This essay delves into the historical discrimination faced by women in India and the emergence of feminist movements to address gender inequalities. It focuses on the significance of industrial and labor laws in achieving social justice and gender equality. The paper highlights the challenges women encounter in the labor force, such as unequal opportunities, lower wages, and sexual harassment. It emphasizes the importance of equal pay, employment opportunities, and specialized protection for women. The essay also discusses the need for robust laws and implementation to ensure women’s welfare and empowerment. By examining various laws and protections, including maternity benefits and safeguards against hazardous work, the paper emphasizes the significance of creating a safe and equitable work environment for women. Ultimately, it underscores the importance of continuous efforts towards true gender equality and women’s empowerment through legal provisions and mechanisms.
Half of India’s population comprises women, who have historically faced discrimination and continue to suffer in silence. Despite their nobility and fortitude displayed through self-sacrifice and self-denial, women have endured various inequities, indignities, and discrimination. The status of women varies across societies, be it developed, developing, or underdeveloped, yet they consistently occupy a disadvantaged position due to pervasive male dominance.
In response to this unequal treatment, various movements advocating for women’s rights emerged worldwide, leading to the concept of ‘Feminism.’ Feminism encompasses diverse social theories, political movements, and moral philosophies, all aimed at addressing inequalities in social, political, and economic contexts experienced by women. In pursuit of this concept, laws have been enacted and rights granted to uplift women, along with various declarations supporting their civil, political, and basic human rights.
Recognizing the social disparities, laws were formulated to achieve social equality and justice and to safeguard women’s rights. The framers of the Indian constitution were also conscious of this issue and incorporated provisions empowering women, leading to the enactment of new laws and amendments to existing ones for the betterment of women’s position in society. As a result of these collective efforts, women now enjoy a stronger and improved standing in society.
The pursuit of gender equality in labor and industrial laws has transcended boundaries, encompassing almost every important sector, including labor regulations. The core objective has been to achieve social justice by creating provisions that protect women’s interests, eliminate gender discrimination, and provide them with various benefits, concessions, and safeguards. These measures aim to secure women from the risks associated with their work and offer them special rights and remedies, particularly in industries such as factories and mines.
Women and Industrial Law
In the quest for social justice, the legal system should serve as an instrument of distributive justice, ensuring a fair division of wealth and equal opportunities based on the principle of “From each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs.” Ensuring gender equality and safeguarding women’s interests in labor and industrial laws are crucial aspects of this pursuit.
Industrial law holds a position of pride in the legal framework, as it not only addresses labor and industrial matters but also encompasses social concerns affecting children, women, and other marginalized sections of society. The Indian Constitution, driven by the vision of securing social, economic, and political justice for all citizens, irrespective of gender, empowers the state to make special provisions for women and children. This empowerment has led to the enactment of several laws, including the Factories Act, 1948, Mines Act, 1952, Employees State Insurance Act, 1948, Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, and Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, designed to safeguard women’s interests and rights.
Challenges Faced by Women in the Labor Force
Despite the various laws aimed at strengthening women’s position, the participation of women in the labor force is dwindling due to multiple reasons. Job offers not aligning with their requirements create disparities between their potential and actual work. Moreover, security concerns, such as instances of sexual harassment in the workplace, and job opportunities mainly concentrated in the unorganized sector, further limit their access to benefits. Women also face challenges related to childbirth and domestic responsibilities, impacting their work-life balance. Consequently, women not only require equal rights but also specialized protection to achieve true gender equality.
Employment Opportunity and Equal Pay for Equal Work
Equal employment opportunity refers to providing both men and women with equal chances of employment, similar working conditions, and equal pay for the same or similar work. The principles of equality, recognized as natural law, are protected under Article 14 of the Constitution. Promoting equality in employment involves breaking down both horizontal and vertical occupational segregation.
In the case of Jitendra Prasad Singh v. TELCO, the court found that equality principles are substantially in the nature of natural law and that denial of equality would be a violation of the equality article, i.e. Article 14 of the Constitution. Promotion of equality in the workplace is a positive enforcement, as opposed to discrimination prevention, which is a type of negative right or negative equality. This entails dismantling both horizontal and vertical occupational segregation.
Article 39 of the Indian Constitution guarantees citizens, including men and women, the right to an adequate means of livelihood and equal pay for equal work. However, despite these provisions, women often face lower wages and limited job opportunities, hindering their career advancement. Eliminating this disparity necessitates further efforts and a concrete law to ensure equal wages and opportunities for women.
The Equal Remuneration Act of 1976 was enacted with the goal of providing equal pay to men and women for the same or equivalent job. This statute requires employers to guarantee that both male and female employees are given equal chances and that there is no discrimination based only on gender. Section 5 of this legislation states that while recruiting for the same or comparable jobs, employers must not discriminate against women unless employment of women in that specific position is forbidden or limited by law. In case Mackinnon Mackenzie & Co. Ltd. v. Audrey D’Costa, the court found that the authority should take a comprehensive view of the subject when determining whether the work is of the same or comparable kind and if the variations are of any practical relevance. This is because “differences in detail” are implied by the idea of similar work. These distinctions should not be used to undermine equality claims on minor grounds; instead, consider the tasks that are actually fulfilled as well as those that are theoretically attainable.
Sexual Harassment at Workplace:
Gender equality extends to protection from sexual harassment and the right to work with dignity, considered a universally recognized basic human right. Sexual harassment, including inappropriate remarks, physical contact, and compromising invitations, violates not only women’s fundamental rights but also their basic human rights. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013, aims to protect women from such incidents and provides a mechanism for prevention and redressal of complaints.
Despite the existence of legislation, cases of unreported harassment persist, often due to fear of reprisals and societal disrespect. To empower women to speak against such offenses, stringent punishments and increased awareness about their rights and protections are essential.
In the case of Vishaka vs. State of Rajasthan and Ors., Supreme Court held that according to Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution, sexual harassment of a woman at work would be a violation of her basic rights to gender equality and the right to life and liberty. The court determined that such an Act would be a breach of women’s human rights.
As a result of this case, the first of its kind standards were developed for women’s gender equality rights, which should be free of harassment in both public and private work. This decision prompted the Indian government to pass the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, which went into effect on December 9, 2013. This Act supplanted the Supreme Court of India’s Vishaka Guidelines for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment.
Special Benefits Given to Women
To further support women, various special benefits are provided, including maternity relief under the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961. This act grants maternity leaves and other benefits to pregnant and lactating women, protecting their well-being during and after childbirth.
Additionally, women are protected from working in hazardous environments, such as mines, where their health and physical fitness may be compromised. Women working night shifts are also provided with safety measures to ensure their well-being.
National and international laws have laid the foundation for women’s welfare and protection, prompting movements towards women’s empowerment in labor laws. Benefits like equal employment opportunity, equal pay for equal work, maternity relief, and protection from sexual harassment have been granted. However, despite these measures, more laws and stringent implementation are needed to achieve true gender equality. A robust redressal mechanism is essential to empower women to raise their voice against injustices they face. To achieve a truly equitable and inclusive work environment, the nation must strive for the effective implementation of laws and protection mechanisms, uplifting women and ensuring their rights and dignity.
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Written by- Ankit Kaushik
 Jitendra Prasad Singh v. TELCO, 1999 2 LLJ 43 (Pat.)
 Mackinnon Mackenzie & Co. Ltd. v. Audrey D’Costa, (1987) 2 SCC 469
 Vishaka vs. State of Rajasthan and Ors., JT 1997 (7) SC 384 (Bhanwari Devi Case)