Helping To Speak Out Against Sexual Harassment

Sucheta Dalal reports on a unique social organisation that is...

"Working women have faced hostility in countless ways ranging from condescending attitudes, hostile men's leagues in organisations, unequal pay, delayed promotions, sly remarks on the plight of spouses of working women, less than humorous remarks on women's appearance, flirtatious glances, direct request for sexual favours", says a report titled 'Sex, lies and malice at the workplace' .

That this report is posted on a career website called www.assureconsulting.com signals how widespread is this malaise. If further proof were need, it was provided by a 2001 survey by Sakshi (an NGO for women), which surveyed 2410 working women in five States, both in government and private organisations.

The findings were startling. Some 80% said that sexual harassment exists at their workplace and 70% said women, in general face inappropriate behaviour from co-workers and supervisors. Over half of those surveyed said that women are treated unfairly by employers and co-workers, do not get equal opportunities and have been the butt of sexual remarks or jokes. Other surveys have found that this largely invisible form of harassment and discrimination exists even in empowering professions such as law or the media. It remains invisible and unspoken because whining about it is the surest way to end one's career. Only extreme cases lead to complaints. Most women simply change jobs or seek transfers. A Confederation of Indian Industry survey of 149 companies was revealing. The number of women in the workplace and in key decision-making positions has increased, but less than 1% make it to the CEO post and under 5% to senior management. They are also scarce in board rooms unless related to the promoter group.

The Supreme Court, in a landmark judgement - Vishaka v/s High Court of Rajasthan (1997) defined sexual harassment: "Sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as: physical contact and advances; a demand or request for sexual favours; sexually coloured remarks; showing pornography; any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature". Yet, many suffering women have neither heard of the Vishaka judgement, nor do they want to attract suspicion and hostility by filing formal complaints. Indeed, many are even unaware about what constitutes inappropriate behaviour. Or when an invisible line is crossed and a compliment turns improper or 'good fun' degenerates to lewd behaviour. Here is where, Sakshi, a non profit organisation, plays an invaluable role.

Naina Kapur, a lawyer and co-director of Sakshi and her team, conduct training programmes for corporate houses, government organisations and schools to create attitudinal shifts. These allow participants to observe, re-assess and possibly correct their behaviour through a series of discussions, games and role-playing exercises. Most often, it makes people confront their hidden or unaccepted biases. Many of Sakshi's trainers have a theatre background. That makes the training more meaningful. The training is not restricted to sexual harassment, but also covers attitudes towards less empowered persons. HR managers who have chosen Sakshi’s training and workshops for their employees enthusiastically acknowledge their efficacy.

Research, documentation, training and education are only a part of Sakshi's profile. It also manages targeted projects such as Project Equality, which works a sensitising community leaders and the judiciary; Project Disha to promote the enforcement of Supreme Courts guidelines on sexual harassment at the work place and the Aqeelah Alam Sexual Health Project.

Although Sakshi operates from Delhi, it is open to conducting training programmes all over India and these help generate revenue to sustain other activities including audio and video documentaries and publications on gender issues. Its sister concern --the Institute for Support, Healing and Awareness (IFSHA) is focussed on support, healing and awareness in issues such as Violence Against Women. Like all non-profit organisations it is open to donations and volunteer work.

Sakshi
34 Akashneem Marg
DLF Phase II, First Floor,
Gurgaon, Haryana 122002
email: [email protected]

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The Art of Giving

Sucheta Dalal on GIVE Foundation which has brought professionalism into charity

One of the biggest travails even of simple charity in India is the nagging worry about whether one's money will be correctly spent. Another is the effort involved in reaching aid to those NGOs that pursue your special concerns. Give Foundation (www.givefoundation.org) is an NGO that aims to answer both these concerns through efficient and effective 'giving'.

Give Foundation in India was conceptualised by N.Venkat Krishnan, an IIM Ahmedabad graduate, who was always certain that the regular corporate rat race is not for him. After a brief stint at the Times of India, he took off to promote an unusual school in Gujarat and later 'Giving' in India with corporate support.  He aims to ensure that efficient and effective NGOs find resources to pursue their cause through a variety of platforms that encourage easy 'giving'.

In 2000 GIVE created an Internet platform to promote online donations. This has already channelled Rs two crore to various NGOs. A second platform is 'Payroll Giving' where all employees of a company donate a small part of their monthly salary to causes of their choice. Already, it has a list of 20 odd companies (such as Star TV, ICICI, IMRB, Hewlett-Packard, H &R Johnson and WPP Media) whose employees contribute Rs 100-500 a month to help educate a child, donate eyes or wheelchairs. Sometimes the employers match the employees' contribution.
Another strategy is to be part of high-profile events. The Standard Chartered international marathon, which has become a significant event on Mumbai's social calendar, is probably its most successful effort. This single event allows Give Foundation to help raise a big chunk of money for scores of genuine causes and provides a social dimension to the event.

GIVE's strength is its two-way support system. On the one hand, it helps NGOs professionalise their accounting and reporting systems to meet donor requirements and improve transparency (this includes cash-flow planning, fund management, internal control processes, document design and systems implementation). On the other hand it helps donors with Grant Management services so that every rupee donated is correctly spent.

It has screened over 1000 NGOs in the last couple of years, helping disburse funds for the Gujarat earthquake and Orissa flood relief, having apparently helped channel Rs 220 crore of grants and services for government departments, individuals and companies.

It has a Give2India scheme for donations of $10,000 and above. This allows donors to route funds through an ICICI Bank escrow account, a deposit or specially designed structures that transfer funds through ICICI Bank to a chosen NGO in milestone-based installments. This has allowed a venture capitalist to donate a hefty $100,000 for "livelihoods in Rural Karnataka"; a banker in Singapore to donate $60,000 to "electrify villages in Orissa using Biodiesel technology of project SuTRa"; a Swiss business owner to donate $60,000 to set up an Orphanage near Mumbai; a doctor in Manchester to donate 50,000 Pounds to support the mentally ill and an old-age home in Tamil Nadu; and a senior executive to provide $20,000 to promote 'entrepreneurship in Assam".
The foundation has even helped large corporates (Godrej, the Taj Group, the Bombay Stock Exchange) develop a comprehensive philanthropy strategy. According to Give India's website, its uniqueness is that it treats the donor as an 'investor', who is looking for a return of some kind - most often just the satisfaction of knowing how his/her money is well spent. All donors get a report on their donations.

GIVE makes a stretched comparison between financial intermediaries and various kinds of Non-profit structures operating in social development efforts. It is involved in helping the evolution of some of these, such as a credit or performance rating of NGOs and an informal self-regulatory alliance.

According to GIVE, "If Indians gave back to society in the same proportion as Americans do, we could be donating Rs 60,000 crore a year to help those in need". This would exceed the government's allocation for healthcare and education. As against this, Indians apparently donate anywhere between Rs 1000-5000 crore. Clearly, we have a long way to go.

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Fighting the Consumer Cause

Sucheta Dalal profiles India’s best known consumer advocacy organisation

After decades of debilitating socialism and a license-permit-raj, Indian consumers have finally stopped feeling grateful and obliged at receiving goods or services that they have paid and queued up for. A sense of consumer "rights" is dawning on people only in the last decade after economic liberalisation was initiated and several monopoly businesses were opened up to competition. 'Consumer activism' as an idea is now showing signs of gaining momentum in the country. Consumers are willing to post grievances on blogs and e-groups and even file cases against errant providers.

But in an environment where everything from a telephone to a gas connection or even a Bajaj Scooter, Ambassador car or buying a truck meant a long waiting period, who dared to think about rights, let alone fight for them? Ahmedabad-based Manubhai Shah did, and he gave up a comfortable job as General Manager at Arvind Mills to start the Consumer Education and Research Centre (CERC) at the age of 52 with support from the Lalbhai Group and just Rs 250.

The story goes that when the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation decided to raise bus fares in 1978, Manubhai Shah and three academics opposed the hike and forced a rollback of tariffs. This battle later led to the formation of the Consumer Education and Research Centre (CERC).

With donations and endowment funds from Indian and foreign institutions, CERC expanded rapidly to handle consumer complaints, advocacy, create research and library facilities and a strong legal cell that has handled path breaking public interest litigation against monopolies in electricity, telephones, airlines and insurance. Over the last 26 years, Manubhai Shah has become the leading voice for consumers in the country.

One of CERC's landmark cases was against the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), which went all the way to the Supreme Court. The issue was LIC's unilateral decision over eligibility criteria for individual term insurance plans. The judgment in CERC's favour set out the following proposition of law: "Any contract or condition of contract between two  parties  of  unequal  bargaining  capacity which is one sided,  unilateral  or  unfair, offends the conscience of the Constitution of India, viz.  citizens' fundamental  right to equality before  law  and  equal  protection  of  law and therefore unconstitutional,  illegal  and  unenforceable." CERC now handles 10,000 cases every year, of which nearly 80% are resolved out of court.

Along with the Consumer Protection Act of 1986, one of major strengths is its in-house laboratory setup in 1994. The first in India it has the capacity to test foods, pharmaceuticals and domestic electrical appliances. It operates by buying products directly from the market with strict sample specifications and checks their content or efficacy against norms of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act and claims made by the producers. The test findings are published in Insight - a bi-monthly consumer magazine.

The tests often expose unsafe products and shoddy production. Some interesting findings pertain to ice-cream, edible oil, turmeric, coffee, bottled water and electric appliances. For instance, the tests revealed that the 50-gm sachets of Nestle actually contain two grams less coffee. CERC took this dispute right up to the National Consumer forum. The laboratory also tests medicines such as paracetamol, aspirin, intravenous fluids and ampicillin. Preeti Shah, Editor of Insight says, "Empowerment of the consumer alone can weed out substandard, spurious and unsafe products from the market." CERC gives companies full opportunity to react to its findings; some have even insisted on visiting the testing facilities to verify the process and dropped their aggressive posturing after checking the unbiased and objective testing procedures. Others such as Bisleri actually took measures to improve product quality.

The explosion of products and services, including financial services has only increased the scope of CERC's work in fighting for consumer rights and advocacy for creating appropriate legislation for grievance redressal and consumer protection. CERC can be contacted at: 079-7489945-46 or you can visit www.cercindia.org to subscribe to Insight.

Disclosure: The writer is on CERC's board of trustees.

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