A few years ago, the #MeToo movement took the world by storm. The movement was instrumental in breaking the time old taboo of victimhood and motivating women around the world to raise voice against unwanted sexual advances. The shared stories of subjugation faced by women, around the world, in a patriarchal, male dominated society formed the basis of this movement. It provided a platform for victims to speak out openly about their ordeals, which in turn helped in increasing awareness about sexual harassment, particularly at workplace.

While the movement succeeded in bringing about a global solidarity and in highlighting the issue of unwanted sexual advances faced by women everywhere, the idea of #MeToo is not something that can be restricted to women alone.

Patriarchy and cultural stereotypes affect men too. There are increasing instances where men are being targeted at work place by their female superiors/colleagues in a way that would easily qualify as sexual harassment, as per the definitions of law laid down to protect women, but unfortunately, such instances never see the light of the day due to deeply ingrained cultural assumptions about men.

The society does not allow/ encourage male 'victims' to share stories of sexual harassment because it goes against the cultural idea of masculinity or the 'macho image' which society expects them to carry. This further perpetuates century's old cultural stereotype that portray at men as sexual harassers and women as sexual victims. The fact that talking openly about such incidents also have the potential of turning a male victim into a butt of joke among his colleagues, is another deterrent in exposing such incidents. The truth is India's sexual harassment laws hardly provide any protection for men. The existing laws, promulgated on the principles of equality and justice, do little to protect the male gender from sexual harassment at workplace by female colleagues.

The centuries old mindset perceives men to be aggressors and the same is reflected in laws, against sexual harassment.

As per the guidelines laid down by the Hon'ble Supreme Court in the matter of Vishakha and Ors. Vs. State of Rajasthan & ors (1997) 6 SCC 241, sexual harassment is defined as:

Such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) including:

a) physical contact and advances;

b) a demand or request for sexual favours;

c) sexually coloured remarks;

d) showing pornography;

e) any other unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

The above definition of sexual harassment is gender neutral. However, the court qualified the above, with the following observation:

"Where any of these acts is committed in circumstances where under the victim of such conduct has a reasonable apprehension that in relation to the victim's employment or work whether she is drawing salary, or honorarium or voluntary, whether in government, public or private enterprise such conduct can be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem. It is discriminatory for instance when the woman has reasonable grounds to believe that her objection would disadvantage her in connection with her employment or work including recruiting or promotion or when it creates a hostile work environment. Adverse consequences might be visited if the victim does not consent to the conduct in question or raises any objection thereto."

The qualifying statement deprived the definition from being perceived as gender neutral.

The legislature enacted The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act,2013 aimed at providing protection to women at workplace. The amendment brought to the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) Section 354 (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), Section 354A (Sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment), Section 509 (Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) Section 375 & 376 (Rape & Punishment for Rape), are women centric and do little to provide any protection for men against a female aggressor.

Surprisingly the recommendations of Justice Verma Committee, which was constituted to suggest reforms to sexual harassment laws in 2013, with regard to gender-neutrality of sexual offences, have not been incorporated in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013.

Taking an entirely women centric approach to sexual harassment at workplace, the legislature came out with The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act,2013, which starts with the definition of "Aggrieved Woman". Section 3 of the aforementioned act states:

3. Prevention of sexual harassment. — (1) No woman shall be subjected to sexual harassment at any workplace.

The comparable US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as

"Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" at the workplace."

This above definition by EEOC is completely gender neutral and has not ruled out harassment of men by women, at workplace. There are stark differences in the definitions used while drafting the women centric legislation in India and similar legislations in the US.

The male victim of sexual harassment in India, for instance, if the matter is brought to light, does not only becomes the target of innuendoes at the hand of male peers but also have to be afraid of the possibility that the female harasser, deriving benefit out of women centric laws, can turn the tables and portray the male victim as the harasser.

While the data for sexual harassment of men in India is almost non-existent as most of such cases go unreported the corresponding data from US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that about 16.5% complaints of sexual harassment the commission receives annually, are from men.







Complaints Received






% of Charges Filed By Males







The Indian law has to evolve in accordance with the needs and requirements of its subjects. History has shown that certain laws, which were promulgated keeping in mind the safety and welfare of women have severely been misused prompting the legislature and the courts to step in and correct the mistakes. One such example is the gross abuse of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.

The Supreme Court in 2018, dismissed a Public Interest Litigation seeking gender neutrality in crimes such as rape, sexual harassment, outraging modesty, stalking, and voyeurism with following observations:

"Legislations come as a response to social and collective cry. These sections are victim-oriented and Parliament has acknowledged a woman as the victim. We cannot ask Parliament to legislate."

The promise of equality and equal protection under the law enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution, appears to have lost its significance to our lawmakers when it comes drafting legislation on sexual harassment. Unquestionably, the legislature or the judiciary does not intend to discriminate against a victim of sexual harassment because he is male, but unfortunately, there is little or no acknowledgement of men as a victim on the issue.

Gender-neutral sexual harassment laws are the need of the hour and should be promulgated by the government to eliminate any inadvertent discrimination on the ground of gender and must extend equal protection to all the sexes. However, the delay in promulgation of the same may be attributed to the lack of effective "Social and collective cry" as observed by the Supreme Court while dismissing the PIL on gender neutral laws.

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