Advocate Shivangi Prasad is an author Founder Partner of POSH at Work (a legal cum psychology firm assisting organizations in complying with the law against sexual harassment at workplace and related topics). POSH at Work is empanelled by the Ministry of Women & Child Development, Government of India since February, 2017. Shivangi Prasad has assisted more than 300 organizations with compliance such as formulating of anti-sexual harassment policies, structuring/restructuring of Internal Committees, providing solutions for creating healthier work environment, recommending unique initiatives for creating awareness among employees, addressing legal concerns that may arise from time to time, meeting management and IC members to discuss solutions and assisting in drafting other kinds of policies.
It’s going to be an interesting journey reading how she looks at the smallest things of life and the few principles she follows to be an accomplished person.
What motivated you to start POSH at Work?
Back in the day before the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act & Rules 2013 came into existence and even after its passing, there were hardly any resources available to ensure compliance with this law and therefore ensure prevention of sexual harassment. As a lawyer, when I started researching on the topic I realised that there were just a few case laws and some international instruments and case laws to refer to. Further, this is a behaviour related law so the experience of handling each complaint was very unique. Every passing day, it would challenge me to think out of the box. All of this got me really interested in the subject. As I progressed, research became a book / legal commentary (which was written in collaboration with a colleague and published by Thomson Reuters). Slowly I found myself practicing in this space completely. I eventually decided to leave my corporate law career and focus on socio-legal laws full time with incorporation of POSH at Work and was also joined by two thorough professionals Sana Hakim (who is a criminal lawyer) and Samriti Makkar Midha (who is a psychotherapist) – who are my partners at POSH at Work today.
Do you feel that we still live in a patriarchal society and why?
Yes, we still live in a patriarchal society in my opinion. In some places, its face has changed, but still largely exists. ‘Modern’ and “educated’ India has seen women have jobs, party with friends, drive a car etc. However, when it comes to managing household requirements (cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, giving kids a bath, avoiding getting pregnant etc.) continue to remain (in most cases) the only responsibility of the woman (whether she likes it or not), major financial decisions still continue to be the decision of the man of the house (whether he is taking good decisions or bad). These, in most cases still do not turn out to be mutual decisions. Many women still do not know how much money they have. Some are even shy to ask about it (several news reports are available on this). The not so educated India still sees the same challenges such as men eating before women, ghoonghat, getting girl children married at early ages etc. Also overall (educated or uneducated – doesn’t matter) rape or sexual assault still continues to be a way of ‘teaching a lesson’ to women when they ‘act too smart’. The lockdown presented several examples of patriarchy as well. As I spoke to women, they told me how they were managing home and work – it almost seemed like they felt that with jobs outside homes, they actually called upon themselves double work! They also said how their fathers, husbands, brothers etc. would feel entitled enough to raise their voices while the women in the family would not. Domestic violence increased during lockdown (this is also well recorded by several Indian newspapers). The situation is similar in other countries as well.
Of course there are many households that have changed and are changing for better. Our movies, ads etc. recently have also been helping a lot in changing mind-sets and I am positive we are slowly and steadily moving towards better times.
How do you define “discrimination” and “equality”?
Both are very complicated concepts and it’s not easy to give a specific ‘one shoe fits all’ kind of the definition to either term. Both need to be understood in context and from a ‘reasonable person’ perspective in my view. Absolute equality is never possible. That’s because every human being, community etc. may have different needs. It is, therefore, no wonder that even when interpreting Article 14 of the Constitution of India (which deals with right to equality) judges have to depend on concepts such as ‘intelligible differentia’ and ‘reasonable classification’.
Similarly, while in one place discrimination can take really overt and extreme forms such as honor killings (which mostly results from non-acceptance or discrimination based on religions), in other cases, discrimination can wear a mask and be done in very covert ways (such as not hiring / promoting women because they may go on maternity leave or may file ‘false’ sexual harassment complaints, not hiring transgender persons because they are not ‘normal’ etc.). Caste, sex, race, religion, age, gender etc. – everything can actually turn out to be a reason for discrimination – depending on the kind of bias or stereotypical notion one has. Therefore, Article 15 of the Constitution specifically states that nothing prevents the State from making special provisions for women, children, educationally backward classes etc.
One life changing event or incident of your life?
Deciding to switch my career to socio-legal laws. It really opened up several areas for me to explore. For example, today I am able to work and make positive contribution to workplaces – when it comes to prevention or redressal of sexual harassment at workplace, work with parents, teachers and children – with respect to protection of children from sexual offenses (2012 law), work with transgender persons and others from the LGBTQIA+ community as far as the new law, Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 is concerned etc. This also enables me to conduct training and awareness programs, interact with individuals, clarify their doubts, help resolve their problems, sometimes also on pro bono basis – its very gratifying at the end of the day.