WOMEN AT WORKPLACE
In Industrialised nations, the number of women at the workplace has increased rapidly in the 20th century. This was made possible by providing access to higher education. Women were allowed entry in the fields of law and medicine at a later time. Also, Cambridge authenticated degrees for women in the year 1947. Even after being a contributor to the economy, women were subjected to lower pay and low status employment as compared to men for almost two centuries. During the 19th century the market was more labour oriented which didn’t require the need of higher education. As the labour market shifted and office work came into picture, women sought to acquire higher education. This led them to diversified fields of arts, science and commerce.
The interdependence of women and an increase in standard of living is set out in a global report. The World Bank in its report of 2001, entitled “Engendering development”, particularized the connection between women’s incrimination in the economy and the growth. Therefore, a working woman adds value to society. After years of debates and protests, there are numerous international laws enforced to protect women’s rights as workers.
WOMEN AND INDIAN ECONOMY
Evolution of women in India has always been challenging. Yet, women have paced up in almost every field. A report by McKinsey global stated that India could add $770 billion to its GDP by 2025 merely by giving equal opportunities to women. Up to the present times, the contribution of women to GDP stays at 18 %.
As per the recent statistics, 20.3 % of women in India are engaged in the labour force as compared to 76.0 % of men. Only 8.9 % of firms have women at positions of top management. Also, 3.7 % of CEOs and managing directors of NSE listed companies are women, which was 3.2 % back then in 2014. Women constitute only 13.8 % of board of directors of listed companies. Women gets paid 65.5 % of what men get paid for the same work.
Women in India are subjected to several challenges. Sexual harassment is one of them. Sexual harassment, in its general sense, means any act or verbal transgression which seeks sexual favours. It is inclusive of all the actions ranging from verbal transgression to sexual abuse or assault. The victim can be of any gender. The government of India has provided for Section 354 A of Indian penal code which specifies sexual harassment and punishment for the same. Any physical contact, inappropriate touch, specific sexual gestures, requesting sexual favours, showing pornography without the consent are few examples of what sexual harassment looks like.
The punishment of imprisonment for sexual harassment can vary from one year to three years.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT WORKPLACE
It is not a surprise that workplace is no exception for sexual harassment. Gender inequality and acts transgressing the modesty of women exists in the corporate world as well. But, the issue was acknowledged and appropriate measures were taken by the government of India.
The ministry of Law and justice, on 22nd April, 2013, enacted The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 so as to bestow protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace and to prevent and redress grievances of sexual harassment and for any occurrences in relation to the same.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND ARTICLE 14, ARTICLE 15 AND ARTICLE 21
The constitution of India has provided fundamental rights which can be enforced against the state. Article 14 and 15 are considered as equality rights and are made available to the citizens of India. Article 21 ensures protection of life and liberty.
Article 14 says that the State should not deny equal protection of the laws or equality before laws to any person. Whereas, Article 15 protects citizens of India opposed to discrimination by the state on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth or any of them. Article 21 says that no person can be deprived of his life and liberty.
Sexual harassment, in relation to fundamental rights of a woman, contravenes Article 14, Article 15 and Article 21. A woman’s right to live life and to live such life with dignity is defied subject to sexual harassment. Also, a woman’s right to a healthy and safe working environment is defeated.
THE SEXUAL HARASSMENT OF WOMEN AT WORKPLACE (PREVENTION, PROHIBITION AND REDRESSAL) ACT, 2013
The act overrides the Vishaka Guidelines and extends to the whole of India. Any matter relating to sexual harassment at workplace is covered under this act. The act aims to provide security to women at the workplace so that their participation can be enhanced, resulting in internal growth as well.
This act is to be applied mandatorily to all offices or any branches thereof where 10 or more people are employed. The employer is required to constitute an internal complaint committee at each office or branch. The presiding officer of such a committee is a woman working at senior level. At least two members of the committee shall be working for the cause of the woman or shall have experience in social work and one member shall be from amongst non-governmental organisations or associations.
Also, the Local complaint committee is to be constituted by a district officer of the district concerned. One nodal officer is to be designated in every block, taluka and tehsil if it is rural area and in case of urban area, municipality. The chairman of local complaint committee is to be amongst women, notable in social work and working for the cause of women, one woman from the respective block, taluka or tehsil and two members nominated from the non-governmental organisation or association working for the cause of women, one of them shall be women.
Any complaint in respect of sexual harassment is to be made in writing to internal complaint committee or local complaint committee within three months of the date of event. The complaint committee will try for amicable settlement at the request of the aggrieved woman before proceeding with inquiry into the matter. Complaint committees are vested with the same powers as of civil court.
Any inquiry conducted by complaint committees is to be conducted in a confidential manner. Breach of confidentiality may result in a fine. The committee shall prepare an annual report and submit the same to the employer or district officer. The report shall contain all the relevant details such as number of cases filed, number of cases disposed, pendency of cases at the end of each year and the rest. The act also persuades employers to hold educational programmes and campaigns so as to impart knowledge and build awareness regarding sexual harassment and its prevention.
It is to be concluded that women’s growth in every field has evolved over time. The fight was never easy but it was worth it. In the present days, even the laws relating to the safety of women are in a better position than before. To be a working woman in a culture of male chauvinism brings hardships and these hardships can be fought against by sound law and order. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 has braced women at workplace ensuring them protection against sexual harassment and also protecting their rights as an individual. This is, thus, a significant enactment.
Author(s) Name: Deepika Budhalakoti (Miranda House, Delhi University)