The Department of Museum and Zoos organised a session here on Wednesday to educate its employees on the rights of women staff. Chairman of the Kerala State Fishermen Debt Relief Commission M.R. Hariharan Nair led the session at the Museum Activity Centre.

Government departments had been directed to conduct awareness classes for employees since most of them had only a vague idea about the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act. The Department convened the session following the directive.

The session saw the participation of all employees and most of the discussion revolved around the reconstituted Internal Complaints Committee, a mandatory feature of the Act. “Such awareness classes are one step towards creating an environment that is safe for women,” said Superintendent of the Sree Chitra Art Gallery, K. Vijayakumari Amma, the head of the complaints committee.

Solution in 90 days

The heads of respective departments should ensure that the committee addresses all complaints registered and that action is taken within 90 days. Only on rare occasions, when the committee needs more time to investigate, can the deadline be extended. Non-compliance will be met with a fine of Rs.50,000 and repeated neglect will see the amount double.

On February 25, 2013, the Rajya Sabha had approved the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act. The internal committee, according to its norms, must be headed by a woman and half its members must be women. The Museum and Zoos Department’s five-member committee includes four women and Superintendent of the Natural History Museum, S. Abu. The Act recommends the inclusion of a third party, such as a representative of a Non-Governmental Organisation, as one member. Mr. Hariharan said that the committee must serve as a platform for resolving issues, without the employees having to approach the police or courts. He also dwelled on the punitive action that is imposed on offenders. Financial compensation would be provided to the complainant if her allegations had been proved true. He added that the committees had powers of civil courts to gather evidence. “Hence the committees cannot shy away from investigation, citing the lack of authority to do so,” he said.

Advocate Laila Mohan urged the women employees to reveal any sort of harassment, be it from their male colleagues or from the visitors to the zoo. An interactive session followed the lecture. Museum Director K. Udayvarman said that such classes would be held once in two months. The committee would be required to submit a detailed report annually.

Museum department’s session discusses role of an internal panel in dealing with complaints.