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An Overview of Women's Rights in Workplace in India

Written By: Arushi Gupta


If a man says “I have 5 children, I need a raise to support my family” to his boss, he will get a raise. If a woman says “I have 5 children, I need a raise to support my family” to her boss, she will be questioned as to why she’s working at all and that she should sit at home and take care of her kids.

Through this simple contrast, it is clear how even though men and women stand at the same spot behind the starting line, the runway for a man is a smooth racecourse and for women is a dilapidated road with potholes of societal obstructions.

India’s female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) is just 27 per cent as compared to 96 per cent for men, clearly depicting the workplace disparity.

In India, according to the OECD, women spend on average 352 minutes a day on unpaid work against 52 minutes among men. Concerning unpaid care work, women in India spend on average 297 minutes a day on tasks such as taking care of children, the elderly and the sick; in comparison, men spend 31 minutes a day[1].

While it is a long way for the damaged road to becoming a smooth racecourse for women, there are, however, some construction works the government has effectively done to hasten the process.

To put simply, there are numerous laws and acts the government has introduced and implemented to make “WORK” and “WOMEN” a better combination.

The Factories Act, 1948

Section 19 of the act lays down a mandate to have latrines and urinals, separately for women employees, wherein cleanliness and sanitation must be maintained and must be accessible at all times.

Section 22 of the act, intending to prevent hazardous injury to women, prohibits them from lubricating any parts of moving machinery in factories.

Section 34 of the act transfers responsibility to the state government to make laws about the matter of a set upper limit of weights that can be carried by women and no woman shall be compelled to lift any weight heavier than the set mark.

The Maternity Benefit Amendment Act, 2017

Every woman working in an organisation with 10 or more employees is granted paid maternity leave for 26 weeks. 8 weeks of leave can opt before the delivery and remaining post-childbirth. For women expecting a third child, the maternity leave allotted is 12 weeks. For adoptive mothers with children below the age of 3, leave for 12 weeks can be applied for. For surrogate mothers and the commissioning woman, leave for 12 weeks is granted. For a woman suffering from illnesses post-maternity like premature delivery, miscarriage and other problems, additional leave for one month can be applied for.

“She slept her way through it”, offers of sexual favours in return for raises and promotions, paid less for the same work, constant male gaze, uncomfortable workplace environment, unsafe conditions for overnight work, and many times without pay are some of the surface level exploitations women faces. To combat those, The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013.

Section 2 of the act defines the acts which will amount to sexual harassment as

“i)physical contact and advances; or

ii) a demand or request for sexual favours; or

iii) making sexual coloured remarks; or

iv) showing pornography; or

v) any unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.”[2]

Section 4 directs the constitution of an Internal Complaints Committee in every establishment to address matters of sexual harassment.

As per Section 6 of the Act, every District Officer is required to constitute a Local Committee to receive complaints of sexual harassment from establishments where the Internal Complaints Committee has not been constituted due to having less than ten workers or if the complaint is against the employer himself.

While the complaint is being processed, the Internal Complaints Committee, on a written request of the aggrieved woman, may recommend to the employer to:

i) “transfer the aggrieved woman or the respondent to any other workplace; [Section 12(1)(a)] or

ii) grant leave to the aggrieved woman up to a period of three months; [Section 12(1)(b)] or

iii) restrain the respondent from reporting on the work performance of the aggrieved woman or writing her confidential report, and assign the same to another officer; [Rule 8(a)] or

iv) restrain the respondent from supervising any academic activity of the aggrieved woman”.

Section 11(4) Grants the Internal Complaints Committee powers to function as a quasi-judicial authority to better equip the committee to perform functions like enforcing the attendance of any person, enquiring him, requiring and enforcing production of documents so that complaints can be efficiently acted upon, taking no more than 90 days. While conducting an enquiry, the Committee has to follow the principles of natural justice.

Section 15: To determine the sums to be paid to the aggrieved woman, the Internal Complaints Committee shall have regard to:

i) “the mental trauma, pain, suffering and emotional distress caused to the aggrieved woman;

ii) the loss of the career opportunity due to the incident of sexual harassment;

iii) medical expenses incurred by the victim for physical or psychiatric treatment;

iv) the income and financial status of the respondent;

v) feasibility of such payment in a lump sum or instalments”[3].


  1. OECD Database, Employment: Time spent in paid and unpaid work by sex, OECD. Stat.

  2. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, (Section 2)

  3. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 (Section 15)

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