The status of female employment in India has been the subject of much debate of late in the national fora, due to its intrinsic relationship with female empowerment and gender imparity. Pay gaps and inequality are unfortunately still issues that surround females in the workplace worldwide. In some countries, there has been a concerted effort to reduce these gaps and promote a fairer, more equal workforce. However, The World Bank reported that India has actually seen a decline of female workers in the last 25 years. This remains a societal challenge for the nation, especially when you consider in contrast just how rapidly the economy is growing. Some say that gender stereotypes and lack of infrastructure has traditionally sidelined women from core manufacturing functions and some blames the government for such scenario. But whatever it is, as a result, not many of them are able to reach leadership roles in this country. Besides those who reach that status have to face a number of challenges along with struggle and sacrifices.
To be fair, equality is a factor that is not just limited to parity of rights but also equal opportunity to enjoy such rights and practice them. The societies of the world are trying hard to bridge the gap between gender and the differences in opportunity available to them but still, there are various steps yet to be taken. Not just that but various studies have indicated gender gap in India. This is 2020, yet there are many studies that states women feel gender discrimination is still prevalent in the workplace. They attribute the unfairness to privileges men receive both at the organizational and societal level, pro men practices, male-dominated peer eco-system, and skewed career advancement pathways. Most importantly, when it comes to challenging role of entrepreneurship which can also be called as the building block of human economics and development, women are seen to be lagging behind their male counterparts. There are several reasons behind that, which varies from societal issues to tradition or economies but we need to understand the legal aspect of the problem. However, to deal with this concern there are laws created by our government which every woman should know about. Let’s have a look at the laws that can empower women and bring parity in business.
Company Act: The Company Act is the key to the establishment, setting up and closure of the business. This Act is dedicated towards empowerment of women entrepreneur. An entrepreneur would generally be the promoter of the company, therefore, must have a good hold of Company law so women entrepreneurs should also know this. The new Company act, 2013 vide section 149(1) has made it compulsory for all listed companies to have at least one woman director in its board of director. This must be done within six months of the date of incorporation of such companies and therefore is an essential piece of law that must be kept in mind by all the entrepreneur out there, especially women. This was done in order to increase women participation at a higher level and boost the decision making capability of women. Although it has resulted in no significant development as corporations are simply appointing acquaintances as rubber stamps to comply with the provision which must be amended to that effect to include them as independent directors outside the company or relation.
Equal Pay for Equal Work: As set out in the Equality Act 2010, men and women in the same employment performing equal work must receive equal pay unless any difference in pay can be justified. It is the law and employers must follow it. An employer is at risk of an expensive employment tribunal case and reputational damage if they do not provide equal pay. It has been the most basic of all the right that the government of any state would be trying to secure.
With the advent of industrial revolution women started working in the factories together with males but with lower payment for the same amount of work owing to the dogma of them being less efficient or physical weak in terms of employment that require physical labour despite clearly showing no difference in work carried on by both the sexes. This ideology continues even till now and as a result, we see a gap in the earning of the two genders, however, the legislation is already there in this regard known as the Equal Remuneration Act 1976 which clearly states under Section 4 that no discrimination in payment between men and women doing the same nature of job and it caused all establishment to raise the wages of women at par with men as a reduction in wages was prohibited. This law still holds well in modern time.
Equal Remuneration Act: Same as equal pay for work, the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 talks about giving equal opportunity to male and women for securing employment and no discrimination in recruitment is to be made as per Section 5 of the very act.
The act was amended is 1987 to include ‘condition of service subsequent to recruitment such as promotions, training or transfer’ thereby making the ambit wide enough to protect a women’s right not only at the time of appointment but at all subsequent stages so that it doesn’t lose the very essence for which it is drafted.
Intellectual Property Laws: If a woman plan to do business in India, or if she is already trading here, it is essential for them to know-how to use, guard and enforce the rights you have over the intellectual property (IP) that they or their business owners. This law helps women entrepreneurs to secure their ideas from getting exploited commercially by any other player of market. By getting a patent of their product or copyright over their work and thus securing Intellectual property right over their idea one can simply protect themselves from any future consequences.
Labour Laws: Labour laws are a must-know for all women workers as well as entrepreneurs; not just that but they must have a grasp over it too. These laws can be with relevance minimum wages, gratuity, PF payment, weekly holidays, maternity advantages, harassment, and payment of bonus and so on. A start-up registered beneath the Start-up India program has the choice to finish self-declaration for nine labours laws among one year and acquire an exemption from the labour review. The nine laws are as follows: the economic Disputes Act, 1947 The Trade Unit Act, 1926 Building and different Constructions Workers’(Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 the economic Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946 The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 The Employees & Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 The Employees & State Insurance Act, 1948. Thus to continue with the exemption, the start-up will file the self-declaration for the second and third year conjointly. Also, if a start-up options a well-defined worker policy, then it might give a footing over different start-ups. This policy may facilitate in talent acquisition and retention. Moreover, this may boost the employee’s morale and overall productivity.
Maternity Benefits at Work: The Maternity Benefit Act provides that a woman will be paid maternity benefit at the rate of her average daily wage in the three months preceding her maternity leave. However, the woman needs to have worked for the employer for at least 80 days in the 12 months preceding the date of her expected delivery. Maternity Benefit act of 1961 amended in 2017 provides for a period of 26 weeks of maternity paid leaves for women employees expecting their first two children. In comparison, it is very gracious from other nations where the period ranges from 8 to 17 weeks only. An entrepreneur must know that this payment for 26 weeks in India is to be borne by the ‘employer only’ and not by state or any other agency as in case of France, Brazil, USA, Canada or Singapore. This could be a reason for low selection of women at the first place, especially those who might expect their child in near future, seeing the cost to be borne by the organization for women employees with no work in return. The government, therefore, should try to adopt a more balanced approach following the footstep of other countries where the insurance company and the public fund also contributes to these payments borne.
Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace: Sexual harassment at a workplace is considered a violation of women’s right to equality, life and liberty. It creates an insecure and hostile work environment, which discourage women’s participation in work, thereby adversely affecting their social and economic empowerment and the goal of inclusive growth. In the year 1997, the Supreme Court through Vishakha v State of Rajasthan gave Vishakha Guidelines to be followed at the workplace to ensure the safety of women. These guidelines were removed from effect with the passing of Sexual Harassment of women at workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and redressal) Act, 2013. All working women should be aware of their rights in relation to such activity and therefore so does an entrepreneur.
Tax Laws: Up until Financial Year (FY) 2011-12, women and men had different income tax slabs with women having to pay slightly less tax. However, from FY 2012-13, this was done away with and tax slabs for men and women were made the same. Therefore, currently there are no income tax exemptions specifically for women. However, we still have some concession for women in other taxes whether it is property tax rebate, stamp duty concession, the lower interest rate on home loans, credit subsidy for the house. These will benefit women entrepreneurs and therefore must be known to them. A clear understanding of tax law both direct and indirect including the Goods and Services Tax should be known to a women entrepreneur.
In most part of the world, the scenario needs to shift towards augmenting the productive capacity of women and increasing their participation in the workforce. Legal laws need to be seamlessly implemented and deviations by stringently penalized. A successful woman is one who knows how to derive maximum benefit from the dynamic societal changes and therefore should always be aware of what is happening around them and in the business environment in which they are working and since laws are the guiding principle behind working of society whether it is a business organization or the economy as a whole, a basic idea of all such laws is must for them. They need not be an expert in it but surely shouldn’t be absolutely ignorant about it. There is a need to fight unconscious bias in society with respect to a successful working woman. It is just the awareness that is the key in this regard.