A new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has found that women employed in India’s informal jobs sector are routinely sexually harassed and abused at work despite the existence of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (or POSH Act). Poor enforcement of the law is the main reason for this abysmal condition of the country’s women workers. It is estimated that 95 per cent of India’s women workers, about 195 million people, are employed in the informal sector. The POSH Act mandates that employers with 10 or more workers set up committees to receive and investigate complaints of sexual harassment. It is also applicable to domestic workers.
The study, No #MeToo for Women Like Us – Poor Enforcement of India’s Sexual Harassment Law, is based on 85 interviews with women working in both formal and informal sectors, trade union officials, labour and women rights activists, lawyers and academics. HRW found ‘limited government efforts to enforce the law and gaps in mechanisms to protect women in the informal or unorganised sector, such as millions of domestic workers and those employed by the government to implement various welfare schemes.’
The report found that although more women in the formal sector are speaking out against sexual harassment in workplaces, especially after the #MeToo movement, there’s still widespread stigma around reporting such violations and the justice process often does not work for them. The situation is even more dire for women in informal sectors. The government is yet to publish any data on the Local Committees (LC) that are responsible for dealing with sexual harassment complaints in the informal sector. The report states that the central and local governments have failed to promote, establish and monitor LCs – this means that the POSH Act is seldom effective.
Women workers employed by the government in part-time or volunteer capacity (such as ASHA workers), domestic workers and garment industry workers (second largest employer of women in the country after the agricultural sector) are all at high risk of workplace harassment, but with low enforcement and lack of awareness, their conditions continue to remain precarious.