As one month passed since the young physiotherapist was brutally raped in Delhi while traveling in a private chartered bus, working women who are frequently at risk on Delhi’s roads as well as in their workplaces, have been consciously raising the issue of how much more needs to be done to ensure safe and conducive work atmosphere for women. Nurses from across big hospitals in Delhi such as AIIMS (Delhi) held a peaceful protest rally in order to keep alive the issue of safety for women.
Anxious about the daily risks they face while commuting to work as well as when at work in hospitals, women nurses strongly believe that existing laws regulating workplaces need to be re-assessed. Many of these nurses complain of harassment by patients’ visitors, as well as male hospital staffers. However, they felt that such sexual harassment was made worse by the fact that most of them were in highly exploitative work contracts. The simple fact that many private hospitals force their nursing staff to work extra shifts, do overtime, etc. and do not at the same time provide for something as basic as transportation to their women employees, is indicative of the conscious ways in which hospital managements’ are putting their women work force at continuous risk.
Many nurses employed across Delhi-NCR hospitals also complain that hospital bouncers are often used to physically and verbally intimidate nurses who speak out about unsafe and exploitative work conditions. In recent strikes in hospitals like Asian Institute of Medical Sciences (Faridabad) and Sharda Hospital (G. Noida), such private (male) security guards entered the nurses’ hostel attached to the hospital and physically threatened many nurses who were on strike. In such cases, the local administration and local police station have proved to be very lax in their response and are, more often than not, seen washing their hands off dangerous situations where the safety of working women is constantly at risk.
In this light, nurses and other working women are pressing the Government to properly regulate, or basically, to conduct a regular safety audit of workplaces across the city. Regulation of work hours/shifts given, creation of a safe atmosphere in and around the workplace, provision of written work contracts for all (even contractual and daily-wage) employees including women etc., are the need of the hour. It is through regular safety audits that the Government can assess whether such essential work conditions exist in workplaces or not. Moreover, in the light of how unregulated private transportation is in the Delhi-NCR region, working women across the city strongly feel that it should be made mandatory for all employers (private offices, hospitals, factories, etc.) and not just for owners of call centres to provide company transport. It is also necessary that better managed and more accountable public transport is brought in so as to replace various modes of private transport—a measure which will go a long way in ensuring safety of women commuters.
Lastly, the issue of regulating the functioning of police stations is also of major concern to women across the city. It is necessary that lodging of FIRs and placing of police stations under CCTV surveillance becomes a non-negotiable demand. It is extremely troubling that many women (including those who face sexual harassment at home and/or workplaces on a daily basis) are still afraid to file complaints with the Police, or have been turned away by police stations. Such negligence is a serious problem that has to be addressed immediately.
Maya John Ms. Tangama
Convenor, Centre for Struggling Women (CSW) Vice President, Nurses’ Welfare Association
Contact: 9540716048, 9350272637