Industry, NGOs focus on women's safety issues

PUNE: Industry and trade bodies along with a few NGOs have come together to create awareness on sexual harassment of women at workplaces and familiarize women employees across industries and services with self-defence tactics and the ways to respond to emergency situations.

The initiative - Stop Exploitation, Molestation, Abuse, Assault (Seema) - started on Saturday with a workshop held at the Dewang Mehta auditorium near SB Road. Participants deliberated on different aspects of the legal and organizational framework that are emerging in the wake of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The role of self-defence, use of technology and communication, and ways to make a working woman's life safe in the city were also discussed.

Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), National Human Resource Development Network, the Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture, Pune Hoteliers Association and the Association of Hospitals in Pune were part of the initiative.

Pradeep Bhargava, chairman of the western India council of CII, set the tone by suggesting that apart from the police and existing laws, there is a need to evolve a voluntary structure sensitizing women on what they and the organizations they work for can do to ensure their safety. "The structure will have to be simple, effective and replicable," said Bhargava.

Lawyer Divya Chavan-Jachak elaborated on the provisions of the Act which lay down the mechanism an organization has to put in place and how an aggrieved female employee can seek justice when she has fallen victim to sexual harassment. She said the rules which will define how the law will operate are yet to come and these rules will help fine-tune the provision of the law. MP Vandana Chavan said there are many aspects of the legislation which will evolve through the process of judicial interpretation.

Former director general of police Jayant Umranikar stressed that the cases of sexual harassment which the Act covers are in the nature of non-cognizable offences and there is a time limit within which the inquiry about a complaint must finish.

Sheetal Bapat of NGO Shyamchi Aai, said there will be an effort to create a panel of persons with legal knowledge who can be invited to become a member of Internal Complaints Committees which the Act mandates.

The workshop contained a presentation on a pilot survey of women working in four large organisations examining their awareness about the remedies they can invoke in case of sexual harassment. A large percentage of the surveyed women did not know about the mechanism put in place by their employer organisations to address the issue. They also did not know there were telephone helplines calling which they could seek assisance in case of an emergency or after an incident has taken place.

Prameela Kaleeve, human resources head at Zensar Technologies, elaborated on the cell phone-based and internet-based applications that can come handy in the event of trouble. Organisations can help their employees download these applications on their mobile devices and train them to use them, she said.