While welcoming the Bill protecting working women from sexual harassment, activists raise some concerns

Watched and followed with much anticipation by women’s organisations across the country, the Lok Sabha on Monday passed the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2010. While women activists welcomed the passing of the Bill, they also voiced their apprehension about “the actual implementation and passing-on of the benefits of the protection” under the new law. National Federation of Indian Women general secretary Annie Raja said, “The passing of the Bill comes as a huge step forward in bringing in laws protecting women against sexual harassment at workplace. We are very happy with the fact that provisions of the Bill also include protection for domestic workers.” The  Bill defines domestic worker as a woman employed to do household work in any household for remuneration whether in cash or kind, either directly or through any agency on temporary, permanent, part time or full time basis, but does not include any member of the family of the employer.Ms. Raja adds, “While this is a welcome inclusion, our area of concern is the implementation of the law. We have witnessed disappointing results in the implementation of the legal provisions brought in for protecting women against domestic violence and dowry. The Centre and state governments need to bring in strong mechanisms to ensure that women in India actually benefit from this positive step. There is also a need to constantly review and include women who work in the new emerging unorganised sectors.”

Advocate Vrinda Grover said, “Sexual harassment includes any one or more of unwelcome acts or behaviour like physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours, making sexually coloured remarks or showing pornography. The acts or behaviour, whether directly or by implication, include any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.”She added that a major area of concern in the draft was the provision for punishment of complainants who register 'false complaints' against their employers. “This is a provision that we objected to strongly. It is well known that sexual harassment at workplace is rampant and under reported. Most women, even if they do report a case, quickly become isolated at the workplace without support to prove their case. So in such an environment, the women have to deal with the provision of being penalised in case a complaint is not proved. This goes against the very spirit of the Bill. However, we don’t yet have details of the final draft that has been passed,” she said.Highlighting the fact that the Bill left out women working in the agricultural sector, Brinda Karat, member of the polit bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said, “It is gross injustice that a large section of women are not even considered for being given the right to register their complaint against their employers. Women working in the agricultural sector and poor tribal women working in the unorganised sector under a contract too need protection. The Central government can even now look at bringing in provisions for extending the protection net to these vulnerable groups.”