By: Ravi Philemon
I recently hyperlinked The New Paper article, ‘Be my special designer girlfriend’ on TOC’s Facebook (FB) page and most people who commented on the link chided TOC for giving a wider circulation to the ‘gutter journalism’ of the mainstream media and for bordering on racism. Some even charged that we are xenophobic.
These FB fans are actually missing the point. I hyperlinked the article and titled it, “An Indian national sexually harasses prospective employee”, not because I am a racist (for that matter, although I am a Singaporean, I am of Indian descent myself), or because I have anything against Indian nationals (I have many good friends who are Indians from India), but because it is a fact that an Indian national, who in this instance, is the boss of a publishing firm, wrote an email to his employee that he is available for “sex relief” and urged those with an “uncomfortable state of mind”, to leave his firm.
A 16 month study of sexual harassment at work places released by Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) in 2008, confirmed that sexual harassment is widespread at workplaces in Singapore. And even though, the instances of sexual harassment are widespread, there is still no legislation in place to protect the vulnerable here.
I agree with Ms Constance Singam who in 2008 and in relation to sexual harassment at workplaces said, “We need to raise awareness of the harassment, its definition and tell women and men that it’s not acceptable”.
And tell people like Mr Shankar Venkataraman that sexual harassment is not alright in Singapore, we must!
India’s National Crime Records Bureau records show high incidence of crimes against women in India and that over half of the total number of crimes against women reported are related to molestation and harassment at the workplaces.
Ms Vasanthi Srinivasan, the assistant professor in human resource management at Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore (a leading business school in India) says, “Sexual harassment in workplace (in India) is nothing new”.
In fact sexual harassment is known by the euphemism of eve teasing in India, which squarely places the responsibility on the woman and absolves the aggressive response of the males as normal rather than criminal.
Could this be the reason why Vidya Shankar Aiyar (another Indian national) did not think twice about molesting his colleague from Channel NewsAsia in 2004?
If so, people like Mr Aiyar and Mr Venkataraman must not assume that what are considered ‘norms’ in certain communities of India are not the norms in Singapore.
And to bring this message of zero tolerance for sexual harassment in workplaces through to the locals, as well as the many foreigners to whom Singapore play host to, the government must move beyond giving advisories, to legislating appropriate workplace policies against sexual harassment, especially since Singapore is already a signatory to the Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a document which deals in detail with sexual harassment at the workplace.
To me, this issue is very personal. I have a daughter who is seventeen and in a few years, would be graduating and be part of the workforce. Such legislation will enable her work space to remain safe and harassment free.
And this is a space which’s sanctity we must all guard!