After 11 years of rigorous struggle, the government has finally introduced a law that addresses sexual harassment at workplaces. The recently-introduced ´Sexual harassment (elimination) at workplace Act, 2014´ has come into effect from Thursday but the law seems problematic in many ways.
According to the act, workplace means “government offices, full or semi-governmental organizations, any company or organization registered under the existing laws, registered business firms and service centers.”
The act fails to address harassment of all types of working places. The definition of workplace doesn´t include informal sector workplaces. For instance, if a woman, working on daily wage for a construction contractor, is sexually harassed, she will not able to file complaint as per this law.
“It is noteworthy that cases of sexual harassment are more rampant among laborers than in registered firms,” said Sarad Raj Thapa, legal expert at the National Women´s Commission (NWC).
Another challenge in implementing this act lies in collecting evidence in order to file complaints against the perpetrators.
Activities like demonstrating with words, pictures, papers, audio-visuals and other vulgar and seductive materials, talking about sexual activities, and physical touch or assault with sexual intent are defined as acts of sexual harassment. Also, writing, speaking or signaling with vulgar and sexual matter, sexual activities or staring time and again with sexual intent are also punishable crime under the act.
Even if all workplaces should compulsorily develop a mechanism for hearing complaint against sexual harassment within the premises, experts say that the implementation of the law is extremely challenging.
Stating that a victim needs to have proofs of harassment in order to file complaints, Thapa said, “How will a woman accumulate evidence if she has been sexually harassed by talking about sexual activities at her workplace?” He even said that there are challenges for the NWC in monitoring the implementation of this act due to lack of monitoring mechanisms and necessary expertise on the part of the NWC.
Victims should file complaints with the management against the perpetrators; the management has to investigate the cases immediately to settle the cases within 15 days. The act has designated the chief district officer (CDO) as authority for hearing the cases but how many women can afford to go to the CDO? Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare Neelam KC also admits that there are challenges to implementing this law.
“This law has finally come after 11 years of rigorous struggle.
The government will do all to make sure that the law is successfully implemented,” said she. If convicted, the accused can be given up to six months jail and fined 50,000 under the new law. However, the law has a provision of reconciliation as well. Nepal has already passed several laws to curb violence against women.
The country passed the Gender Equality Act in 2006, while Nepal´s Interim Constitution has provisions that intend to curb physical, mental or any other forms of violence against women. However, slack implementation has resulted in rise of violence against women.