Statutory enablers for women in workplace

There are multiple reasons that contribute to a disappointing proportion in participation by women in the workforce. The regulations and educational level are some of the reasons involved and for progress of the entire economy, it is an imperative task to uplift women in every possible way. Some of the challenges on the way to achieve this include sexual harassment in workplace, restrictions on women from various sectors due to various reasons, absence of conducive work environment, low educational levels due to lack of institutions, amongst many others.

There are statutory enablers or acts that aim towards providing special provisions to women. One of such acts is the Shops and Establishment Act, 1948. Under this act, the employment of women in dangerous conditions is prohibited and it is obligatory to maintain separate toilets and washing areas for both men and women by factories in which women are employed. There is another section that talks about the provision of creche facilities where more than 30 women are employed. There are only certain industries in which employment of women is allowed in the night hours otherwise it is prohibited elsewhere. Another such act is The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 and amended in 2017. This act amends the maternity leave period from twelve weeks to twenty six for women with less than two surviving children. The section has been extended to include mothers who adopt or opt for surrogacy and extends a twelve week leave for them also. There is also provision of nursing breaks for the mother till the child turns 15 months old and these have to be provided in all work places.

These two acts are aimed towards improving the situation for women in the workplace but these acts also have multiple loopholes. In a survey, only about 73% of women agreed that there were maternity policies in their organisations. The ones who agreed in regard to the implementation of the policies pointed out that these are implemented only in bits and pieces as suitable to the organisation. There are many women that were not entitled to medical care or medical bonus. Many women said that the nursing hours were confused with the rest hours and still others said that their organisation doesn’t allow nursing during work hours.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Prohibition, Prevention and Redressal Act 2013 was brought with the intend of making the workplace safer for women as it has been pointed out earlier that the work place environment has to be conducive and safe for women to encourage them to work. This Act covers various aspects and tries to understand and prevent sexual harassment in workplaces. There is a provision of Internal Complaints Committee or ICC and it is mandatory for every employer to look into this matter. Consequently, all complaints have to be registered by the ICC. In case the victimised woman is not able to file a complaint herself due to some reason, her relative, friend, a witness or a member of state or national committee for women can file the complaint with the consent and signature of the affected woman. The Committees have the power of civil courts in collecting evidence regarding the complaint. The employers that fail to meet these requirements would be liable for a fine, as stated by the Act.

Despite these measures, it is disappointing to note that only about 50% organisations make efforts to report the complaints on time and only in about 52% of organisations, people undergo proper training to prevent sexual harassment in workplace. There is lack of awareness and misconduct often in organisations and more than that there is lack of implementation. Many employees are not given tips or there is no discussion about how to handle or identify such situations in the workplace. It is a high possibility that many instances go unreported or unheard simply because the measures are not properly in place.

The Companies Act, 2013 ensures that companies with certain listed criteria must appoint female directors. Every company listed under this Act must appoint at least one woman director within one year of the commencement of the programme and every public company with a turnover of more than 300 crores or having paid 100 crores must appoint a woman director within three years of the commencement of the Act. According to various surveys, it has been proved that having women directors improves the company in various ways and is a good step towards progress. Women on board not only improve the financial performance but also the performance on non financial indicators exponentially improves. There is an ability to attract new talent and the level of innovation also rises. The board becomes more effective. Yet there is still a long way to go before the contribution of women in the workforce reaches its potential. The number of women working in the urban areas has increased from the years 2001 to 2011 and hence it is very clear that improving the educational levels would inevitably lead to a higher participation by women.

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