By Ma. Himaya A. Tamayo
Sexual harassment is gender based-violence. It pertains to “any unwanted or uninvited sexual attention that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment in the school or workplace.” (Civil Service Commission, Resolution No. 01-0940, May 21, 2001).
In the workplace, it may manifest in both physical and verbal form and is perpetrated by people in a position of power or authority, in most cases, over women. Physical forms of sexual harassment may include malicious touching, overt sexual advances, and gestures with lewd insinuations. Verbal forms of sexual harassment may include requests or demands for sexual favors, lurid remarks, sexist jokes or comments, and the use of objects, pictures, or written notes with sexual underpinnings.
On February 8, 1995, Congress passed a law declaring all forms of sexual harassment in the employment, education, or training environment unlawful: RA 7877 also known as the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995. This law defines acts of sexual harassment as including soliciting, demanding, requiring, and requesting sexual favors from a subordinate. These may also include making the aforementioned acts conditions in employment, retention, and promotion. Refusal to grant these favors can affect one’s position in the workplace by depriving the victim of work-related opportunities and benefits as a consequence. The law is very clear that the victim’s consent or objection should not affect the gravity of the crime.
Dr Nathalie Africa-Verceles, director of the University of the Philippines Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, explained that, “sexual harassment is committed against women because they are considered the ‘subordinate sex,’ and is an issue of power deployed in male privilege and control over women’s bodies.” She believes that sexual harassment will remain intractable and prevalent for as long as gender relations remain unequal and patriarchy continues to hold sway.
The Philippine Commission on Women also asserts that sexual harassment as a form of Violence Against Women (VAW), “is an assault on the dignity of women and their right to self-determination [and thus], it compromises a person’s mental and physical integrity and has grave consequences on women’s health, education, and ability to earn an income, and limits the growth and potential of women.”
Victims of sexual harassment oftentimes go through the same process of victimization as those subjected to other forms of violence such as battering and rape. In 2017, the American Psychological Association President reported that, “sexual harassment in the workplace is a significant occupational health psychology problem.” In an APA’s Journal of Occupational Health Psychology article, the authors stated that, “women tend to report more adverse effects than men after experiencing workplace sexual harassment.”
Sexual harassment impacts psychological, emotional, and physical health and well-being. Physiological effects may include, sexual problems, headaches, insomnia, weight fluctuation, phobias, and lethargy. Some of the physiological reactions include, depression, anxiety, insecurity, feeling of powerlessness, shame, low self-esteem, and self-blame. These reactions, in turn, can impact job performance or even lead to the job loss or opportunities for promotion. Deciding to file charges may also cause financial challenges for the family of the victim by dealing with expensive legal fees and counseling sessions.
Many advocates have proposed ways to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. To start, a fuller and more effective implementation of the law should be observed.
Companies and employers should adopt clear and comprehensive sexual harassment policies and initiate efforts for complete dissemination among their employees.
Management should show that they take violations seriously by taking imposing the appropriate sanctions when required. The policy should apply to everyone. Mechanisms for investigation and support to the victim should be in place. Feminist counseling should be available and protection should be provided immediately.
Companies and employers should also develop a gender-responsive and inclusive workplace to let its employees know that there is an alternative and better work culture that it wants to embrace.