Equal rights as men; but how safe are women in India

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At a time when women have shattered the glass ceiling in almost all walks of life, there was no longer a valid reason for the Karnataka government to curtail them from working in night shifts in certain sectors. The government has now taken the right decision by amending the rules to ensure that women enjoy equal rights as men when it comes to night shifts in factories and business establishments that employ more than 10 people. A slew of measures have also been put in place to protect the “dignity, honour and safety”, of women workers, while reiterating that every establishment should constitute an internal complaints committee against sexual harassment. While many women might prefer to have a day free to complete some of their pending chores or for other personal or familial reasons, there could also be situations where they are compelled to work on night shifts by managers for reasons that are less than honourable. To overcome this, the rules stipulate that an employee can be made to work in the night shift only after obtaining her written consent. In order to avoid favouritism and other biases in the allotment of work, the establishment will be required to display in a prominent place a list of employees who are on leave.

However, concerns have been raised in some quarters about the safety of women returning home at odd hours after night duty, especially with public transport being non-existent beyond a certain time. But this concern should be taken care of by the stipulation under the Karnataka Shops and Establishments Act that female employees working after 8 pm and before 6 am should be provided transport facilities from their residence to the workplace and back, with adequate security. The establishment is also required to bear the cost of creche facility obtained by women employees from voluntary or other organisations. The rules are utopian, and so it is anybody’s guess how far they will be implemented by employers. Though the permission to employ women on night shift can be withdrawn if the establishment does not adhere to the rules, this provision has been rarely used. Labour Minister S Suresh Kumar and department secretary P Manivannan should crack the whip and act against those violating the rules.

Despite the government voicing concerns and showing strictness against crime against women but the ever increasing cases seem to be undaunting. Sadly enough, most of what the government is doing seems to be facing saving efforts at many a times. It, therefore, becomes a prerogative now for the government to take some stern steps against the rising cases against women in the nation. The government’s decision will go a long way in empowering women; facilitate ease of doing business and increase productivity in female-intensive sectors like the garment industry. With the agriculture sector under stress due to persistent floods and drought, such measures which help create a conducive industrial climate, without compromising on the interest of workers, are the need of the hour. What the government does now is worth watching as the entire nation awaits its reaction on the matter. No matter what, one thing is for sure that it must act fast keeping in mind all the scenarios that the nation is going through.

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