New Delhi: While the #MeToo movement has given a sense of the magnitude of sexual harassment at workplaces, and has claimed the first scalp with the resignation of junior foreign minister M.J. Akbar, Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chairperson Swati Maliwal shares her thoughts on the way forward, the campaign’s rural reach and class disconnect. Edited excerpts:

Q. What are your thoughts on the #MeToo movement?

I welcome it, support it, because I think it has been too long that this issue has been a taboo in our society. People don’t want to come out and report. Even educated people find it very difficult to report. Once they report, the entire systemic rape starts because right from the police station to the others involved in the justice-seeking process…I do feel sad that it has taken one year for the movement to kick off in our country, but then there are so many patriarchal mindsets that one has to tackle.

How is the movement reshaping the conversation on sexual harassment?

It is the government’s responsibility to create more awareness on this issue, to ensure that reporting is made easier, that justice delivery is proper. If that happens, then automatically, more and more people will come out and report. The biggest awareness campaign that could have happened on sexual assault was the streamlining of the entire justice delivery system. The #MeToo movement has served as a good awareness programme. But the movements reach is limited to a very different class and kind of people in the society. There is a large section of people in the society which has not been a part of the movement and continue to suffer very serious crimes, including rape. At the same time, I think it is a fantastic effort and, to a large extent, has changed the discourse. For the first time, one woman reporting gave strength to several women to come out and report. The discourse has definitely changed, but needs to be taken to the grassroots. This movement should also reach women in small towns and villages.

How do you take this movement to rural areas and the informal sector?

I think it is crucial. You have good Acts. There are certain problems with the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act, but by and large, it is a law that supports women. The focus of the governments, companies, should be on the proper implementation of the law. There should be proper complaint committees set up everywhere. Interestingly, when you talk of the informal sector, the law is very clear--you have got to have local complaints committees. When I joined DCW in 2015, the Act had been passed in 2013, there was not even a single local complaints committee set up in Delhi, which is the capital. Somewhere, I feel, that nothing succeeds like success. If you have even one case with a proper and quick justice delivery mechanism, it is going to create a huge amount of publicity, and prompt more women to come forward and report. It will also ensure a huge deterrence among men. The governments should invest their time on this issue. How do you increase women participation in the workforce if this is the kind of large scale sexual harassment that happens?

You had written to PM Modi demanding the resignation of M.J. Akbar. Do you think that a resignation is enough?

Not at all. We have launched a special email address, and we are encouraging all the women who have reported against M.J. Akbar to come out, write to us and meet us. We want them to come out and report. Till that happens, I don’t think the police will take any action. Just resigning is not enough. He has to be put behind bars. He has to realise what he has done. There has to be a prosecution. It cannot just be one resignation and naming and shaming.

Where do you see the #MeToo movement going? Will it be a make or break movement for women empowerment in the country?

A. I don’t think there is a make or break moment. From where we are today, this has come out of years of struggle. There are movements and steps, and all this is evolving. We will hopefully reach a stage where we are equals in the truest form. Today also, there are women who are somewhere against the movement, the Sabarimala judgment and other decisions which are positive. It is not really a make or break moment but it is a significant moment in our country.

How do you see the role of political parties?

Political parties play a very important role in our country in ensuring that democracy is inclusive. The fact that only 9% of women have reached Parliament, the fact that even fewer women are there in legislatures, show that political parties are not doing enough. If they would have done enough, we would have seen more women leaders coming out. Political parties across the country are not doing enough. Internal complaint committees are needed in all parties. All political parties should decide that women leadership needs to be protected, encouraged and supported.

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