Victims of workplace sexual harassment face three main barriers when seeking justice in Sri Lanka, according to a new study by the Law and Governance Division of Verité Research.
The report, titled ‘Sexual Harassment at the Workplace: Overcoming Barriers to Justice’, was handed over to the Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment Manusha Nanayakkara on Friday (1 December).
Verité Research discussed the report's findings with the minister, emphasizing issues in the legal framework and suggesting recommendations to address workplace sexual harassment.
The think tank also recommended enhancing and expanding protections against workplace sexual harassment by incorporating them into the ongoing draft Employment Bill, as part of efforts to expedite legislative reform.
The report draws from the diverse approaches taken by countries such as Philippines, Peru, Japan, Mexico and Iraq to reduce sexual harassment in the workplace.
It identifies 3 barriers that need to be overcome:
1. The lack of an adequate legal definition on sexual harassment, despite disparate legislative provisions scattered across different laws.
2. Institutional barriers such as legal delays and high burdens of proof within the criminal justice system.
3. Entrenched cultural barriers and a lack of awareness, which further compounds the plight of victims.
The solutions recommended by the report include:
1. To adopt the internationally recognised definition of ‘violence and harassment’ at the workplace – this includes criminalising voyeurism and providing broader protections against sexual harassment that involves the use of digital or electronic media or images, audio, or videos that have sexual content.
2. To adopt civil legislative changes regarding employer liability for sexual harassment as a complimentary mechanism to the current criminal offense.
3. Employers should be responsible for implementing a minimum set of measures to mitigate and address workplace sexual harassment – this includes internal complaint and inquiry mechanisms, as well as facilitating access to alternative dispute resolution.
To enhance education, training and awareness, for law enforcement agencies, in larger workplaces, through school curricula, and for the general public – the report outlines specific approaches that can be adopted for each of these categories.
Not only female victims
The report by Verité Research law and governance division also underscores that workplace sexual harassment extends beyond conventional gender boundaries in Sri Lanka.
While women are particularly vulnerable, men as well as individuals with diverse gender identities are also vulnerable.
Persons with disabilities, youth, migrant workers, and members of the LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex) community in Sri Lanka, identified as minority groups, face a higher likelihood of victimisation in this regard.