#MeToo: Empowering Working Class Women with Personal Stories
Working class women revealing the hidden side of their reality.
The fight against sexual harassment at the workplace has been ongoing for working class women in India, despite the Vishakha Guidelines and the Prevention of Sexual Harassment and Redressal Act of 2013.
Every working-class woman, like Bhanwari Devi, who was raped for doing her job of preventing child marriage, has a #MeToo story to share. These women face job insecurity, low wages, lack of social security benefits, and caste and class oppression, which silences them from speaking out about their experiences of sexual harassment.
The #MeToo movement in India is not led by any particular woman. The women participating in the movement are taking ownership of it. They are showing remarkable solidarity in fighting sexual harassment and exposing the truth behind it. The movement has shattered the false narratives that blame women for the harassment they face. It has revealed that sexual harassment is shockingly common and universal. Moreover, it has debunked the myth that a woman's honor is lost if she is sexually harassed. Despite the risks to their personal safety, job security, and mental peace, women are courageously standing up against their perpetrators.
However, there are still challenges in implementing the Vishakha Guidelines and the Prevention of Sexual Harassment and Redressal Act, especially in sectors like domestic work, street vending, waste management, and construction, where local complaint committees exist only on paper. In such cases, working-class women have been fighting against sexual harassment through their trade unions.
To shed light on these issues, the All India Progressive Women's Association organized a public program called "#MeToo: Working Class Women Share" in Bangalore. During the event, women workers from various industries shared how their work environments make them vulnerable to sexual harassment. Speaking out often results in immediate job loss without any pay.
Rathna, a pourakarmika, shared her experience of a supervisor stripping off his pants in public when they demanded unpaid wages. Tahira, a domestic worker, faced molestation by her employer's son, and when she reported it, she was fired. Rajeshwari, a garment factory worker, described how managers in the industry abuse them and belittle their abilities. Parveen, a mechanic with the BMTC, highlighted the rampant harassment faced by women bus conductors, who are often afraid to speak up due to financial repercussions and lack of support.
The program also included voices from the transgender community, sex workers, and students, who shared their experiences of sexual harassment. Sana, a transsexual woman, talked about her violation while working for a media company and the lack of attention to the concerns of sexual minorities. Madhu Bhushan, an activist, emphasized that even sex workers face sexual harassment, and Parijatha of the Sthree Jagruti Samiti criticized the insensitive response from officials when reporting abuse cases related to domestic workers.
The All India Progressive Women's Association plans to compile a report based on the experiences shared during the event and submit it to various government bodies for action.
The #MeToo movement has brought much-needed attention to sexual harassment, but it must also address the concerns of rural women, laborers, and domestic workers. Women in rural areas often face challenges in expressing their outrage due to language barriers, lack of devices, and limited knowledge. These women, who constitute a significant portion of the female workforce in India, endure unsafe work conditions and frequent instances of harassment. Their stories, although often unheard, are an integral part of the fight against sexual harassment.
It is crucial that the #MeToo movement extends its reach to empower these marginalized and vulnerable rural women. Their safety and security should not be neglected, and efforts must be made to improve their work environments. It is high time.
Written by Inaara Krishnan
This under-reported story has been written by a student journalist as part of the April'23 cohort of the Re-Imagining Media Program.