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Indian J Community Med. 2010 April; 35(2): 350–352.
PMCID: PMC2940202

Harassment among Women at Workplace: A Cross-Sectional Study in Coastal South India

Introduction

Harassment is any improper and unwelcome conduct that might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offence or humiliation to another person. Harassment may take the form of words, gestures or actions which tend to annoy, alarm, abuse, demean, intimidate, belittle, humiliate or embarrass another or which create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.(1) Women face discrimination from childhood, especially in communities where there is a preference for the male child.(2) Harassment in the work place is becoming increasingly important in all sectors of the economy, largely due to growing numbers of negative consequences. This has lead to the formulation of anti-harassment policies by several non-government organizations.(3)

This study was carried out to find out harassment among women at workplace, types and reasons for harassment generally faced by working women.

Materials and Methods

A cross-sectional study was carried out within the Municipal Corporation limits of Mangalore, a coastal city in Karnataka state. The study area has a literacy rate of 83% (male=86%, female=79%),(4) a high gender related development index (GDI)(5) with a score of 0.714 and a favorable sex ratio of 1022.(4)

The study participants comprised women working in educational institutions, banks, hospitals, and shops as these are the establishments where considerable number of women work. The sample size was calculated based on the expected proportion of harassment faced by working women as 25%,(6) absolute precision of 7% and confidence interval of 95% and 10% non-response error. The final sample size came to 160 women. The list of the banks, schools, hospitals, and shopping centers in the study area were obtained from the municipal corporation office. The study sites were selected by simple random sampling from the list. Finally, the study participants were selected by convenient sampling. The data were collected by means of a pre-tested semi-structured questionnaire after obtaining the written informed consent from the respondents. The questionnaire assessed the respondents’ socio-demographic profile, their perception of harassment, their personal experience and their awareness regarding anti-harassment policies. Socio-economic status was assessed using modified Kuppuswamy’s scale. Data was analyzed using SPSS version 11.5. Chi square test was used for the analysis and P value less than 0.05 was considered as statistically significant.

Results

Table 1 depicts the socio-demographic profile of the respondents and the harassment faced by them at workplace. It was seen that the younger respondents faced more harassment compared to the older respondents. There was a linear association which was found to be statistically significant. It was also found that sales girls (80%) followed by nurses (45.7%) faced more harassment compared to school teachers (13.3%) and bank employees (6.1%), this difference was found to be statistically significant. The majority of the respondents who faced harassment were from lower middle and upper lower socio-economic status which was found to be statistically significant. It was also found that respondents with less experience faced more harassment as compared to those with more years of experience at workplace which was found to be statistically significant.

Table 1
Socio-demographic characteristics of study participants classified according to harassment status (N=160)

Table 2 shows that out of 160 working women interviewed, about 28.8% of them were harassed; majority (47.8%) of the respondents were harassed within one year of joining their employment. The perceived reasons for harassment were – them being more efficient than their male colleagues (45.7%), followed by them being beautiful (23.9%). The type of harassment was mostly verbal (67.4%) followed by physical (23.9%) in nature. Among the respondents who were harassed, 52.2% had complained and the most common mode of complaint was spoken (83.4%).

Table 2
Reasons and type of harassment faced by the respondents (N=46)

Discussion

In our study, we found that about 28% of the study subjects had experienced some form of harassment, out of which 37% were less than 25 years of age. This could be because the younger girls are more vulnerable and are unaware about the job requirements, or it could be due to the fear of losing their job or a hostile atmosphere in their workplace if they complain. This coincides with a study done in Denmark, where the occupations which were most exposed to the threat of physical violence were nurses, followed by health care workers and teachers.(6)

Among the 48 (28.8%) women harassed, 22 (48.8%) revealed that they had been harassed within a year of joining their jobs. This recent harassment could be explained by the fact that when the women join their new jobs, they are ignorant of their right to complain about harassment and afraid of losing their jobs. The reasons perceived by women as the cause of harassment were them being more efficient in their jobs (45.7%) than their male counterparts, followed by them being beautiful (23.9%). This could be attributed to the fact that males feel less secure about their jobs when their female colleagues are good looking or are more efficient. This also reflects our male dominated society where people still think that males are superior to females be it even in the workplace. Majority (67.3%) of harassment were verbal in manner whereas 22.7% were physical. Similar results were found in a study done in Croatia among school teachers.(7) Complaints were lodged in 52.2% of the cases; mostly to their higher authorities of which only 8.3% were written. Other studies also substantiate these findings.(810) It was found that action was taken only in 15.2% of the cases whereas 41.3% of the complaints were ignored. The fewer written complaints explain the hesitancy of the women to complain since action was taken in only a few cases and it could also be because the women felt it would create a bad working atmosphere.

Conclusion

Our study gives an insight into the depth of the workplace harassment among women, which is on the rise because of the increase in number of working women. Harassment is a serious problem that must be addressed by the government in order to ensure a safe working environment for women.

Acknowledgments

Our sincere acknowledgements are due to all the participants of the study. The present work was supported by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, International Training and Research in Environmental and Occupational Health Program, Grant Number 5 D43 TW05750, from National Institutes of Health – Fogarty International Centre.

Footnotes

Source of Support: Nil

Conflict of Interest: None declared.

References

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2. Ulasi I. Gender bias in access to healthcare in Nigeria: A study of end-stage renal disease. Trop Doct. 2008;38:50–2. [PubMed]
3. Gardner SV, James MF, Evans NR. Gender issues among South African anaesthetists. S Afr Med J. 2002;92:732–6. [PubMed]
4. Government of India – Ministry of Home Affairs: Census 2001 data. Available from: http://www.censusindia.net [Accessed on 2009 May 4]
5. Karnataka Human Development Report. Human Development in Karnataka – Chapter 2. Available from: http://planning.Kar.nic.in/khdr/english/2-chapter.pdf [Last cited on 2005]
6. Violence, bullying and harassment in workplace; European foundation for the improvement of living and working conditions. Available from: http://wwweurofound.europa.eu [Last cited on 2007]
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8. Krieger N, Waterman PD, Hartman C, Bates LM, Stoddard AM, Quinn MM, et al. Social hazards on the job: Workplace abuse, sexual harassment, and racial discrimination: A study of Black, Latino, and White low-income women and men workers in the United States. Int J Health Serv. 2006;36:51–85. [PubMed]
9. Kapur, Naina Sexual Harassment and Law Reform in India. Expert group meeting on good practices in legislation on violence against women. United Nations Division for Advanement of Women. EGM/GPLVAW/ 2008/EP.03. Available from: http://www.un.org/womenwatch [Last cited on 2008]
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Articles from Indian Journal of Community Medicine : Official Publication of Indian Association of Preventive & Social Medicine are provided here courtesy of Wolters Kluwer -- Medknow Publications