This draft working paper deals with the framework of issues faced by working women.
In the Present Context:
A. Judicial Decisions: The status of working women in India appears contradictory depending on the context. Over the last few years, the Supreme Court has delivered a number of judgements that have far reaching ramifications for Indian society and women in particular. These include equal pay for equal work, striking down condition of termination of service on first pregnancy, against sexual harassment in the workplace, autonomy of women over their sexuality, extending the scope of protection of women in live-in relationships, rights of Hindu women and unwed women relating to guardianship, maintenance of Muslim women and property rights of women.
B. Beijing Declaration & Women Reservation bill: The United Nations discussed an important issue related to equal decision making rights for men and women. More than two decades after the Beijing declaration was ratified by most Governments, including India, to ensure better participation of women in decision making bodies including elected posts, the most recently released global figures show that women’s representation in Parliament and local Government has increased, but only to around 18.4 per cent. 24 countries have representation of women over 30 per cent.
In India, patriarchy and short-sighted political leadership reigns supreme with just 8 per cent of women in Parliament which is not only 10 percentage points below the global average but is responsible for actually bringing the average down. India is ranked 98 on a gender development index for 140 countries. With the support of the Left Parties, the former UPA government had the historic opportunity to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill which was proposed to reserve 33% of all seats in the Lok Sabha and in all State Legislative Assemblies. This was never voted on in the Lok Sabha even though the Rajya Sabha passed the Bill on 9 March 2010. The Bill lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014. The present government, even though having a majority in the lower house of Parliament, has never even proposed the Women’s Reservation Bill.
C. Gender Perspectives on the financial crisis: Among the middle and upper economic classes of women in the work sphere we find women occupying key decision making positions in both the public and private sectors. If women’s emancipation is linked to women’s economic independence through productive work, then the current economic recession will badly impact the gains made, however slender in this direction. The 53rd Commission of the United Nations on the Status of Women discussed in a special session titled ‘Gender Perspectives on the financial crisis.’ Reports from almost all developing countries where in the last decade new employment avenues have been linked to export oriented industries show the disastrous impact of the crisis on women’s employment with lakhs of women in these industries laid off or retrenched. In India women constitute 40 per cent of the agricultural workforce and 75 per cent of all women workers are involved or linked to agriculture. Certainly the deep agricultural crisis and the consequent agrarian distress has hit these women workers badly. Both the UPA and NDA Government’s failure to factor in the deep rural indebtedness to private money lenders in its debt waiver schemes has particularly excluded these women.
According to National Sample Survey data among a total of 18 million urban women workers around 6 million women are involved in textile, garments and leather industries, precisely those that have been the worst hit and where women’s jobs are under threat. But this reality is invisible to policy makers. The fastest growing avenue for employment is domestic work with 3 million women estimated in this work which in any case is a gross underestimate. There are few protective legislations, no job security and sometimes inhuman conditions for domestic workers/maids.
III. Struggles of working women:
It was due to the sacrifices of thousands of women around the world that women today are enjoying the freedoms that they have now. It was not one particular event but many struggles in Europe and America in the 19th Century which were fought very bitterly by the working women. Among these, the long and terrible struggle by the tailor women of the garment factories of New York in 1857 for the demand for better wages and a 10 hour working day cannot be forgotten. Then again the working women’s involvement in the 1871 Paris Commune where they joyfully gave their lives on the barricades and execution grounds should be remembered with admiration and respect. Another big struggle by the working women of New York in 1908 on 8th March for franchise for women are few among the many struggles were spread across the world in Europe, America, West Germany and even Iran.
As these struggles were already fought and much achieved through them in Europe, America, Germany, etc.., the women in India straight away became entitled to the benefits of these struggles such as women’s franchise and equal rights which became international laws. But all through those times, here in India, many brave women were part of the long drawn struggle for freedom like Rani Laxmi Bai, Begum Hazrat Mahal and many others. Due to these struggles, the Constitutent Assembly endowed the Indian Constitution with a feminist perspective.
IV. The evolution of concept of Family
To understand the relevance of the various struggles for women’s emancipation it is important to understand the role of women in the evolving concept of family within the political-economy framework. The famed anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan in his seminal work showed that the concept of family has evolved over the millennia. In the first three forms of family ie., Consanguine, Punaluan and Syndyasmian, the woman was the head of the tribe and power was handed down from mother to daughter. The identity of the father of the children was never known and the power of the mother arose from her ability to bear child. However, as the concept of property arose, the land and cattle would be vested in the hands of the man and would never reach his offspring. Thus, in order to ensure the transfer of property from father to child, the Patriarchal system followed by the Monogamian system developed wherein the power which was once held by women was now transferred to men and the identity of the father of the child was established by controlling the woman’s sexuality through religious and cultural morality. It should be noted that over the last few decades, with women getting access to high quality education and employment opportunities, the idea of family has evolved with a new variation known as the live-in relationship. This concept has even been acknowledged by the Supreme Court of India. Thus, the inequalities between men and women may be understood through the social-political-economic struggle and only an equality based approach will ensure stability and healthy development of society.
V. A few points to ponder about:
1.Women and men together make our society and together make the world a better place. But we still find that unconsciously we allow a lot of inequalities to dominate.
2.While organisations are implementing committees against sexual harassment, the latest online campaigns categorised via the hashtag #MeToo shows that sexual harassment is still on the rise with no woman from the elite to the poor being exempted.
3.On the one hand women are kept on a pedestal for all religious purposes. On the other hand, in many spheres of daily life, women are discriminated, sometimes exploited and at the same time projected as objects for lust and unhealthy desire.
4.Irrespective of status, women are always the victims in any type of violence.
5.Even the government’s new economic policy have affected women more than ever. Lack of recruitment and employment opportunities in Govt establishments have reduced.
6.When we talk about female foeticide, is it possible to genuinely abolish female foeticide without taking up the basic issues of poverty, financial empowerment, etc… Also, is the women only responsible for it and is it not due to the pressures of the male members in the family and society that the women is forced to abide by the “rules”.
VI. Some problems faced by Working Women
1. Child Care Leave (CCL) – Government provided for CCL after our long drawn struggles. Yet many Departments refuse to grant CCL to eligible women citing heavy pending work load, etc
2. Women are burdened with very heavy workload due to non-recruitment of subordinate staff. This adversely affects their family responsibilities and mental and physical health.
3. Due to Govt policies many women are forced to be away from their dependents including their nursing babies and compelled to maintain separate establishment thus putting their dependents to cruel conditions. The Departmental Authorities turn a blind eye in order to fulfill Govt policy.
4. When women are pushed to these extreme conditions they are forced to resign or avail voluntary retirement.
5. Though women hold important positions many are not allowed to independently execute their decision making powers due to the patriarchal attitudes.
6. When women are posted to remote locations, facility for womens’ toilet is not provided. This is easily seen whenever an election is held and women polling officers have to go out to remote schools and the same dirty toilet is used by both men and women. Apart from privacy concerns this is also a serious health risk. You can test this by searching for women’s public toilets in your locality. See if they are clean, open 24/7 and have some security. Also talk to women police who are stand at congested traffic locations and ask them where so they go to rest.
VII. Conclusion :
It is thus important for women to organise themselves into Sub-committees in order to discuss such issues, strengthen themselves and coordinate with the main organisations to effectively take up and solve the problems faced by Women. Quoting Swami Vivekananda, ” A bird with only one wing cannot fly”. Our society is like a bird and unless women have equal rights, not just in the posh and urban areas but also in every nook and corner of India, our society will never develop. Hence this appeal to all Women to join in the main stream movements with the realisation that women have a special responsibility in ensuring that in whatever position they hold and whatever responsibilities are entrusted, it should execute them to the best of our abilities without fear or favour thus ensuring the upliftment of women around us by being a living link between our Departments and the Government.