Terming it the first ever response globally to the #MeToo campaign at the government level, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi Tuesday said the recently launched online complaint portal ‘SHe-box’ (Sexual Harassment e-box) can now be accessed by all women who are part of the workforce in organised sector across the country.
Maneka said a special unit would be set up in her ministry to monitor complaints filed by women against sexual harassment experienced by them in their workplace. “There has been an international campaign in which women have complained about harassment in their workplace. In the last one month, this has picked up steam basically because of allegations that stem from women from Hollywood. It has opened up a Pandora’s Box where lots of women have come forward and narrated their own experiences. This is the first country in perhaps the world that is responding as a government,” she said.
After SHe-box was launched on July 24 this year for women working in central government offices, there have been 346 complaints so far, she said. Detailing the kinds of harassment which can be raised through the central portal, Maneka said, “It could be against all forms of inappropriate behaviour, not necessary physical, it could be cracking lewd jokes, staring, anything meant to intimidate women. We have received complaints about women being given punishment posting because they didn’t relent to demands of sexual favours from a senior. Even cases where women are replaced or denied a promotion or increment post maternity leave can be filed through it,” she said, adding that many of the complaints are even likely to be about the fact that the firm doesn’t have any internal sexual harassment complaint cell, which is mandated by law.
Maneka, however, added that women should refrain from filing “frivolous complaints” as it would undermine the initiative. “Women have to be very careful about what they think constitutes harassment. If ten frivolous complaints come, we will weaken. Complain only when you think you have been wronged badly and we can help you.”
The portal is meant for all women in the organised sector. Maneka said it is difficult to extend it to the unorganised sector but in case complaints are filed, the ministry will follow up through the district magistrate or local police.
In the past, the ministry has been unable to seek compliance report from private sector on the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act. It has been two years since the ministry requested to the Finance and Corporate Affairs Ministry to make it mandatory for private companies to provide their compliance report as part of their annual reports. The request was turned down on the grounds that industry representatives are against ‘’enhanced disclosures under the Companies Act, 2013 and adding further to these may not be desirable.” “We are still trying with the Finance Ministry. The ministry has many other issues to deal with, perhaps this will take some time,” said Maneka.