Speak up. Confront. Leave. Remember – God Helps Those Who Help Themselves
The exploitation of women at workplace is a sad reality. There are reports of sexual exploitation of women in the government, semi-government and private sector alike. It shall be wrong to assume that all workplaces are marked by sexual exploitation of women. But such incidents do happen, and it is a matter of concern.
Some recent cases of sexual exploitation at the workplace hit national headlines. They have helped to bring this vital issue again in sharp focus. The highly unfortunate incidents made the society again realize that sexual exploitation of women is clear and present social scourge. It needs to be tackled boldly and with conviction.
We educate our daughters so that they may be financially independent like our sons. We do not want them to suffer in any way when they are part of the workforce. It is the mark of a civilized society that it recognizes and acts against sexual or emotional exploitation of all its citizens, especially vulnerable sections like women and children.
If sexual exploitation of women is a risk we run, there may be those who may assert that women should not work – and they must be confined to the house. Those men and women must be asked this – the roads are dangerous. They are risky and may cause death. Do they advocate that people should stop driving or using the roads?
No. Any rational person shall argue that one must drive carefully and exercise caution at all times on the road. The same rationale applies here. Women and even men are vulnerable to sexual exploitation at the work place. The correct response is to remain cautious at all times, even as we build happy and meaningful careers for ourselves.
How The Me Too Movement Helped
The Me Too Movement shook India a few years ago. This went a long way in checking the sexual exploitation of women at the workplace. It made many sexual predators scared of indulging in such reprehensible conduct. They realized that the legal consequences may be delayed, but loss of dignity socially was an immediate cross to bear.
Equally important, it made organizations realize that they needed effective systems in place to address the issue of sexual exploitation of women. Many organizations set up a system of checks and balance to ensure that the women in the workforce were protected from sexual predators.
How The Me Too Movement Empowered Women
Courtesy the Me Too Movement, girls entering the workforce with dreams and aspirations of building a fulfilling career realized that they did not have to submit to the demands of sexual predators. They realized that they could confront the sexual predator and file an official complaint against him/her.
In the aftermath of the Me Too movement, there were reports that some women misused the movement to falsely accuse their seniors or co-workers of sexual misconduct. This is unfortunate. The system of checks and balances is hence essential to ensure that while the genuine complainants or victims get justice, those who are wrongly accused must also get justice.
The Me Too movement immensely helped those women who had suffered in silence for years. They found the courage to speak up, question and confront those who had been tormenting them.
Never Suffer In Silence
A mistake often made by a victim of sexual abuse at workplace is the choice to suffer silently. Let us clearly recognize one thing – if the sexual predator is misusing his official position and preying upon a woman, the woman is helping him by remaining silent.
If speaking up is a choice we make, let us clearly recognize the opposite. Staying silent is also a choice that we make. Nobody is forcing us to stay silent. No one can force us to stay silent forever. Today or tomorrow, sooner or later, life shall always give you the option to speak up, to tell people around you that you are being tormented, to ask for help.
If one is too scared to speak up, one shall suffer. People shall come to your rescue only if you tell people that you are being exploited. Those girls or women who are being exploited in this way must not wait for divine intervention to come and rescue them. There is an old and wise saying – God helps those who help themselves.
Stand up and help yourself. You shall find the universe rushing to help you if you choose to help yourself.
There Are Always Options
Never assume that if you lose this particular job, you shall not find another job. The universe is full of possibilities. The universe is full of options and diverse roads to take.
Remember the wisdom of nature. A fruit that rots has to be discarded. Similarly, if you feel that you are so miserable in a particular workplace that you feel that you are rotting, it is time to leave it. Don’t stay in the rot. Don’t stay in the dirt.
Have faith in the Almighty. Have faith in the inherent wisdom and justice of the universe. At the first sign of a sexual predator, make efforts to leave the section. Leave the department. If needed, leave the organization. Don’t stay in the position where the sexual predator can exploit you. If possible, tell a colleague or a senior about wrong conduct on the part of the predator. Choose to speak up.
The Journalist Who Called Out The Misconduct Of the Peon
It is not always a senior who may subject a woman to sexual misconduct.
A senior woman journalist working in a reputed media house is a dear friend. Some years ago, she told me once that she was looking at the page being made by the page designer when she felt that a peon in the office touched her back inappropriately. She thought it may have happened by mistake.
A couple of days later, she was again standing next to the page designer’s chair, looking at the monitor where the page was being designed. Again, she felt that the peon touched her back inappropriately as he passed by. She turned around and shouted at him, confronting him right there.
My friend told me that everybody at her office was startled. The organization took prompt action and removed the peon from the post.
A few days later, a co-worker who was nearly 50 told my friend that the same peon had often touched her inappropriately. He would also try to harass her whenever he went past her in the corridor, if no one else was there. But fearing some kind of bad name for herself, the senior journalist always remained silent.
Whom did this senior journalist help by her silence? None. She only encouraged the peon to continue acting in a highly objectionable manner.
Meanwhile, my friend later told me, “If I had not questioned the obnoxious behaviour of the peon, he would have been emboldened to target other women in the office similarly.” So true.
On this sensitive subject, I am reminded of the famous words of Queen Rania Al-Abdullah, the wife of King Abdullah II of Jordan. Speaking many years ago on women’s empowerment, Queen Rania said, “A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” The Queen gave a clear message – that it is wrong to confine girls or women to homes on the plea that the home is the only safe place for them.