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«Violence against women: Good practices in combating and eliminating violence against women Expert Group Meeting Organized by: UN Division for the ...»

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"Violence against women: Good practices in

combating and eliminating violence against women"

Expert Group Meeting

Organized by: UN Division for the Advancement of Women

in collaboration with:

UN Office on Drugs and Crime

17 to 20 May 2005

Vienna, Austria


Expert paper prepared by

Sapana Pradhan-Malla

Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), Nepal


Women's participation in economic sector is crucial for their economic empowerment and their sustainability. However, problems such as sexual harassment in the workplace discourage women to continue working. Sexual harassment in the workplace though an age-old problem has emerged as a serious concern in Asia and the Pacific recently.1 It is increasingly being recognized as a violation of human rights and human dignity, which undermines equality of opportunity and treatment between men and women. As women's participation is growing in employment sector, the problem of sexual harassment is a necessary problem to address to ensure safe and healthy working environment.

In Bangladesh, large scale of women's entry into paid labour force has increased incidences of sexual harassment. The 1996 figure shows that women's participation in labour force is 51 percent, women engaged in agriculture are 63 percent, women in service sector are 27 percent and women industrial activities are 10 percent.2 Sexual harassment, work and mobility appear to be closely intertwined in Bangladesh.

Women are forced to face double jeopardy when it comes to sexual harassment.

They are vulnerable to physical, psychological and sexual abuse in the workplace; they are frequently subjected to harassment in the public domain of the street. According to a health survey on safety regulations in the garment industry, sexual harassment is likely to be the most dominant source of stress for garment workers.3 In Nepal a research on Sexual Harassment at the Workplace revealed that the problem of sexual harassment is highly prevalent in workplaces, as 53.84 percent of women employee/workers reported that they have faced the problem of sexual harassment in their workplaces, 57.14 percent of male and 23.08 percent women employee/workers were of the view that they were aware of sexual harassment at the workplace.4 However, the problem is not brought out in the open because the subject is taboo and Nepali women still do not share the problem among the friends also leave it bringing it to the authorities attention. Also, there is no mechanism to address the problem in the workplaces and also there is no specific law on sexual harassment and the other relevant laws are not useful in addressing the problem. 5 Action against Sexual Harassment at Work in Asia and the Pacific. Nelien Haspels, Zaitun Mohamed Kasim, Constance Thomas and Deirdre McCann, ILO, Bangkok Area Office and East Asia Multidisciplinary Advisory Team.

Role of NGO in Effective Implementation of PFA and CEDAW in Bangladesh, Nari 2003, NGO Coalition on Beijing Plus Five Bangladesh (NCBP).

Role of NGO in Effective Implementation of PFA and CEDAW in Bangladesh, Nari 2003, NGO Coalition on Beijing Plus Five Bangladesh (NCBP).

Sexual Harassment at the Workplace in Nepal, International Labour Office and Forum for Women, Law and Development, 2004.

Sexual Harassment at the Workplace in Nepal, International Labour Office and Forum for Women, Law and Development, 2004.

In Japan, a study conducted by Ministry of Labour found that out of 2254 women respondent, two third were subject to sexually harassed, 11 % had experienced quid pro quo and 45 % had been subjected to hostile working environment6.


CONCERN Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination. Men may be subjected to sexual harassment but majority of the victims are women. In response to the growing awareness about the adverse impacts of sexual harassment, there have been increasing efforts around the world not only to break the silence on sexual harassment but also to take pro-active steps in addressing it. Many sexually harassed individuals put up with the damaging physical and psychological effects of sexual harassment because taking action can be daunting, especially in environments that do not provide moral and practical support. Most often, victims are ashamed and embarrassed, and worry that they will be labeled as loose women and therefore prefer to keep quite about it.

Sexual harassment is often described as harmless 'flirting' and an expression of men's appreciation for women', which clearly ignores the fact that flirting is mutually consensual behavior between two people whereas harassment is not.


Various initiatives have slowly begun to address sexual harassment in Asia. Also, specific legislation exists for example in Belize, Costa Rica, France, Luxembourg, and the Philippines. In most countries sexual harassment has been addressed by implication as an activity which is a violation of a statute covering a subject other than sexual harassment, such as human rights, non-discrimination, equal opportunity and treatment, unfair dismissal, contract law, tort law, or criminal law. Slowly, the trend of providing explicit recognition and protection against acts of sexual harassment is occurring in courtiers in Asia and the Pacific as well as in other regions of the world.7 In Bangladesh sexual harassment was made punishable by Section 10 (2) of the Nari O Shish Narjaton Domon Ain (2000) states that any man who, in order to satisfy his lust in an improper manner, outrages the modesty of a woman, or makes obscene gestures, will have engaged in sexual harassment and for this, the above mentioned Action against Sexual Harassment at Work in Asia and the Pacific. Nelien Haspels, Zaitun Mohamed Kasim, Constance Thomas and Deirdre McCann, ILO, Bangkok Area Office and East Asia Multidisciplinary Advisory Team, page 54 Action against Sexual Harassment at Work in Asia and the Pacific. Nelien Haspels, Zaitun Mohamed Kasim, Constance Thomas and Deirdre McCann, ILO, Bangkok Area Office and East Asia Multidisciplinary Advisory Team.

male will be sentenced to rigorous imprisonment of not more than seven years and not less than two years and beyond this will be subjected to monetary fines as well.8 Also, advocates and court' s creativity are commendable, for example, in Sri Lanka, prior to the amendment of the Penal Code in 1995 to recognize 'unwelcome sexual advances,' a case filed by an employee against a superior officer who allegedly demanded sexual favours in exchange for a promotion was recognized by the court as an act of soliciting 'bribery.'9 Some of the initiatives established statutory obligation, in Japan, the 1997 amendment to the Equal Employment Opportunity Law created a new provision for sexual harassment, which imposed an obligation on employers to prevent both quid pro quo and hostile environment.10 Calls for legislative protection is increasing in countries where no specific legislation is in place. In Pakistan, a report of the Commission on Inquiry for Women in Pakistan recognized that sexual harassment in the workplace and elsewhere is widespread in the country and it recommends the enactment of legislation making it mandatory for all employers to respond and monitor incidents of violence and harassment at work.

Awareness programmes have been conducted in South Asia. Also, business associations have started initiatives of providing awareness on the growing problem of sexual harassment in the workplaces. Both in Nepal and India, training programmes on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace have been provided in organizations. Such trainings have been developed in a way to promote understanding of the problem of sexual harassment as a violation of right to work in a safe environment and a problem that affects a woman's dignity and health. The training provides understanding as how to respond to the problems in a situation where mechanism may or may not be available. In Nepal, the training has been well received among the women as many feel they are able to respond to the problem in a personal level by confronting the harasser and in worse situation complain to the authority.


Judicial Activism Role of NGO in Effective Implementation of PFA and CEDAW in Bangladesh, Nari 2003, NGO Coalition on Beijing Plus Five Bangladesh (NCBP).

Action against Sexual Harassment at Work in Asia and the Pacific. Nelien Haspels, Zaitun Mohamed Kasim, Constance Thomas and Deirdre McCann, ILO, Bangkok Area Office and East Asia Multidisciplinary Advisory Team, page 159 Ibid In India, Supreme Court guideline came about due to the gang rape of Bhanwari Devi by a group of Thakurs, as punishment for having stopped a child marriage in their family. Trail court acquitted the accused. She said that she had nothing to be ashamed of and that the men should be ashamed for what they have done. With the concrete campaign for justice for Bhawani, in December 1993, the High Court established gang rape committed out of vengeance. Her fighting spirit provoked women's groups and NGO's to file a class action by certain social activists to bring the attention towards the societal aberration, and assisting in finding suitable methods for realization of the true concept of gender equality and prevent sexual harassment of working women in all work places through judicial process, to fill the vacuum in existing legislation. The result is the Supreme Court judgment, which came on 13th August 1997 and gave Vishakha Guideline.

According to the guideline the duty of the employer shall be to prevent the acts of sexual harassment and to provide for resolution, settlement or prosecution of acts of sexual harassment by taking all steps required taking appropriate disciplinary action.

The definition of sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexually determined behaviour as (a) physical contact and advances; (b) a demand or request for sexual favours; (c) sexually coloured remarks; (d) showing pornography; (e) any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

The guideline also provides for a complain mechanism in the employer's organization for redress of the complaint made by the victim. Such complaint mechanism should ensure time bound treatment of complaints. A Complaint Committee should be headed by a woman and not less than half of its members should be women. Complaints Committee should involve a third party, either NGO or other body who is familiar with the issue of sexual harassment.

Also the guideline ensures that employees should be allowed to raise issues of sexual harassment at workers' meeting and in other appropriate forum and it should be affirmatively discussed in Employer-Employee Meetings. Awareness of the rights of female employees in this regard should be created in particular by prominently notifying the guidelines (and appropriate legislation when enacted on the subject) in a suitable manner.

However, a report of the Lawyers Collective, 2001 suggests that both a new law to deal specifically with sexual harassment and another to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sex is necessary. The new law is needed for further clarity to the Indian Supreme Court decision on sexual harassment to ensure procedural safeguards in legislations. 11 In Nepal, even in the absence of law, the labour court recognized sexual harassment as misconduct in the workplace. Also the labour court used the finding of research conducted by FWLD/ILO and stated that sexual harassment would discourage women's participation in the economic sector and also acknowledged need to enact a law inline with GR 19 of CEDAW. Similarly in Nepal, Public Interest Litigation was filed12 at the Supreme Court on behalf of the victim. In response to the PIL the Supreme Court issued a directive order to the concerned Ministries to develop a Bill on sexual harassment in the workplace.

Following the court order initiatives have been started in India and Nepal, to draft a specific legislation-making employer accountable to guarantee safe and healthy workplace and recognize sexual harassment as misconduct. Indian Bill provides provision for the formation of special complains committee for effective investigation and protection of privacy and dignity of victim with compensation provision13. An alternate Bill is being also prepared by civil societies specially to include service beneficiaries such as students in educational institutions, patients in hospitals, customers in banks and also proposed to bring unorganized sector within it's framework. In Nepal Civil Societies has already drafted a Bill 14 and Government is also on the process of it. However there is no parliament since last three years in Nepal due to this law making process has been affected.

Enterprises policy against Sexual harassment Good practices have begun in enterprises where the employment policies have included the provisions to address sexual harassment in the workplace in response to continuous advocacy and judicial decisions in some of the countries in South Asia. In Nepal, some of the hotels and industries have adopted policy to address the problem through formation of committee to listen to complains and take actions. Whereas in India such practices is initiated by larger number of enterprises especially after the Vishakha guideline. Many organizations have formed grievances committee and also invited women organization as a member of such committees to ensure fair and sensitive hearing.

Research Prof. Savitri Goonshakhere form Sri Lanka said that study conducted by ILO on sexual harassment at plantation sector 2000 highlighted the issue largely and Action against Sexual Harassment at Work in Asia and the Pacific. Nelien Haspels, Zaitun Mohamed Kasim, Constance Thomas and Deirdre McCann, ILO, Bangkok Area Office and East Asia Multidisciplinary Advisory Team.

Sarmila Parajuli and others vs. HMG/N and others, Writ No. 3434, of Vikram Sambat 2060 (2002).

Sexual Harassment of women at the workplace ( Prevention and redressal) Act 2004 India Forum for Women, Law and Development have drafted the Bill on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and this can be seen in the website: www.fwld.org.

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