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Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

In psychological terms sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature or containing  even the slightest of  sexual intonations  when: (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment; (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance and at the same time creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment.
Implicated in this statement are two distinct forms of sexual harassment. First, Quid pro quo sexual harassment involves a situation in which submission to sexual advances or requests is a condition of receiving or keeping a job or job benefits. This situation occurs when an employer or supervisor uses his  power or control to extract sexual favors from an employee. Hostile environment harassment exists when the workplace atmosphere is made offensive by sexual harassment, even though the victim suffers no tangible economic loss.

Sexual harassment behaviors can be placed into three categories: physical (touching, stroking and assault), verbal (jokes, sexual remarks and propositions) and nonverbal (gestures and facial expressions). The guidelines concerning sexual harassment may be broadly interpreted. Is  sexual harassment an inherent  part of the culture and therefore acceptable? How bad does the harassment have to be before the environment is considered hostile? In the real world there are no universal standards. Very similar cases can result in conflicting reactions and court opinions. For example, analysts and scholars have  found that for certain individuals, merely  displaying obscene, bawdy  posters is sufficient to uphold the claim of harassment in , but not so  in others.

A look at its history

While some progress has been made world wide, over the years, by and large,  gender gap is still a rampant global phenomenon. Historically, women in every age and clime  have been considered subservient to men. In both oriental and occidental societies  women were considered less intelligent and less capable, less principled and moral and more childlike than men. These views are deeply rooted in the Indian  culture  even today and have contributed to inequality for women in certain situations. Under the purview of the  Indian  social system, poverty is a  major factor which provokes men to perpetrate sexual harassment. Young,  partially educated women from the  countryside pour into the major cities and towns  and take up any job that comes handy. They remit money back home for their family members to survive. At this juncture many of such women fall prey  to sexual harassment from their bosses or even very senior colleagues. There comes a point of time when they find  themselves in a dilemma either to surrender to the obnoxious behaviour or else  face poverty en masse.Such  indeed is the tragic plight of many of our nameless and faceless sisters.

Stopping harassment

Informally, the best action the victim can take is to immediately let the harasser know that the specific behavior is unacceptable. Sometimes this approach is all that is necessary. The victim needs to be assertive or  else the situation is likely to  get out of hand. If this is not effective, supervisors and managers  in the office or  place of work need to be informed of this abominable  behavior. If harassment is allowed to continue, it will be more difficult to curtail and can ruin the victim’s reputation. Reporting the behavior after allowing it to go on for some time also makes it more difficult to stop. One must bear in mind  that if the response to sexual harassment is inconsistent and ambiguous, a judge may rule that the actions were not sexual harassment but a follow- up of  mutual agreement. In addition to verbal reporting, the victim should document both the incidents of sexual harassment and efforts made to stop the behavior.

However there are   certain precautions which the women might take to prevent sexual harassment in the first place. Here are a few tips:

  • Be polite and  somewhat formal with your boss and other male colleagues. Maintain  a safe distance from  your boss and  other men around.

  • Don’t touch the male staff members even while joking, or let them  touch you in a jovial mood. Even a friendly  pat might give them  crazy ideas. Never venture beyond a formal handshake, which is officially permissible.

  • Be sober in your gestures, gait  and behaviour.Don’t smile too much or  laugh too much. Avoid making eye contacts  with people for  longer durations. Don’t wink even in a friendly manner. Also do not move /swing parts of your body in a provocative or tantalizing manner.

  • Do not wear very short and skimpy dresses, which might succeed in provoking men to fantasize about you. Select clothes that are smart and trendy without exposing major portions of your figure.

  • Don’t leave your  fairly long tresses open and falling all around you. Tie them up loosely at least, when you stand or sit in the proximity of men   during meetings and discussions. A lot of men find those flowing tresses sensuous and tempting.

  • Unless you know him very well or trust him, do not sit  alone  with a man in any enclosure or closed space. Either have other people around or leave the door ajar.

No doubt these tips might sound a trifle  old fashioned but isn’t  it better to escape sexual harassment by being old fashioned, than being  smart and fast forward and inviting trouble for yourself?

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