It is considered very chivalrous to say “Ladies First“, however reality is far different from these words especially at the workplace. Nowadays due to inflation and higher cost of living women have moved from the traditional role of a home maker to that of an earning member to support her family’s growing needs. Another factor that can be attributed to the mounting women work force is the fact that they are exposed to better education system today. However, the most important question is how welcome and comfortable she is at her workplace?
The society still remains to be a male dominant one. Are the working women of today aware of the laws which protect them from being exploited? To clarify, this need not be physical / sexual exploitation but it can also be the discrimination in terms of wages and other emoluments. This is applicable to both skilled and unskilled women work force.
In India, our constitution guarantees the fundamental right to “Equality”. Women are not expected to be treated as under privileged citizens. The Indian Penal Code also provides for punishing for offences against women. The weight given to her “vote” is the same as that of a man’s.
There have been a dozen male prime ministers and presidents in our country in the past sixty years. But, we have seen only one female prime minister and single woman president in these years. This exhibits how difficult it is for her to grow at her workplace. Added to this, is the reluctance shown by the parliament in the enactment of the bill providing for reservation of more seats in the State legislature and parliament. When it comes to higher positions at her workplace, more often she is not allowed to climb up the corporate ladder. Of course, there are exceptions.
There can be some respite if she knows the laws that protect her. The supreme court of India has in the landmark judgment in Visakha’s case, come to the aid of the working women by laying down certain guidelines. Recently, the legislation has also occupied the field, in the form of ‘The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013’. This act provides for the formation of various committees / bodies at various levels which are empowered to look into the complaints or grievances of women employees at work. Unfortunately, there is severe lapse in proper and practical implementation and enforcement of this enactment. Even after the lapse of many years from the commencement of this act, majority of the offices (more particularly in the private sector) have not formed such bodies.
The equal remuneration act is a classic legislation which provides for equal treatment of females compared to their male counterparts. This intends to reduce the discrimination on the basis of gender with regards to pay and emoluments.
The maternity benefits act is yet another law which safe guards the right of women employees. It entitles a woman to receive complete pay during her period of maternity that is approximately 84 days. Proposals to amend the act incorporating provisions for better benefits are in the anvil.
Despite all the exploitation and discrimination in the male dominated society, many women have achieved great heights in their field. If leading of the State Bank of India and controlling the management of PEPSI COLA Company can be done by talented women, they can take even more challenges in life. It is inspiring to see that a lady is presently in the race to the highest office of the President of the United States of America.
The reason for the exploitation of women at her workplace is not because of dearth of any law. It owes mainly to the leisurely and take it easy manner in which these laws are implemented. Only if more and more women are brought to highest level of the three wings i.e. the executive, legislature and judiciary, the existing laws will be properly enforced, and the lacuna if any can be filled by proper legislations. Reservation of 1/3 seats for women in the elections to the local self government institutions in Kerala is a welcome step. We should look forward for more space for her in other bodies as well in the future.
A civilized society can never ignore or ill treat the ‘mother’. The existing laws intended to protect her dignity at the workplace are to be vigorously enforced. State agencies should periodically monitor the implementation and also educate the women folk regarding their rights. Offenders should be booked and punished. Let this have a deterrent effect. If women are able to enjoy freedom and equality in work without any fear, productivity will improve. This will in turn benefit the society.
Gender cannot be the determinative factor for efficiency and recognition at work. The basic human rights of the female employees, especially those working in the lower levels, are also to be taken up as a human rights issue. Let us work together for a better work culture. Men and women should enjoy their work place where they give mutual respect to each other.