How secure are women working in the unorganized sectors?

It is estimated that almost 400 million people (more than 85 percent of the working population in India) work in unorganized sector; out of these, at least 120 million are women. It cannot be denied that the contribution of unorganized sector to India’s GDP is about 50% (NCEUS 2008) and yet how does one bring in regulations of violence free workplace in a sector that is often scattered and fragmented.

If true women’s protection is to be achieved, every workplace must ensure a safe work place for women. It is the duty of the employer to provide a safe work environment: “Appropriate work conditions should be provided in respect of work, leisure, health and hygiene to further ensure that there is no hostile environment towards women at work places and no employee woman should have reasonable grounds to believe that she is disadvantaged in connection with her employment.”

In rural areas, the unorganized labour is highly stratified on the basis of caste and community considerations. The Act makes it imperative to organize workshops and awareness programs, along with providing assistance for women to file a criminal complaint should she choose to, to also initiate criminal action against the perpetrator and treat sexual harassment as a misconduct under the service rules.

In a recent study by Oxfam India, on sexual harassment at workplaces, found that 17% of working women in the country feel that they have experienced acts of sexual harassment at their workplaces. High incidence of sexual harassment were seen among working women from both among the organised and unorganised sectors.

The study titled ‘Sexual Harassment at Workplaces in India 2011-2012‘ was jointly conducted by Oxfam India and the Social and Rural Research Institute, a wing of IMRB International. The study found that top three industries were unsafe for women: labourers which accounts for 29%, followed by domestic help – 23% and small scale manufacturing which accounts 16%.

A majority of respondents perceived women working in the unorganised sector to be more susceptible to sexual harassment due to lack of awareness of legislation. Interestingly, 26% reported to be the sole earning member of their families, indicating that economic vulnerability further makes women more vulnerable to harassment at the workplace.

This sector witnesses violence in silence. It is for activists, civil society, NGOs to focus on making the voices heard, so that justice is met for every woman who silently faces a hostile, offensive, intimidating, or abusive work environment.

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