Why did India end up with an anti-sexual harassment law that is not gender neutral?
Gender neutral laws have found acceptance in 77 countries including Denmark, Australia, Switzerland, the U.S., the U.K., etc, but the Indian Parliament has repeatedly refused to make the law against sexual harassment gender neutral in India. Currently the Indian law against sexual harassment protects only women.
The question whether the Sexual Harassment Act of 2013 and the Criminal Law Amendment Act should be gender neutral or not had many activists up in arms. It was also reportedly a cause of conflict between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Law Ministry which led to an inordinate delay in the introduction of the anti-rape law.
However, the Sexual Harassment Act of 2013 that was finally passed by the Parliament takes it for granted that all potential victims are women. Here are the reasons that have been cited by ministries and parliamentarians:
Act of violence and power dynamics
The reason why the law is gender neutral is because sexual harassment is viewed as an act of violence in the context of deeply entrenched power inequalities between men and women that have existed for centuries in our society. It was strongly felt that making gender neutral laws would only increase the aforementioned inequalities. Most studies show that sexual harassment usually begins with a man and is aimed at a woman. It was widely believed that a gender neutral law would make a mockery of this reality.
Fear of counter-complaints
Another challenge that was foreseen was that making the accused gender neutral would mean that complaints by women could be met with counter-complaints to get them to withdraw. As the odds are already heavily stacked against women, this would have made it even harder for them to secure justice.
Men, not boys
Another argument that was made in favour of making the law gender neutral was that the law would serve as a powerful tool to protect young boys from abuse. However, there was no basis to the argument because all young boys and girls are fully protected by gender neutral laws in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act 2012.
Moreover, the socio-economic milieu in India is drastically different from the West because of the patriarchal nature of the society. As a result, men are often viewed as perpetual aggressors and women are considered to be weak and powerless.
Need for a gender neutral law related to sexual harassment
Many people believe that the Act undermines the basic truth that sexual harassment is neither about sex nor gender. It is only about power, and there is no reason why a woman in power cannot be as abusive as a man.
While it is true that more women are sexually harassed than men, this does not mean that men cannot be sexually harassed at all.
Cases of sexual harassment against men are not very prominently reported, so it is difficult to ascertain the ways in which men are victimized at work.
Furthermore, a man may also find it extremely embarrassing or humiliating to report a case of sexual harassment in a nation like India, where a man is, after all, supposed to be a MAN.
Men may not feel invested in the battle against sexual harassment
The downside of not having a gender neutral law is that many men do not feel invested enough in the new system to fight sexual harassment as they feel that the law is partial towards women and unjust in its refusal to protect men.
The civil society, men’s and women’s rights groups must engage in a constructive dialogue to make suitable amendments to the law to safeguard the interests of men. Such an amendment would go a long way in creating a society in which both men and women would be in a better position to understand each other’s unique challenge.
If you want to participate in the movement to stop sexual harassment at Indian workplaces, join us at http://endsexualharassment.ipleaders.in and access a free e-learning course to learn about your rights, duties and legal methods to bring perpetrators to justice.
This was originally published here.