The #MeToo movement in India burst out on social media on October 4, with women posting accounts of sexual harassment and assault. Once these accounts had caused enough public shock, previously unresponsive institutions were forced to take action. A handful of dismissals followed of men accused on social media of harassment, most notably that of Union minister MJ Akbar. On Thursday, even the Madras Music Academy took action, dropping seven musicians against whom allegations of sexual harassment have been made from the list of performers for the December cultural season. Considering that the world of classical music and dance in South India is generally considered to be insular, this shows the impact the #MeToo movement has had.

While this is a great beginning, however, there is still a long distance to go to make Indian workplaces safe for women.

India’s laws on workplace sexual harassment were developed after a landmark verdict in the case of Vishakha versus State of Rajasthan in 1997. In 2013, the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act was passed by the Union parliament mandating that any organisation with more than 10 employees must have an Internal Complaints Committee to act on sexual harassment complaints. Moreover, every district in India must have a Local Complaints Committee in case a woman does not have access to an Internal Complaints Committee.

While, on paper, the law is sound, matters fall short when it comes to implementation. One survey conducted in Mumbai in 2016 showed that very few companies took the law seriously or had constituted the mandatory internal complaints committees. Moreover, even when an internal complaints committee did exist, conditions to actually report sexual harassment were often hostile to victims. One survey in 2017 found that 75% of garment workers said that the internal complaints committee in their workplace was not useful to them.

Matters are even worse for women working in the informal sector who must depend on Local Complaint Committees in every district. However, only 29% of districts in India have them. With 94% of Indian women working in the informal sector, this is an unconscionable gap.

This hostile work environment for women is at least one reason why India’s female labour force participation rate is not only one of the lowest in the world but is actually falling. It decreased from 34% in 1999-2000 to 27% in 2011-’12.

While the #MeToo movement is an important step ahead, this is not enough. For the vast majority of women, institutional mechanisms are needed in order to ensure a safe workplace. The momentum of #MeToo thus needs to be channeled in order to ensure that working women have access to permanent mechanisms where they can report harassers and see them prosecuted.