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Over 36% Of Women In Media Report Encountering Sexual Harassment, Says New Study

Women at work deserve a safe place to work in – at a minimum. What has the media as an employer, done in this regard?

Sexual harassment at work has for long been an under-reported and under-addressed problem in India. Although the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Rules, 2013 define clearly what sexual harassment is, and what obligations employers have to both prevent and address such cases, the reality is different.

Many organisations in India still do not follow norms such as constituting a balanced Internal Complaints committee, maintaining confidentiality for the complainant or enquiring into the complaint without bias.

While media organisations have been vocal about sexual harassment at workplaces, especially after the #MeToo movement in India picked up steam, the reality inside their own newsrooms is different.

A new report titled released (aptly enough, around International Women’s Day 2020) by the Network of Women in Media and Gender At Work, titled, ‘Creating Safe Workplaces: Prevention and Redressal of Sexual Harassment in Media Houses in India’ examined how well media organisations in India respond to cases of sexual harassment at work, and the results are not encouraging. (The NWMI is a pan-India network which aims to provide an informal forum for women in media professions to share information and resources, exchange ideas, promote media awareness and ethics, and work for gender equality and justice within the media and society, while Gender at Work is an international feminist collaborative of gender experts).

The report is based on an online survey conducted among 456 women in media both cis and trans, and working in diverse roles connected to the media – as journalists, journalism educators, trainers, and researchers. They were affiliated with mainstream news producers as well as digital media publications and worked in multiple languages.

According to a press release issued by the NWMI, “Most respondents were based in metropolitan centres such as Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi NCR, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Pune. More than 70% were full-time employees and only about 11% were freelancers. While the survey is therefore limited in terms of representation – it points to some serious issues in the media industry when it comes to sexual harassment at the
workplace.”

Here were some of the salient findings:

  • Over 36% of all respondents reported having experienced sexual harassment at their workplace
  • Of the respondents who experienced sexual harassment at work, more than half (53%) did not report it to anyone. A very small percentage of the latter reported their experiences to the Internal Committee (IC) of their media house.
  • Of those who approached an IC with a complaint, 70% were not ”completely satisfied” with the outcome.
  • Among respondents who said their organisation did not have a mechanism to deal with sexual harassment, 47% had faced sexual harassment.
  • Contrary to popular perception, sexual harassment was not only physical in nature, but also included sexist comments, gestures and jokes, and attempts to pester women for unwanted romantic/sexual relationships
  • Women reported being promised rewards for complying with such behaviour as well as receiving threats for refusing it. Moreover, unwanted touching, fondling, sexual assault and rape were also reported by the respondents

“The results of the survey underscore the need to step up awareness raising and other preventive measures to bring about a change in the work culture in media houses,” said Laxmi Murthy, one of the authors of the report. “There is not enough awareness even among women who work in the media about redressal mechanisms for sexual harassment. Further, there’s a lack of faith in ICs, which media houses need to address.”

“While calling out sexual harassment in other spheres, as they should, the media industry must also look within and set its own house in order. The time for safer media workplaces has come,” said Aayushi Aggarwal, another author of the report.

It is shameful indeed, that the media, which we look up to as a vanguard of democracy and a voice in the quest for a fairer world, has not yet looked more closely inwards.

Image Credit: Marva M/Feminism In India

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