Preventing sexual harassment in media organizations

Toolkit for women journalists by Women In News

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Toolkit for media employers and employees
Toolkit for media employers and employees

In order to prevent sexual harassment in media organizations, Wan-Ifra’s Women In News group has designed a toolkit for media employers and employees. Currently, the toolkit is available in English but its Arabic version is claimed to be available soon. The toolkit is available in several formats, including digital, print and editable Word versions.

The toolkit comprises a practical guide for media employers and employees, an awareness poster that can be displayed in newsrooms and offices, a sample sexual harassment policy, a sample sexual harassment survey, and sample communications templates. It is designed for both, employers and employees, in the media industry.

For employers

The toolkit will help media employers to understand their professional and legal obligations to protect their employees against sexual harassment at work. Further, it will educate employers to identify sexual harassment and the employees who are at risk of being sexually harassed, and hence help them to develop a suitable organizational sexual harassment policy.

It will also help them develop preventative measures to address incidents of sexual harassment and lay down guidelines to handle sexual harassment complaints. The toolkit will provide information to develop strategies for supporting employees who have been sexually harassed.

For employees

The toolkit will help employees to understand their rights at work while identifying instances of sexual harassment. It will guide employees to know what behavior is unacceptable and the steps to take to deal with sexual harassment.

What the guide does and does not do

While the guide addresses multiple issues and perspectives related to sexual harassment, it is not exhaustive. It does not focus on sexual harassment and security threats faced by women journalists out in the field. There are other resources for this purpose and they are mentioned in this guide. However, it also does not address the pervasive and evolving problem of online harassment. Finally, this guide does not and cannot reconcile the incalculable professional cost to female media professionals who have missed out on promotions, breaking stories or other opportunities for career progression as a result of having to navigate sexual harassment along their professional paths.

Women in Indian media

According to an article on the FactChecker website www.factchecker.in, as many as 1971 cases of sexual harassment of women at the workplace were registered in India in the four years till 12 December 2017. Cases reported increased by 45% from 371 in 2014, to 539 in 2017 (till December 12, 2017). Similarly, an article on Quartz India featured a survey by the Indian National Bar Association (INBA) conducted in 2017, reporting that of the 6,047 participants (both male and female), 38% said they’d faced harassment at the workplace. Of these, 69% did not complain about it.

Furthermore, 70% women reported that they did not report sexual harassment by superiors because they feared the consequences, according to a survey conducted by the INBA in 2017 of 6,047 respondents.

While companies in India are legally required to have policies and comply with The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, it was reported by the International Labour Organization that very few Indian employers follow this statute. A report by FICCI-EY November 2015 states that 36% of Indian companies and 25% among MNCs are not compliant with the Sexual Harassment Act, 2013.

Moreover, an article on Business Standard website reported that according to the law, an internal complaints committee (ICC) is mandatory in every private or public organisation that has 10 or more employees. However, 36% of Indian companies and 25% of MNCs had not yet constituted their ICCs, the 2015 research study, Fostering Safe Workplaces, by the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) showed.

Sujata Madhok, an Indian activist and developmental journalist specializing in women’s issues, says that she has not observed any such committee in media organizations in India during her career. Even if organizations comply with the policy, women seldom complain for fear of losing their jobs and the lifelong stigma that comes with speaking out on sexual harassment issues. Madhok explained that women hardly report cases of sexual harassment because they are afraid of the repercussions. Even when they do report it, their reputation and lives are put at stake as they fear difficulties in finding another job.

Madhok referred to the case of Tanu Sharma as an example, an India TV journalist, who attempted suicide at the gates of the India TV premises in Noida in June 2014 after she was barred entry. She was forced to take the grave step as she was being routinely harassed by two employees of India TV and was terminated from her job for speaking up and protesting this behavior.

Even the women who dare to take the courageous step of reporting and fighting instances of harassment, often end up entangled in long-winding legal procedures. In spite of help from women’s rights lawyers, they are compelled to give up their legal rights and even leave the city where they have been earning a living in order to avoid further and even more degrading forms of harassment.

As rightly put by Madhok, in order to adress the issues faced by women at workplace, employers need to form an internal complaints committee in their organizations. Moreover, there is an urgent need for mutual respect and rapport among employees to support each other in case someone is subject to sexual harassment in the workplace.

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