A Supreme Court (SC) bench led by justice AS Bopanna and Hima Kohli, on 12 May, addressed the issue of sexual harassment of women at the workplace and found major lapses in the implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, commonly known as the PoSH Act.
Enacted in 2013, the Act was meant to safeguard women from sexual abuse. The main goal of the Act is to prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment at the workplace.
Usually, women hesitate to register their complaints and quit their jobs instead, which results in lower women’s labour participation rate. This also means that their talent and skills end up being underutilised or going waste.
The PoSH Act is meant to promote a safe working environment for women and provide them the required support and freedom to report such cases without any fear.
However, the SC observed “uncertainties” in the 2013 Act with the bench pointing out that no matter how constructive or helpful the Act may be, it will fail to provide the “dignity and respect that women deserve at the workplace unless and until there is strict adherence to the enforcement regime and a proactive approach by all the State and non-State actors”. It was rightly observed that if hostility, insensitivity and lack of responsiveness towards women and their needs continued at the workplace, the very purpose of the Act would be defeated, rendering it a mere “formality”.
The bench stated that the public and private organisations /authorities, State functionaries and institutions had failed in their duty to implement the PoSH Act “in letter and spirit”.
According to the bench, unless the work environment is safe for women, they will stop stepping out of their homes to work and being an active part of the labor force.
The SC’s discovery of lapses in the implementation of the Act comes amidst the wrestlers’ protest in Delhi against the sexual harassment of women wrestlers by a president of the Wrestling Federation of India during his tenure.
The apex court has directed all ministries, organisations and institutes across the country to give details of the committees formed and work done under the PoSH Act on their official websites, within eight weeks.
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