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Girls & Women

'Right to Sit' Law Grants Indian Women Greater Freedoms in Factory Jobs


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Women working in shops, hotels, and other retail in India have traditionally been denied basic labor rights, including access to lavatories and periodic breaks. Gender equality is one of the UN’s Global Goals, and protecting women from job discrimination is essential to the continued efforts to empower girls and women everywhere. You can join us by taking action for gender equality here.

New legislation is granting women workers more rights in India — specifically, the right to occasionally sit down.

The Kerala government announced it will amend its labor laws to include a clause mandating employers to allow women to rest periodically throughout the workday, reports the Guardian. Traditionally, owners of sari shops and retail outlets have forbidden women in the workforce to sit or even lean against a wall.

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“We can’t use the lifts either,” said one worker at a sari company, in an interview with the Guardian. “All customers pay on the ground floor for their purchases and we have to accompany them so we are up and down the stairs all day. A few times, when we did use the lift, customers complained about having to share it with us.”

Such harsh restrictions have resulted in various health issues for long-term workers, according to reports.

“The women are careful not to drink too much because they cannot go to the toilet when they want to,” said Viji Penkoot, the leader of a women’s collective, Penkootu, in an interview with the Guardian. “They get urinary infections, kidney problems. They have varicose veins and joint pain from standing. It took us a long time for the government to pay any attention to this problem.”

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But thanks to the efforts over the last eight years of a local women’s union, called Asanghadita Mekhala Tozhilali Union (AMTU), that will all soon be changing.

Following a series of protests and lobbying by the union as part of a movement called “irippu samaram,” which means “right to sit” in Malayalam, lawmakers have finally responded, according to Times of India.

The Kerala Shops and Commercial Establishments Act amendment prevents sexual exploitation of women on the job, but will now include a clause allowing females to sit throughout the day, according to She The People.

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“The notification might be out by the end of the week and hopefully by Onam [an annual Hindu festival starting Aug. 15 this year], people working in these areas will have better working conditions and pay,” said Shri. K Biju, state labor commissioner, who was involved in the negotiations with the state cabinet, in an interview with Times of India.

The new law stipulates a minimum monthly starting salary of 10,000 rupees, an eight-hour workday, a provided chair or stool for rest, an afternoon tea break, and a lunch break, noted the Guardian.