‘SHe-Box’ can be the game-changer for a woman encountering sexual harassment at the workplace in India.
High profile cases of sexual harassment against women have always received significant attention world over and thereby probably a higher opportunity for fair redressal. But what about the plight of an ordinary woman, one for instance who has been subjected to sexual harassment by her manager in a small company of a non-descript town? The average Indian woman, typically one who is earning barely enough money to make ends meet, may probably not even be aware that she can complain against the perpetrator of this repugnant crime.
Which is why, when the Ministry for Women and Child Development (WCD) launched ‘SHe-Box’ this year, it presaged a beginning for a new and progressive era for women in the Indian workforce.
‘SHe-Box’ – presages a new and progressive era
‘SHe-Box’ (sexual harassment electronic box) is an online complaint management system launched in in July 2017, specifically for documenting and redressing grievances on sexual harassment for female government employees. On 7th Nov 2017, ‘SHe-Box’ became particularly meaningful as its coverage was extended by the Ministry for WCD to female employees of the private sector as well. A female employee who is a victim of sexual harassment can raise a complaint on ‘SHe-Box’ either before or after raising it with their respective organisations’ Internal Committee (IC) or Local Committee (LC).
‘SHe-Box’ – a substantial development
- It underscores the government mandate that organizations stay compliant with the POSH law, consider sexual harassment against women very seriously and take the necessary action to ensure that the workplace is safe for female employees.
- It brings about with it awareness of the topic which is nearly a taboo in India.
- It will hopefully embolden women to raise their complaints rather than remain silent.
- The ‘SHe-Box’ aligns with the EEOC (equal employment opportunity commission) in the US. India has 500 reported complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace as of last year, drastically lower when compared to 27000 complaints reported in the US.
Why we at KelpHR give it a thumbs up?
- ‘SHe-Box’ stands over and above the whims of an organisation, while the Internal Committee’s / Local Committee’s functioning “may” be at the mercy of the organisation. The Sexual Harassment Act mandates that workplaces with more than 10 workers constitute an internal complaints committee for receiving complaints of sexual harassment.
- IC’s will be increasingly under pressure to ensure that they execute their responsibility adequately, as they could be monitored.
- It provides a forum outside the organization for female employees to complain to. Earlier the only option was to lodge a complaint with the police as a recourse to an unresponsive organisation.
- With the complaints being monitored in ‘SHe-Box’, organizations will step up their efforts to ensure that they provide a safe workplace to female employees.
- ‘SHe-Box’ helps the Indian government track the number of incidents and understand the magnitude of the problem.
- A victim could always report to other authorities through a physical document or an email. A portal provides convenience. In addition, the ‘SHe-Box’ portal is fairly user friendly.
Backed by years of experience in building awareness on Sexual Harassment, we at KelpHR believe that this is a commendable initiative taken by the Ministry of WCD which addresses a significant problem woman at work in India have faced for generations and continue to do so. Experience in the field has given us insight into ground realities and here is what we think are the few suggestions to improve the effectiveness of the ‘SHe-Box’ further.
This is how the ‘SHe-Box’ be made more effective
- Confidentiality: However well-intentioned such a system is designed to be, unless it ensures utmost confidentiality, female employees will hesitate to utilize it. Any indication on the portal to announce the confidentiality will be reassuring to a victim raising a complaint.
- Provisioning for Whistle-Blowers: The portal only allows a victim to lodge a complaint. If a whistle-blower section was to be added, it could prove to be vital. In a country where the stigma of calling out the perpetrator is quite severe, an option for a person other than a complainant to register a complaint via this portal could be crucial to its success.
- Handling unknown or multiple respondent(s): Currently, there is no provision to submit a complaint against an unknown respondent i.e. someone whose identity may be unclear to the victim. E.g. a vendor who was at the workplace on a day of the incident, a person from another department or company who was at the shared cafeteria or parking area etc. Also, a provision to complain against multiple respondents needs to be included for the ‘SHe-Box’ to be comprehensive.
- Intimidating for the lower strata: It is a reality that those from the lower strata of the Indian society might find an online portal intimidating and may need to take the help of someone else to use the portal. If the portal allows a written complaint to be scanned and uploaded it would help.
- Mandatory Aadhaar number: Mentioning the Aadhaar number is mandatory in ‘SHe-Box’. In most probability, a victim who has suffered from sexual harassment has after considerable deliberation, taken a very bold step to complain. Would mandating the Aadhaar number make her wary of lodging the complaint on the portal? We don’t know. Also, in Aug 2017, a 9-judge bench of the Supreme court ruled momentously that the right to privacy is an inalienable right of every human being. How would mandating the Aadhaar card number in ‘SHe-Box’ impose on the right to privacy, is yet to be understood. It would help if the Aadhar card number were to be made optional to alleviate the fears of the victim.
- Retaliation: When the Ministry of WCD forwards the complaint received on the portal to the organization concerned, clarity is required as to who would receive this complaint. We speculate the chances of retaliation if it goes only to the Director of the organization. An exhaustive process detailing whom the complaint is shared with must be mentioned in the portal itself.
- Psychologist Consultation: Consultation with a psychologist could be provided through the portal.
- Coverage for the unorganised sector? This sector likewise needs to have access and a method to enable register complaints. They also need to be able to trust that their workplaces are also equally being monitored for harassment.
- ‘Class action’ lawsuit kind of complaints: A ‘class action’ lawsuit is defined in FindLaw as one in which a group of people with the same or similar injuries caused by the same product or action sue the defendant as a group. In the current context, it is highly possible that the perpetrator has harassed several women before it comes to light. The portal could be supportive to group complaints as well since women feel secure when they raise a complaint in groups.
Validation of the mobile number field in terms of the number of digits that needs to be typed in; similarly validating the email address field for errors; or provisioning for the landline number of the company are smaller enhancements that the Ministry of WCD can make on the portal effortlessly.
Women in India are vulnerable to the fear of being ostracized socially when they complain against sexual harassment. They fear losing their indispensable financial income, they fear the backlash at the workplace and a lot more. The normal Indian woman has long been conditioned to quit the workplace rather than raise a complaint, a choice akin to the lesser of the two evils.
Such a woman who gathers the courage to complain about the harasser against all odds, must be assisted in all ways possible to receive due justice. We at KelpHR believe that ‘SHe-Box’ is a great initiative towards this end.