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Empowering Women through Shared Experiences of Resilience against Sexual Harassment.... Anonymous

Updated: Mar 9

Author's Note: This note aims to provide guidance and support to those facing sexual harassment at work. It's imperative to question why subjects like rape, sexual harassment, molestation, and marital rape continue to be taboo topics, pushing women into silence. Despite recent legal rulings, the stigma surrounding speaking out against such incidents persists due to societal judgment.

This piece addresses working women's experiences, both in corporate fields and disorganized sectors like standalone retail sectors. Young women starting their careers often encounter harassment without guidance on what to expect or how to respond to unwarranted advances, offensive comments, or inappropriate jokes. While these experiences are not exclusive to young women, most women, as they gain experience, learn to navigate such situations. However, when they decide to address misconduct or unfair treatment, they risk being labelled troublemakers.

I recall a significant incident of professional discrimination after confronting inappropriate behaviour. During a conversation with the individual responsible, who also happened to be a start-up owner, I became anxious, and tears welled up. The response I received was disheartening: "These days they insist on diversity; if I had a man here, I wouldn't have to deal with tears." This issue was brushed off casually. At the time, I was a 47-year-old woman talking to someone seven years my junior.

Standing up against such behaviour is a constant battle. If you've chosen to address wrongdoing in your career more than once, you're often branded a troublemaker. It's bewildering how colleagues and HR professionals in the corporate world often share the same outlook – as long as you socialize and let men be men, everything is fine. However, when it comes to inappropriate behaviour during drunken moments, the excuse is, "I was so drunk; I didn't mean anything by it. Don't be so stuck-up." If that's a legitimate excuse, why doesn't this behaviour extend to men?

I've faced this situation twice in my career, and I received little support from women, despite them knowing the facts. Colleagues and close friends suggested that I withdraw the complaint or risk ruining my career. The second time, when I was nearing retirement, I ignored these warnings. However, addressing such issues exposes you to warnings that you won't be hired again, often expressed with good intentions. Placement consultants apologize, citing a conflict of interest because the organization you are challenging is their regular client.

It's perplexing why women aren't encouraged to stand together, while men, even when aware of wrongdoing by their colleagues or superiors, offer full support. They provide false statements, even if they witnessed the incidents themselves, and encourage their friends to fight. This phenomenon spans all levels, regardless of the city's tier or the job scenario. When women endure harassment, they often question themselves or their behaviour. The introspective self-doubt is a shared experience.

This issue remains current and occurs daily, allowing repeat offenders to escape consequences. The more we speak out, the fewer future generations will face it. Here's advice for women, young or mature, who may find themselves in such situations. If you experience discomfort or uncertainty due to lewd comments or advances, don't pretend to be oblivious. It's common to ignore inappropriate jokes or comments, but you have a choice: give in, brush it off, and hope it's an isolated incident, or stand up and fight back.

Often, we choose to remain neutral and let such incidents slide, hoping they won't affect our professional lives. Unfortunately, they often do. I strongly recommend keeping records, similar to advice given to women during divorces or separations. Talk to someone you trust, send emails or messages detailing the incidents, including dates and how they made you feel. Documenting these experiences, even if you choose not to press charges immediately, is essential.

In cases where there are no witnesses, remember you are the witness. Document and share your experiences. Keep screenshots of messages exchanged, especially if they occurred at improper hours. In some cases, the HR department may act unethically. HR representatives may discourage you from filing a harassment report, using tactics meant to discourage you and sow self-doubt. After any such meeting conducted, verbally over a phone or in person, put everything in writing in an email to the HR department. Include your decision after the conversation. Even if you choose not to pursue the matter further, state that you want to put the conversation on record.

Friends will be friends, and they will often stand by you. However, even if they don't, remember that this fight will be yours alone. Moral support can only go so far. At some point, well-intentioned statements like 'more power to you' can become annoying. You will face emotional stress and numerous challenges, and these will be your struggles alone. So, start well-prepared, armed with the truth and strong incident reports, and it won't matter which organization you belong to; you are choosing to stand by yourself. If you choose to address and fight harassment, make your case strong by being self-reliant – you are now a warrior.

It's essential to be aware of government forums called the Local Complaint Committee (LCC), especially in disorganized sectors with no HR department or sexual harassment policy. Corporate employees can also reach out to these forums if the HR department appears biased or discouraging, particularly when the complaint is against a senior or influential figure within the organization. If you sense bias within the HR department or the sexual harassment panel, or if you are asked not to attend work until the matter is heard or even fired, you can approach the LCC by submitting your complaint ONLINE through SheBox. The government appoints a district magistrate and a panel of experienced individuals to oversee your complaint. This process is governed by timelines, typically three months from the date of the incident. While they cannot supersede the courts or impose severe punishments on the accused, they have the authority to direct the organization to officially record the complaint and issue directives regarding the placement or removal of the accused to ensure the complainant's safety and a fair working environment.

If you've experienced physical harassment, such as unwanted touching or grabbing, don't hesitate to file a complaint with the police, even if it's not an FIR (First Information Report). Keep a record of this complaint. Your exercise will be a great help in the process forward. Be prepared for a long and challenging battle if you choose this path, especially if it leads to court proceedings. In such cases, you may require not only the support of your family and spouse but also financial resources to endure and fight for justice.

In conclusion, your choice of action should be based on what's best for your peace of mind, a decision only you can make. If you choose to fight, do it with unwavering resolve. You may face backlash from people you once considered friends or well-wishers, but don't let anything affect you. Stand tall against all false or historical accusations. Your journey will be filled with challenges and emotional turmoil, and these struggles will be uniquely yours. Starting well-prepared, armed with the truth and strong incident reports, will give you the resilience you need.


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