The Women and Child Development ministry on Monday launched an online platform to enable women employees of the central government to file complaints related to sexual harassment at the workplace.
Union minister Maneka Gandhi said the platform will cater to central government employees in the beginning and thereafter, its ambit will be widened to include the private sector as well. “We are also going to soon conduct a national survey to assess the nature and magnitude of sexual harassment at the workplace,” the minister of woman and child development said after launching the portal at her office here.
The online complaint management system — ‘SHe-box’ (sexual harassment electronic box) — hosted on the website of the Women and Child Development Ministry, also seeks to ensure “effective implementation” of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
Once a complaint is submitted to the ‘SHe-Box’, it will be directly sent to the internal complaints committee (ICC) of the ministry/department/PSU/autonomous body etc concerned, having jurisdiction to inquire into the matter. The ICC will take action as prescribed under the Act and update the status of the complaint.
The portal is also an effort to provide “speedier remedy” to women facing sexual harassment at the workplace, as envisaged under the sexual harassment Act, a senior official of the ministry said. The WCD minister also instructed officials to make the portal as “interactive” as possible. The portal should offer a list of follow-up details so that the employee gets to know the exact status of the complaint, she told officials.
The Union government has 30.87 lakh employees. According to the Census of Central Government Employees 2011, women constitute 10.93 per cent of the total force. “To begin with, central government women employees can file complaints, but we are going to widen the ambit to include the private sector as well,” she said. “We just need to make a few changes in our online interface. Once it is done, employees from private companies would also be able to lodge complaints,” Gandhi added.
The decision to host an online platform for sexual harassment cases was taken by the WCD Ministry in October last year after the minister received complaints from women employees in various ministries. Interacting with reporters later, Gandhi said, “If the internal complaints committees (on sexual harassment) is working, then we are out of the picture totally.” “But people, who will come to us, are those women employees who work where there are no committees or there’s one for the sake of it or composed of people who are outrightly negative,” she said.
The sexual harassment Act mandates that all workplaces with more than 10 workers constitute an internal complaints committee for receiving complaints of sexual harassment. “We are not treading on anybody’s toes. The idea of this portal is to remedy the cases before they reach the level where legal action may be warranted,” the minister told reporters.
Gandhi also asked officials to include a section in the portal where complainants can “vent” their grievances. On the proposed pan-India survey, she said the idea was initiated after an NGO came up with a small-scale study on women-related matters. “We will put up the survey on out portal as well as our Facebook page and Twitter handle to reach out to as many people as possible,” Gandhi said.
The minister also said the definition of what constitutes a case of sexual harassment must be made available on the portal. “Some people say installation of CCTV cameras is a harassment. So, we need to to define it so that there are no frivolous cases,” she added. The senior official said, “The survey would be conducted both online and offline and the ministry will collaborate with organisations which have worked on this subject.”