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Sexual Harassment of Persons with Disabilities in the Workplace

By July 2, 2024Blogs, PoSHViews: 121

Women and girls with disabilities face a heightened risk of sexual violence, and the workplace is no exception. This vulnerability is exacerbated by the nature of their disabilities, which often hinder their ability to escape or report abuse. Physical disabilities can limit mobility, making it difficult to flee from dangerous situations. Those who are deaf or hard of hearing may be unable to call for help or communicate abuse effectively. Additionally, individuals with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities might not recognize nonconsensual sexual acts as crimes due to a lack of accessible information.

Access to justice and support in the workplace is particularly challenging for women and girls with disabilities. The stigma associated with both their sexuality and disability often results in inadequate support throughout their experiences in the workplace. This lack of support can deter them from reporting abuse or seeking help. As Lalitha Kumaramangalam, former chairwoman of the National Commission for Women, stated, “One of the biggest challenges for women [with disabilities] is access [to services], not just physical but access across the board.”

To address these challenges, legislative amendments have introduced several provisions to safeguard the rights of women and girls with disabilities and facilitate their participation in workplace processes. These provisions include:

  • Recording Statements: Women and girls with disabilities have the right to record their statements in a safe and comfortable environment within the workplace.
  • Support During Processes: They are entitled to assistance from an interpreter or support person during the recording of complaints and throughout any internal investigations or hearings.
  • Accommodations for Communication: This includes access to sign-language interpretation, the presence of a special educator, the use of simple language, and the option to file reports in braille.

Despite these legal protections, support is often inadequate in many workplaces. Many organizations lack the training and resources required to handle such cases effectively, which is a significant barrier to justice. Although the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) and the 2013 amendments mandate these accommodations, they are frequently not implemented within corporate policies and procedures.

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, adopted by India’s parliament in December 2016, marks a significant step forward. This act protects all persons with disabilities from abuse, violence, and exploitation, and outlines specific measures for appropriate workplace accommodations and support.

While these legislative measures are critical, there is still much work to be done to reform workplace policies and ensure equal access to justice for women and girls with disabilities who are survivors of sexual violence. These cases should no longer remain in the shadows. By continuing to advocate for and implement necessary reforms, we can help ensure that all individuals, regardless of their abilities, can work in a safe and supportive environment.

Tips for the Internal Committee (IC)

The Internal Committee (IC) plays a crucial role in addressing and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. Here are some tips for the IC to effectively support persons with disabilities:

  1. Understand the Needs of Disabled Employees: Gain a comprehensive understanding of the specific needs and challenges faced by employees with disabilities. This can be achieved through training sessions and consultations with disability rights experts.
  2. Provide Accessible Reporting Mechanisms: Ensure that all reporting mechanisms are accessible to employees with disabilities. This includes providing options for verbal, written, and digital reports, as well as ensuring that all forms are available in accessible formats such as braille and easy-to-read language.
  3. Ensure Confidentiality and Privacy: Maintain strict confidentiality of all complaints and ensure that the privacy of complainants is protected throughout the investigation process. This is crucial to encourage reporting and protect the dignity of the complainants.
  4. Offer Support Services: Provide necessary support services, such as counseling and legal assistance, to employees with disabilities who report harassment. This support should be tailored to meet the specific needs of the individual.
  5. Train Committee Members: Regularly train IC members on disability rights, the specific challenges faced by employees with disabilities, and the best practices for handling complaints from disabled individuals. This will help ensure a sensitive and informed approach to each case.
  6. Collaborate with Disability Experts: Include disability rights experts or advocates as part of the IC or as external consultants. Their expertise can provide valuable insights and guidance in handling cases involving employees with disabilities.
  7. Monitor and Review Policies: Continuously monitor and review workplace policies to ensure they are inclusive and effective in preventing sexual harassment. Seek feedback from employees with disabilities to identify areas for improvement.

By implementing these tips, the Internal Committee can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for all employees, ensuring that those with disabilities receive the protection and justice they deserve.

Please reach out to us for any queries on preventing sexual harassment of persons with disabilities.

For more blogs and articles, visit our official website. Contact us for workshops and queries related to POSHEAP (Employee Assistance Program,) and Diversity and Inclusion.

Sources

  • Human Rights Watch, “Invisible Victims of Sexual Violence: Access to Justice for Women and Girls with Disabilities in India”​ (Human Rights Watch)​
  • Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016​ (Mondaq)​
  • Lalitha Kumaramangalam’s statement, December 2015​ (Human Rights Watch)

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