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Initiative Update

Big Breakthroughs!

While supporting women by enabling access to resources in the aftermath of violence, social change is possible, too - and sometimes, takes place so subtly and quietly, but in ways that are lasting. Since November, a young woman has been fighting a case of sexual harassment and pushing for redress in an organization in the subcontinent. She was an intern, but was given significant levels of responsibility and was placed under one of the more senior authorities in the organization. It took a lot of courage on her part to walk this path.

While a friend of hers and I (as part of Saahas) stood by to support her and share resources / guidance / information from time to time, her fight was really a big leap of faith and she had to redouble efforts each morning in the face of shaming, setbacks, structural violence, and even isolation from her colleagues at the workplace. In the three-odd months since, she did not back down. Justice was delivered last evening when the organization's ad hoc committee found the senior staff member guilty of harassment, and issued an order calling for his dismissal from the workplace, and ordered him to pay a compensatory sum to her as damages for the harm caused. The ripple effect of this is that the organization has set up a mechanism for complaints, is in the process of installing a permanent internal complaints mechanism, and has begun to institute training sessions for its staff. It is definitely disheartening that a young intern had to go through this at all for the organization to sit up and take notice - one would assume they would have prioritized providing a safe space from the start - but it is definitely a powerful direction of change for the winds to blow in.

This development came at the heels of a major breakthrough in the Indian judiciary around the law on workplace sexual harassment. In a major case involving a journalist named Priya Ramani, who had called out her former boss, MJ Akbar, for sexual harassment. He had responded to the allegations by slapping a suit for criminal defamation, which mean that she had to go through criminal trial. BUT, last Wednesday, the court acquitted her and passed a judgment making note of the following points (source)

\"Women cannot be punished for raising their voice against sexual abuse... they cannot be punished on the pretext of criminal complaint of defamation. Right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of right of life and dignity for women, as guaranteed in the Constitution under Article 21, and right of equality before law and equal protection of law, as guaranteed under Article 14.

Priya Ramani's disclosure was in the interest of anti-sexual harassment at workplace. The woman has a right to air her grievance on any platform of her choice... even after decades. It cannot be ignored that, most times, sexual harassment is committed behind closed doors. Most women can't speak up due to stigma and attack on their characters. Victims of sexual abuse (may) not speak a word for many years because she (may) have no idea she is a victim of abuse.. may (also) keep believing she is at fault.

Society must understand the impact of sexual abuse and harassment on its victims. Sexual abuse takes away dignity and self-confidence. This attack by the victim on the character of the accused is self-defence after mental trauma suffered regarding shame over crime against her.

The time has come for society to understand sexual abuse and harassment, and its implication on victims. Society should understand an abusive person (can be) like any other person... he too has family and friends. He can also be a well-respected person in society.

Indian women are capable... (we must) pave the way for them to excel. They require only freedom and equality. A 'glass ceiling' will not prevent Indian women... will not be a road block for their advancement, if equal opportunity and social protection is given to them.\"

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