Mediation as an informal redressal process for Sexual Harassment

Today millions of Indian women are joining the workforce and contributing significantly to our economy. It is therefore important that organizations across private & public sectors create an environment where women employees feel safe and comfortable.

Workplace harassment is increasingly understood as a violation of women’s rights and a form of violence against women. To improve this situation a number of countries including India have enacted legislations to ensure safe workplace environments to women. In India The Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act (POSH) 2013 was enacted to ensure safe working spaces for women and to build enabling work environment that respects a woman’s right to equality & opportunity.

The Act contemplates setting up of an Internal Committee (IC) before whom an aggrieved woman can file a complaint, which can then be investigated. Despite these measure that have been provided for by the legislation, a survey conducted by the Indian National Bar Association in 2017 shows that 68% of the victims did not file a complaint because of fear of retaliation and subsequent repercussions. Most women did not want to complain and endure the inquiry process contemplated under the Act. They are worried about their self-image and the effect on their personal relationships. The report further states that after the inquiry, only 50% of the women get back to work.

With this in mind it is important to examine the pitfalls of the existing frameworks and explore more options for women who face harassment at their workplace. The Handbook on Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace contemplates not only the formal process of filing a complaint before the IC but also the option of the informal process i.e conciliation. It is our opinion that the informal process must be explored more and structured in a way that with the intervention of a trained, neutral third person a safe, non-judgmental, confidential environment is created that facilitates the complainant the opportunity to express herself fully without any fear of judgement/retribution and the respondent be made to understand how his actions have impacted the complainant. This informal process would also allow for both parties to be able to set future processes and systems in place to allow open, healthy communication and build organizations that can manage difficult situations in the most constructive and respectful manner.

Mediation as an informal process is used by innumerable companies to address complaints of sexual harassment. When structured skillfully it works to the advantage of all parties in the situation. The complainant is fully heard and is saved from the social stigma and humiliation because of the privacy that mediation ensures. Respondents often don’t realize that their behavior is inappropriate and sometimes may not mean any harm. Informal processes give them a chance to understand what they did wrong and the opportunity to make amends, while avoiding the permanent scar of a sexual harassment case to their name. Employers, the third party involved, are at reduced risk of litigation which is expensive, ugly and negatively impacts the work atmosphere as a whole.

Mediation is a win-win forum for many types of sexual harassment disputes, and it is time we give parties this option, to overcome the challenges of current formal procedures.

CAMP along with  Metis POSH is taking the initiative to spread awareness about this informal process of mediation available as an option to deal with cases of harassment at workplace.  Please feel free to get in touch with me if you need more information.

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