When Treasa Josefine (25) came across a job notification for the permanent post of safety officer last year, it mentioned that it was only open to male candidates. “I felt it was totally unfair, I did fill all the criteria that they asked for,” the Kerala native says.
Josefine, an engineering graduate in Safety and Fire Engineering, who had been working at the public sector firm on a contract basis and is qualified for the position took cognizance of the discrimination. Initially, she spoke to her superiors but they could not offer much help as they said the decision was made by top management. With the support of her family and uncle advocate PR Milton who appeared for her in the case, she chose to file a case in the Kerala High Court challenging the male-only condition of the post. “I knew it was going to be a struggle, but I did believe in our legal system,” she remarks. The feeling that she could create real change kept her going.
In a historic judgement, the Kerala High Court has scrapped the job notification observing that a woman who is fully qualified cannot be denied the right to be considered for employment on grounds of her gender and requirement of the job to work night shifts.
The job notification had stated that only male candidates need to apply citing Section 66(1)(b) of Factories Act 1948. The provision states that no woman shall be required or allowed to work in any factory except between 6 am and 7 pm.
Citing several earlier judgments in similar cases, Justice Anu Sivaraman maintained that restricting a qualified woman from a job on the basis of gender amounted to a violation of Articles 14, 15, and 16 of the Constitution. “Protective provisions cannot stand in the way of a woman being considered for employment for which she is otherwise eligible,” she says.
It is the bounden duty of the respondents who are government and government functionaries to take all appropriate steps to see that a woman is able to carry out the duties assigned to her at all hours, safely and conveniently, the court observed.
A landmark verdict for women
This was not the first time Josefine has faced discrimination in the line of work due to her gender. In the largely male-dominated industry of safety engineering, Josefine says she was one among the few women in her undergraduate class to specialise in the subject. In 2019, when she had applied for the post of safety officer in ISRO, she was the only woman among 70 candidates who qualified for the exam. But, she was declared unfit at the time of medical check-up, simply for being a woman. “When the application was called, they did not mention any such [criteria],” she says. Facing similar discrimination for the second time is what triggered her into seeking action.
Josefine clarified that the arguments made by the firm during the case to refrain from hiring women for the position did not hold ground. “During an emergency, the safety officer is required to come to the scene and the company is liable to provide [the necessary] facilities during these situations,” she says. If they are to provide these by default, she questioned the need to cite extra safety and security for women as a means to keep them out of the post.
Setting a precedent for future cases, the judgement has provided some respite for women who have been denied jobs on grounds of their gender. Reflecting on the verdict, Josefine said that she was initially shocked at the unexpected turn of events but was very happy about the decision. “At least from now on, women applying for a job wouldn’t be denied on the basis of their gender. I hope this helps uplift women on similar grounds,” she says.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)