Indian laws that empower women

Shanthi Naresh

Awareness leads to action and action leads to change. Probably most of us women are not aware that there are eight women-specific legislations in India and as many as 44 legislations that have special provisions for women. The legislative framework is quite comprehensive in touching upon aspects of safety, equity, respect, and convenience for women.

In breaking traditional boundaries and stereotypes and getting to work in India’s corporate world, the first concern women encounter is around physical and mental safety. Following the high profile Nirbhaya case, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 came into being. Also pertinent is The Sexual Harrassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 came into being, mandating organizations to create an Internal Complaints Committee, defining sexual harassment in terms of (but not limiting to) any kind of unwelcome physical, verbal or non - verbal conduct of sexual nature and taking accountability for providing women with an appropriate work environment. 

In the factory environment, safety legislation (The Factories Act, 1948) prevents corporates from employing women in physically hazardous work. In recent years, with the emergence of the IT and ITeS industries, corporates are to provide door-to-door transport to women employees working after 8 pm and the last dropped female employee to be accompanied by a lady guard (this is more of a safety issue).

Several research studies point out to women’s differential abilities around inclusion, problem solving, multitasking and being more adaptive to change which create a more productive work environment. It is only fair, therefore, for women to expect to be treated equitably by the employer. While a few organizations that value the diversity of perspective and competence that women bring to the table consciously look to be equitable as far as growth opportunities and pay are concerned, our compensation data from 2016 indicates that on average women are paid between 5-10 percent lesser than their male counterparts, with the gap widest at the senior levels.

It is heartening to know that as way back as 1976, in fact following the International Woman’s Year, The Equal Remuneration Act was enacted. With an amendment in 1987, this act provides for equality in employment opportunity and equality in pay for the same or similar work, between genders. A more recent guideline issued by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) in 2015 has recommended the appointment of at least one woman director to the board of a listed company, attempting to bridge the gender gap at the highest level in organisations.

Beyond safety and equity, when women’s privacy is respected at workplace, women experience true freedom. A key piece of legislation that gives prominence and protection to women’s privacy is The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act of 1986.

While not restricted to the workplace, this act prohibits advertising or publication of anything that represents women indecently. The Shops and Establishments Act, 1953 mandate restrictions on working hours for women, in order to not only safeguard the woman employee, but also to respect the multiple roles and responsibilities a woman discharges.  The Factories Act, 1948, and The Contract Labor (Regulation and Abolition Act) 1970 provide for separate washing facilities and areas for women.

Finally, as attraction, retention and engagement of women has become a necessity for the corporate world and several initiatives are being planned and introduced by the diversity teams in organisations to drive the same, legislation is playing an equally strong part in mandating convenience measures for women at work. 

The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 is undergoing significant change with an amendment bill that is almost certain to be passed in parliament to increase paid maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks for the first two children. Leave provisions have also been incorporated for surrogacy and adoption. The other significant proposal in the bill relates to the establishment of a crèche in organisations that have 50 or more employees within a defined radius. These amendments not only cater to increased convenience for women, but recognise the crucial role women play at both home and work. This also helps address the career choke points which women experience, in the midst of personal milestones.

Leading organisations in India have recognised the changing employment landscape and the value of a gender diverse workforce.  Cultural training to handle gender diversity, formulation of women-friendly policies, close tracking of workforce metrics to track representation, equity, and success of women are already focus areas. It is noteworthy that the legislative environment in India has been supportive of women at work and has been actively introducing, and amending new and existing legislation to ensure safety, respect, equity and convenience of women. 

On the occasion of the International Women’s Day, we urge women to become aware of not only the benefits and provisions their employers provide, but also understand women specific legislations in greater detail. Being armed with this information can in itself be empowering!

(Writer is India Business Leader, Talent Consulting and Information Solutions, Mercer)

Related News

Back to top