‘They asked me to sing; and I sang’: Women face Sexual Harassment in Workplaces too

“They asked me to sing, and I sang; those in front of me seemed happy. They asked me to dance, and I did that too; they clapped their hands and laughed aloud. I felt ashamed of myself. Where was I, what was I doing in a room with total male strangers, who were the directors of a prominent IT company. I looked at my file, it was still closed; they knew nothing about my qualifications, they did not bother to ask. They thanked me for entertaining them to vile away their time. I thanked them for not inviting me to sleep with them to vile away their time. I was rejected for the job, and I had already known that when I saw my file not being touched.”

Sheila George [not her real name] was twenty-two when she completed her masters in software engineering. Passing with honors should have made it easy for her in her hunt for suitable jobs. Yet it was not so. She says that her even her modern attire had changed the interviewing process, and made her feel guilty of own self.

It was a skirt and a decent top; and my skirt was just above my knees. But those old men kept their eyes fixed on my legs; they made me stand the whole time so to continue their indecent stares. So I grabbed my file and walked out of that room.”

Sheila George not only lost her job, but also her self-respect, dignity, and trust she had on people. She felt humiliated; she felt she had lost even the last thing she had – respect and dignity. Sheila George attempted suicide. She was not harassed physically; none of the interviewers touch her; but the emotional harassment was sexual, the body language, behaviour, verbal language, and attitude towards Sheila George were sexual. Sheila George, who felt that the glares of those men behind the interview table had pierced through her making her shiver of shame, drew her towards suicide. But she was lucky; she was saved in time.

Sexual harassment and abuse in work places have more than doubled from 57 to 119 between the years of 2014 and 2015 shows the data of the National Crime Records Bureau of India. Other work related sexual harassment has also risen from 469 in 2014 to 714 in 2015 showing a 51% increase.

Sexual harassment is the unwelcome sexual behaviour towards a male or a female by another male or a female, which could be expected to make a person feel humiliated and intimidated, creating harm on his or her dignity. Sexual harassment can be physical, verbal or even written at times. Sexual harassment can be of any kind, and could take place in any given place or situation, and carried out in varied ways and degrees. Sexual harassment does not relate to the any sexual conversation or behaviour that is carried with the consent of the two persons; it is not flirtation or friendship.

Though sexual harassment is common to both men and women, girls and boys, it is the girls and the women who suffer in huge in all societies of the world. And it is not difference in a work place environment. When the harassment takes place in the workplace during work, at work related events, between people who work in the same workplace, it is referred to as workplace sexual harassment.

At times we women do not realize in that moment that we are being harassed sexually, as the way it is carried out is different. That is what happened to me”, states Rohini Baskaran [not her real name] who had a year ago, joined an IT company in Southern India. She continued, “There was this day when I did not feel well enough, and I was being tired and restless. My hair was tied into a knot to make me feel relaxed. But my superior forced me to smile, and said each time I see him, I should be smiling widely with him; he also insisted that I always leave my hair loose and open, as it made him happy to me in that manner. Initially I did not realize it was harassment; but when it repeatedly occurred, realized. But what can I do than ignore; I cannot afford to lost my job, so I obey him

Workplace sexual harassment is something that rarely escapes out of the respective work places. As job related sexual harassment widely affects women and girls, the victims themselves choose not to share it with the rest of the world, and sometimes not even with their families and friends. Shame and reproach from the society, fear of losing the job, fear of being blackmailed, fear of being black listed in the field of work, fear of continuous unemployment and financial instability are reasons for women to become silent and tolerant towards harassment that happen in their work places.

These work places do not involve popular and multinational companies, but also small businesses, government, education and academic institutions, and further the domestic work places that encompass the female workforce at large.

However, women decide to ignore these harassment, and fail to report them at the relevant authorities. Lack of knowledge on the remedial systems, the corruption seen behind these systems and the mainstream media that creates false and fake news for their own benefit at the cost of these hurt women, are considered as other reasons, why women refuse to complain and report sexual harassment that take place in their work environments.

Hence, forcing a woman to sing and dance during a job interview, throwing improper looks at her and her outfit are sexual harassment indeed.

Radhai Krishnamurthi |  India