Nearly one third of women in G20 countries has faced harassment at work but the majority suffer in silence, although Indian women are most likely to report it after a fatal gang-rape in 2012 sparked widespread protests about sex abuse, a poll reveals on Tuesday.
A survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation found women sore harassment as the third most challenging issue in the workplace after work-life balance and agenda pay gap.
The poll, conducted by Ipsos Mori, found 29 percent of women working the Group of leading economies have faced physical or online harassment at work but of these 61 percent - said they never or rarely reported this.
By contrast women in Russia, South Korea, Brazil, Japan and Indonesia were most likely to never or rarely report harassment. Ipsos MORI said the face-to-face polling in Indonesia and South Africa may have had some impact on the findings.
Indian lawyers attributed this to greater public awareness after voracious media coverage of gender crimes following the fatal gang rape of a student on a bus in Delhi in late 2012 as well as a new law on sexual harassment in the workplace.
"There is a very high level of awareness among professional women in the formal sector because of the robust debate over violence against women we have had post 2012," said Supreme Court lawyer Vrinda Grover, who deals with many such cases.
"Women in India today are asserting that they will not remain silent on this issue. They are asserting that they will no longer carry the baggage of shame and stigma that victims were previously plagued with."
HARASSMENT IN ALL FORMS
According to the International Labour Organisation, harassment can be any conduct that is unreciprocated or unwanted and which affects the dignity of a person at work. This ranges from verbal abuse such as shouting and swearing through to bullying, intimidation and physical assault.
However, the most common forms of harassment faced by working women is of a sexual nature, say experts.
This includes teasing in a sexual way, showing pornographic images, unwelcome physical contact, and using sex in return for promotions or as a threat not to demote or fire a person. Turkish women saw harassment as the major challenge facing them at work, cited by nearly six in 10 women, while almost half of women in Mexico and Argentina said this was their top worry.
Istanbul shop assistant Delek, who did not want to give her last name, said harassment of women at work in Turkey was commonplace and she had faced it firsthand.
"Years ago, when I was 20-22 in Antalya, I went for an interview. He said directly before the interview that I had to be with him before I could be hired," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
I felt so humiliated and I didn't know what to say. I left and I cried and I never reported it. Women are not really able to talk about it because they get embarrassed.
INDIAN WOMEN BREAK SILENCE
Gender and legal experts said the survey showed that harassment was "a part of culture" and one that needed to be addressed by companies, governments and civil society groups to change norms about acceptable behaviour.
"We haven't done a very good in changing biases in the workplace ... corporations will have to play an increasingly more important role here," said Iris Bohnet, director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University.
But commentators said the survey's findings in India showed that attitudes could change. India was thrown into the global spotlight over gender crimes after the fatal gang rape in Delhi in 2012 sparked public protests and put the issue of gender rights into the mainstream.
Over the last three years, headlines in India are often plagued with stories of rape and molestation, social media users fiercely debate gender discrimination, and even Bollywood stars are joining campaigns to promote women's safety and empowerment.
In addition, authorities have strengthened old and enacted new laws on gender crimes, including legislation on sexual harassment in the work place. As a result, there has been a spate of cases involving high profile powerful men coming to light.
Top climate scientist Rajendra Pachauri, 75, stepped down as chair of the U.N. panel of climate scientists this year after a 23-year-old researcher at for his Delhi-based think-tank accused him of sexual harassment. He has denied the allegations.
In 2013, Tarun Tejpal, the editor-in-chief of one of India's leading investigative magazines, Tehelka, was arrested after a journalist accused him of sexually assaulting her.
Two retired Supreme Court judges were accused by interns of inappropriate touching. But while these cases highlight how more women are willing to report such abuses, they also show their efforts have so far been in vain, say activists and lawyers, as few employers have grievance committees to handle such complaints.
"A larger number of women have found the courage to report sexual harassment, but not a single case that I know of has seen any form of justice being served," said Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association.
Women may be coming forward, but who is listening?
The data on harassment excluded women who were not working in all countries. This included 42% of those questioned in Saudi Arabia, 41% in Indonesia and 25% in South Africa. The sample involved just over 5,600 women.
Data are weighted to match the population profile of each country and the margin of error between two country sample sizes of 500 is about 6 percent at the 95 percent confidence interval.
Respondents were aged 18-64 in the United States and Canada, and 16-64 in all other countries. Approximately 45 percent of the sample was below the age of 35, 33 percent were between 35 and 49 years old and 23 percent were between 50 and 64.