3,000 Domestic Workers Sent Postcards To Smriti Irani To Request Better Protection From Sexual Harassment
Over the past week, around 3,000 domestic workers in India have sent postcards to Smriti Irani, requesting safer workplaces as a New Year’s wish.
In an attempt to draw attention to the poor implementation of sexual harassment laws in the unorganized sector in India, domestic workers from around the country have begun writing to Irani, the minister in charge of women and child development. “For women like me, what is #MeToo? There is no place safe for women like us,” a part-time domestic worker from Gurugram, who was sexually harassed by a security guard in her employers’ residential complex, told Scroll.in.
An October 2020 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that 94% of all working women in India are employed in the informal sector — as domestic workers, farmhands, and construction workers, among others. And despite the wide range of informal jobs they were engaged in, the persistent onslaught of sexual harassment was common to all of them, in addition to being denied justice under the country’s sexual harassment laws.
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Martha Farrell Foundation, a new New Delhi-based organization that works in the domain of gender justice, spoke to domestic workers across the country. The interviews revealed a whole spectrum of harassment, abuse and assault — perpetrated not just by employers, but a host of other people women crossed paths with in course of their employment. In addition, the workers also reported being denied assistance by the police despite bringing instances of abuse to their attention, which another in-depth report by the HRW had also found in 2017.
A 2018 report by the Indian Express suggests that only 29% of Indian districts had constituted the local committees they are mandated to under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH Act) — to address allegations of harassment for establishments with less than 10 workers, or when the accusation is against the employer. With the police already refusing help, in the absence of these bodies, women in the unorganized sector are further denied access to justice.
Within the structures of institutionalized patriarchy that already blame women for instances of violence against them, domestic workers, who are further marginalized socio-economically, have to face even greater hurdles to get justice. “Even in rape cases, women have such a difficult time filing a complaint, so how would they file a complaint that an employer looked at them inappropriately?,” Nandita Bhatt, director of the Martha Farrell Foundation, said.