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Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment Act, 2013

  • 16 May 2023
  • 6 min read

Why in News?

In a recent judgment, the Supreme Court expressed concerns about the implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) (PoSH) Act, 2013.

  • The court emphasized the serious lapses and uncertainties surrounding the Act, leading to many working women feeling compelled to leave their jobs.

What is the Key Concern Raised by the Supreme Court?

  • Concern:
    • There were serious lapses and uncertainties in the implementation of the PoSH Act, for example only 16 out of 30 national sports federations had constituted Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs) as mandated.
      • This reflects poorly on state functionaries, public authorities, private undertakings, organizations, and institutions responsible for implementing the PoSH Act.
    • These lapses also have a negative impact on women's self-esteem, emotional well-being, and physical health. Also, it makes women reluctant to report instances of sexual harassment due to uncertainty and lack of confidence in the process.
  • Recommendation:
    • If the working environment remains hostile, insensitive, and unresponsive, the Act will remain a mere formality. The Act must be enforced diligently to ensure the dignity and respect that women deserve at the workplace.
    • There is a need to undertake a time-bound exercise to verify whether relevant bodies have constituted ICCs, Local Committees (LCs), and Internal Committees (ICs) under the Act.
      • Instructed bodies to publish details of their respective committees on their websites.
    • SC has given eight weeks for government Ministries, bodies to comply with mandates of the 2013 Act.

What is the PoSH Act, 2013?

  • About:
    • The POSH Act is a legislation enacted by the Government of India in 2013 to address the issue of sexual harassment faced by women in the workplace.
      • The Act aims to create a safe and conducive work environment for women and provide protection against sexual harassment.
    • The PoSH Act defines sexual harassment to include unwelcome acts such as physical contact and sexual advances, a demand or request for sexual favours, making sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, and any other unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.
  • Background: The Supreme Court in a landmark judgment in the Vishakha and others v State of Rajasthan 1997 case gave ‘Vishakha guidelines’.
    • These guidelines formed the basis for the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
    • The SC also drew its strength from several provisions of the Constitution including Article 15 (against discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth), also drawing from relevant International Conventions and norms such as the General Recommendations of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which India ratified in 1993.
  • Key Provisions:
    • Prevention and Prohibition: The Act places a legal obligation on employers to prevent and prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace.
    • Internal Complaints Committee (ICC): Employers are required to constitute an ICC at each workplace with 10 or more employees to receive and address complaints of sexual harassment.
      • The Complaints Committees have the powers of civil courts for gathering evidence.
    • Duties of Employers: Employers must undertake awareness programs, provide a safe working environment, and display information about the POSH Act at the workplace.
    • Complaint Mechanism: The Act lays down a procedure for filing complaints, conducting inquiries, and providing a fair opportunity to the parties involved.
    • Penalties: Non-compliance with the Act's provisions can result in penalties, including fines and cancellation of business licenses.

What are the Recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee on Sexual Harassment at Workplace?

  • Domestic workers should be included within the purview of the PoSH Act.
  • It proposes a conciliation process where the complainant and the respondent are initially encouraged to resolve the issue through negotiation and agreement.
  • The employer should pay compensation to the woman who has suffered sexual harassment.
  • Setting up of an Employment tribunal instead of an internal complaints committee (ICC) in the PoSH Act.

What are the Other Initiatives Related to Women’s Safety?

  • One Stop Centre Scheme
  • UJJAWALA: A Comprehensive Scheme for Prevention of trafficking and Rescue, Rehabilitation and Re-integration of Victims of Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation
  • SWADHAR Greh (A Scheme for Women in Difficult Circumstances)
  • Nari Shakti Puruskar

Source: TH

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