing the issue, here is why it nevertheless is a better tool.
Public backlash against instances of sexual harassment at workplaces is less to expect given the male-dominated nature.
Unlike this case, the new social media weapon under #Me Too offers access to anyone.
So the age-old workplace tactics of silencing the victims or other ways of intimidating will not work as easily as earlier.
Publicly calling out people who sexually harass, rules out the struggle to get the office officialdom to take note and act upon.
Naming and shaming can work better against even powerful men, whose influential nature earlier silenced women from reporting.
It offers a better option to express than running around the police and courts with huge time and money costs.
Besides these, #MeToo has changed women’s attitude in approaching sexual or any gender-based harassment henceforth.
It has created a widespread conversation about breaking silence, combating shame, shattering disbelief, and creating safe environments.
The shift is from “it’s my fault (that such a thing happened to me)” to “it’s my right (to not have such things happen to me)”.
Concerns about state power
There are legitimate concerns with bringing in state power to penalise transitional behaviours.
The response is often too heavy-handed, and second, it makes social reform and gender relations too antagonistic.
Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code defines sexual harassment as “physical contact, advances of unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures” but also “making sexually coloured remarks”.
The conviction rates under legal processes are extremely low but surely even conceptually, we don’t want to send people to jail for telling crude jokes.
Moment of change
Revolutions are by definition anarchic, as they are aimed against those who make and enforce the rules.
So it has been with #MeToo.
Men are named, sometimes anonymously, and the naming itself requires punitive action to be taken against them. There isn’t really any room for discussion on context or degree of culpability.
Some have raised questions about due process, and the response has been, somewhat reasonably, that due process has failed.
It is true that, arguing for due process when due process has failed feels a bit like batting for status quo.
#MeToo despite its limitations is unreservedly a good development.
Why do women hesitate reporting?
Society – Many women do not believe that they have the right to not be treated in undignified way.
As, women are made to believe that they are infiltrators trying to force their way into the men’s world.
Girls, from the childhood, are conditioned with ideas such as
take care of yourself
don’t put yourself in harm’s way
change jobs or make career sacrifices to avoid people when you get signals that are uncomfortable
don’t speak about harassments because everyone will say that it was probably your fault
So the mind set is that “bad things” are bound to happen to women who “break the rules” and “live dangerously”.
Limitations that restrict women from speaking up are:
the dominant status of men in workplaces, their power and privilege
the very lack of understanding on what constitutes sexual harassment
the social stigma associated with instances of sexual harassments and fear of re-victimisation
the mental trauma, a sense of fear, intimidation and powerlessness caused due to the incident
the lack of trust on people to share this with
the lack of awareness on the legal recourses available – 20 or 30 years ago, a working woman had no redressal mechanism if fear over job and financial security, career progress, if reported
Given these, the scope and nature of the movement offers the awareness, courage and the needed support for aggrieved women.
Is #Me Too movement inclusive in India?
‘Me Too’ has its origins in Black feminism and the initiative of Tarana Burke, an African-American civil rights activist.
As a hashtag, #MeToo became an online movement and engendered solidarity across race and class lines in America.
But sexual harassment is dictated not only by sex or gender, but by factors of race, caste, religion, colour, region, age, disability and sexuality too.
In India, sexual harassment issue has been defined by the struggles of Dalit-Bahujan and Adivasi sisters.
Race and caste divides had aggravated sexual harassment experiences.
In this backdrop, the movement is confined to upper-caste, middle-class, urban, non-disabled, cisgender women (same sex and gender identity as at birth).
It provided space for people to express their experience of sexual abuse across the spectrum, without having to be specific. The space to name and shame their sexual harassers and abusers and thus helped many victims gain more attention and support than ever before. Large numbers of women express and relate their experiences that were earlier fearful of recounting sexual abuse needs to be celebrated as a step towards more fair and just society.
The campaign according to the supporters is not about finding legal recourse but concerning itself with exposing social fault line. The movement shifted conversation regarding sexual abuse from the realm of legality to that of cultural responsibility.
The movement succeeded as per its propagators in highlighting those transgressions of men which have been over the time normalised by the culture. It has put a question mark on such activities like touching women without her willingness. The individual trauma of sexual assault has been agglomerated into collective anger legitimized by social media supporters.
The movement has been successful in pushing our urban societies to introspect the value system we have build up on, where it is normal to harass a women sexually by using professional positions. The vulnerabilities of women, her weaknesses are duly exploited to get sexual advantage. Throughout the world, the campaign has pushed many authorities at workplace to relook the sexual abuse and impose severe penalties on non-complying organisations.
The movement has challenged the patriarchal norms that made it easy to victimize women. The institutionalisation of patriarchy favouring men over women in policy making, decision making, elevation to higher authority etc. all are now openly challenged and questioned. The movement makes it explicit that the notions of patriarchy are not only haunting the deprived women but also the economically empowered women. Patriarchy is accepted, assimilated and internalized even in the corporate sector of the world.
The movement has touched the contours of world market economy by highlighting that the sexual harassment has implication on the work efficiency of the individual organisations. Women who do enter the labour force but are subjected to sexual harassment see a rise in stress levels and a drop in productivity. Some may be compelled to drop out of the workforce entirely. This makes an already economically vulnerable segment of the population more so. MeToo isn’t a deviation as per its supporters from the perspective of other inequalities such as economic and political participation of women. Rather sexual harassment is an indispensiblepart of inequalities faced by the women at work places.
The supporters of MeToomovement argue that the movement is not about finding solutions; rather it exposes the failure of existing laws and norms established for the protection of women. It emphasis on the hard work we need to do for firmly implementing the old and new laws. It is cry for new codes of behaviour and attitudes that respect a woman’s dignity.
The movement sets a stage for the other women centric movement through social media, one of the powerful mediums of transmitting ideas and thoughts in the modern times. Though the movement focuses on the working women and women in urban spaces, the ideas and norms it challenges such as patriarchy, sexual abuse, and deprivations of women are all pervading and ubiquitous. The movement has mustered the support from all corners of the world. The women of the world find themselves part of the larger group who have same grievances and met same discriminations.
The movement is a challenge to those attitudes that enforce a culture of silence. By speaking out, if a women force sexual predators to reflect and step back, it would be a giant stride towards a more gender neutral society.
The movement helped in bringing to fore different levels of sexism. From suggestive messages from senior colleagues, unwelcome gropes, eve-teasing to forced penetrative sex, all are but sexual abuses which needs to be differentiated but at the same time discarded all together.
#MeToo is all about how online network trumped the hierarchy, allowed the spread of ideas even as they were being generated, expedited the sharing of strategies of resistance, and of course lowered the threshold of being part of a global partnership of storytelling.
Finally, the movement has highlighted that sexual abuse at work place goes against the ideals of democracy and the ethics of modern societies.
But with these positives, there are also several negatives that have sprung up with the popularity of the #metoo campaign. Sadly, these negatives are not insignificant. On the contrary, they could even undo all the good done by the #metoo campaign
One such issue involves encouraging individuals and organisations to focus more on the redressal of the issue rather than its prevention and prohibition. In other words, we may be waiting for someone to type ‘#metoo’ instead of regularly making efforts towards creating a culture that encourages zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the first place. MeToo is merely creating a society of victims and an increasing number of individuals showing sympathy or outrage instead of making real efforts or collaborating to end the issue altogether.
The movement increases the chances of people opting to name and shame someone without first considering the available redressal platforms that will offer them justice. This route also dangerously builds social media as a parallel judiciary system that can take the law in its own hands.
Another glaring issue associated with the movement is that many who are named and shamed on social media may not hesitate to retaliate in anger and harm their accusers further, especially ones who do not have the protection that the employers or police authorities through the right redressal platforms can offer them.
The MeeToo movement seems to be elitist and the movement from above. Many argue that real change can be brought by working at the grassroots level. The means for realising gender neutral goal is to change the culture of a place by breaking the biasness and imbibe behavioural change at the individual level.
The movement according some of the critics is anarchist in nature. It tries to bring into light myriad instances of sexual assaults and victims without sound backing of proof. Also neither the movement nor the medium at which the cascading of stories are being told are redressal mechanism. Rather it is deliberate attempt to tarnish the image of the accusers and sometimes false accusers. Ultimately it creates confusion and drama where the end purpose of the movement is to create public outrage and havoc therefore deviation from the real issues.
The movement is urban centric and acknowledges the grievances of already economically empowered women. The movement do not include in its discourse the voices of women from the marginalised sections such as dalit, adivasi, bhujan etc. Marginalised women’s trauma and their voices should not be an afterthought, instead should be in the core of any emerging campaign.
The campaign must address sexual abuse in the informal sector where abuse and labour violations are rife. The campaign must create resources and support for women who have very poor access to justice. It should include the voices of trans-women, homosexual men and women and non-binary folks. Rather the movement is focussing on celebrities and high profile cases all but for public gossips and TRPs.
The movement fails to bring out the clarity about what constitutes the objectionable behaviour of men. It paints all kinds of sexual layers with one brush thus fails to understand the nuances of the sexual abuse. Differentiating sexual abuses followed by the appropriate means to address them through behavioural change would be the first step towards dissipating sexual harassment at workplaces.
The movement is considered by many as the imitation of the west in the developing countries. Since the issues raised by the movement are more relevant to the societies of the west, it has less relevance for the developing countries like India, where women is suffering from far more grievous situations than MeToo has been able to address. Developing countries like India has core issues of women like domestic violence, child abuse, honour killings, education deprivations, financial dependence, social stigma and religious sanctions. Although harassment free environment is essential for women to get empowered, more important is to bring them out of above disabilities which are presently outside the ambit of MeToo movement.
According to many, the movement propagates mob justice. The ethical aspect of this kind of mob justice and instant gratification in calling out and naming men would be worrisome especially for those who have struggled to initiate and institutionalise due processes such as the Vishakha guidelines to prevent sexual harassment at workplaces and effected amendments in the laws concerning sexual crime
Our focus should be on prevention through awareness and experiential learning using emotional intelligence, art and technology. #MeToo campaign has greatly helped initiate a global dialogue on sexual harassment.
Ethical and Moral Education: The attitudinal change in men towards women is fundamental in changing the work culture of the society. In this ethical and moral education can be a long term investment. This should be the part of the school and college curriculum.
WorkPlace Auditing: workplace auditing should be made compulsory in the organisations having more than 10 workers including male and female workers. Like the finance auditing, workplace auditing will help in sensitizing the workplace atmosphere. Moreover it will provide an alternative platform for women to speak up about the harassment if any they go through in the organisation.
Time bound redress: Laws made to protect the sexual harassment should be based on speedy trial and conviction principle. It would create fear among the offenders and stand as a deterrent against further abuse in the future.
Awareness programmes: Any organisation having female and male workers should organise seminars and conference to sensitise the workplace atmosphere. It should be made compulsory for the bigger institutions and businesses to organise seminars and awareness programmes against sexual harassment.
Increase the presence of women in workforce: Increase in the number of women in the workforce could provide them psychological deterrent to fight against any exploitation within the organisation. Focus should be on skilling and educating women to increase their presence in the workforce. So that these can become a more visible voice within the economic structure ofsocieties.
Penalty for false allegation: Equally there should be a penalty mechanism to deter the false allegations made by the women.