Women activists and organisations have welcomed the passing of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2010, in the Lok Sabha on Monday, but voiced their apprehension about “the actual implementation and passing-on of the benefits that this would now afford to the women.”

“The passing of the Bill comes as a huge step forward in bringing laws protecting women against sexual harassment at workplace,” said National Federation of Indian Women general secretary Annie Raja. “Women activists and organisations working for the welfare of women have been demanding the passage of the Bill for over a decade now and we are very happy that the provisions of the Bill include protection for domestic workers.”

The Bill defines a domestic worker as a woman employed to do household work for remuneration, whether in cash or in kind, either directly or through an agency on a temporary, permanent, part-time or full-time basis. It does not include any member of the family of the employer.

“While this is a welcome inclusion, our area of concern is the implementation of the laws,” said Ms. Raja. “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 the State governments need to bring in strong mechanism 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.”

Lawyer Vrinda Grover said: “Sexual harassment includes any one or more unwelcome act or behaviour, like physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours or making sexually coloured remarks or showing pornography. The act or behaviour, whether directly or by implication, includes unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature. However, we don’t yet have details of the draft that has been passed.

“A major area of concern in the draft was the provision for punishing those who register “false complaints” against the employer. 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 her case. So, in such an environment, women have to deal with the provision of being penalised if a complaint is not proved. This goes against the very spirit of the Bill.”

Brinda Karat, member of the polit bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said the Bill left out women working in the area of agriculture. “It is a gross injustice that a large section of the women are not even considered for being given the right to register a complaint against her employer. Women working in the agriculture sector and tribal women working in the unorganised sector under a contract too need protection. The Central government can even now look at bringing a provision for extending the protection net to these vulnerable groups of women.”

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