In the bustling world of bartending, where creativity and hospitality intertwine, there exists a realm of untapped potential for women in Kerala, India. However, the path to women’s empowerment in this sector is marred by invisible barriers and overlooked opportunities. We must acknowledge and address these hindrances head-on, sparking a call for action to create a more inclusive and equitable bartending landscape in Kerala. Last year’s event in Kochi involving a bar charged with employing women to serve alcohol, drew attention to the discriminatory practices and biases encountered by women in bartending professions within the hospitality industry.  

The bar was charged under Kerala Foreign Liquor Rule 27A and Condition 9A, which restricts women from being employed in bartending, in roles involving serving alcoholic beverages on licensed premises. But in 2015, the Kerala High Court nullified these provisions in the case of Dhanymol and Others vs State of Kerala. The rationale was that the law violated the fundamental right of equality guaranteed irrespective of gender under Articles 14 and 15(1) of the Indian Constitution. At the heart of the problem is the question of whether it is acceptable to deny a woman employment based solely on her gender. 

Despite the legal ban being lifted through a High Court judgement, prohibiting women bartenders in Kerala’s hotels continues to persist informally. There are various reasons why the ban on women’s employment in bartending in Kerala must be lifted:

Occupational Segregation Based on Gender

The prohibition is discriminatory towards women and restricts their employment opportunities, thereby reinforcing the notion that certain jobs are only meant for men. This practice violates gender equality and women’s rights while marching towards SDG goals.

Economic Opportunities

The recent data released by the NSSO reveals a significant disparity in the labour force participation rate (LFPR) between men and women in the food and accommodation services sector in Kerala during the 2021-22 period. Specifically, the LFPR for women stands at 1.74%, while men’s participation rate reaches 2.65%. Removing the existing prohibition can unlock new economic prospects for women in Kerala.

Safety Concerns

The prohibition on women’s employment in bartending is often justified by concern for women’s safety. However, this protectionist argument has inadvertently restricted their economic freedom. A complete ban on women working as bartenders or waitresses in licensed establishments has adverse effects on their economic opportunities. As a result, some women may resort to working in the informal sector without adequate training and support, thereby compromising their safety. By allowing women to work as bartenders in the formal sector, they can receive the necessary training and support to ensure their well-being. Moreover, as part of gender mainstreaming efforts, associations within the sector can implement gender sensitization measures to foster a safer and more inclusive work environment. This approach strikes a balance between prioritising women’s safety and enabling their economic empowerment.

Challenging Cultural Norms

Permitting women to work as bartenders can help challenge societal bias and promote gender equality in Kerala. It sends out a message that women have the right to choose their career paths and that traditional gender roles and stereotypes should not limit their choices. By challenging societal biases, it can promote a more equal and inclusive society.

Additionally, in the Gita Hariharan case, the Supreme Court acknowledged that India is bound by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) of 1979 and the Beijing Declaration, which require state parties to prevent any form of discrimination against women. The ban on women’s employment in bartending not only violates these conventions but also contradicts the state’s efforts towards inclusive development.

The hospitality sector in Kerala is experiencing rapid growth and holds significant potential for expansion and job creation. Tourism has long been a key driver of Kerala’s economy, contributing a revenue of ₹12,285.91 crore to the sector in 2021. Allowing women to enter the hospitality sector, including bar hotels, can serve as a positive step towards reducing the disparity in labour force participation between men and women when newer opportunities are created in the sector.

Recognizing the importance of women’s employment in bar establishments in Kerala is imperative. The Kerala government must take appropriate steps to repeal the rule and ensure a fair and equal working environment for women in the hospitality industry.

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of the Centre for Public Policy Research.

Shilpi Sharma

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *