One morning you wake up and 330 million women in India – domestic workers, housewives, IT professionals, shopkeepers, farmers, daily wage labourers – women from the formal and informal workforce decide that they will not go to work for a full day. Imagine the impact this will have on the economy and on how our individual lives function.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, activists in the United States have asked women to go on strike to highlight the massive impact of women’s labour to demand for equal rights for women.

Article 15 of the Constitution of India prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, religion, caste, race or place of birth. It highlights that the State can also create special provisions for women. There are several central and sector-specific laws ensuring the rights of women in the workplace; however, as these laws are not widely known and often not enforced, women still face huge hurdles. Some of the most pressing labour rights issues for women include fair wages, safety in the workplace and social security, including maternal benefits. Below are a few laws that address these concerns.

Fair Wages

The Constitution of India and the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 state that men and women who are doing similar work should get the same pay. The Act further emphasizes that there should be no discrimination during the time of recruiting and outlines provisions for encouraging higher employment of women.

Safety in Workspaces

The Factories Act, 1948 highlights safety regulations for workers, regardless of gender. There are also specific provisions for women like prohibition of work that could be construed as dangerous, specific work timings and adequate restroom facilities. There are other industry-specific acts like The Mines Act, 1952 or the Plantation Labour Acts, 1951 that also have similar provisions. It can be argued, that these provisions are restrictive rather than empowering for women. There is scope for further discussion about how special legal provisions for women can, in turn, be discriminatory.

A safe workspace includes a space free of violence and harassment for women. Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, as its name suggests, is an all-encompassing act to prevent sexual harassment for women in the workplace. It defines sexual harassment and outlines regulations to prevent such incidents and establish a redressal mechanism.

Benefits for working mother

Lastly, women often face discrimination during their maternity period. To ensure that childbearing and rearing does not negatively affect women’s careers, the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 outlines that women in all sectors should get 12 weeks of paid maternity leave in addition to protection of employment during maternity leave. Other Acts outline provisions for adequate childcare for women including The Factories Act, 1948; The Beedi and Cigar Workers Act, 1966; Plantations Labour Act, 1951; among others.

Industry-specific statutes and case laws establish the need to address the above-mentioned and additional workplace issues for women, in both the formal and informal sector. Most importantly employers not only need to be aware and comply with the law, but should actively be invested in ensuring that women of all religion, caste, disability, and sexuality are able to reach their fullest potential of work.

Update – The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017.

Shohini Banerjee – Program Analyst, iProbono

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