Why is care work or domestic work of women not recognised as work? Is housework only the woman's job? Is it time the country factors in domestic work of housewives into the GDP? These are some of the many questions raised by women, during a convention on “Women and Labour―Unseen Work, Unheard Stories”, held in Bengaluru on Saturday.
The convention organised by Gram Seva Sangh and CBPS (Centre for Budget and Policy Studies) focused on Women Movements and Collectives that are shaping the future of women.
Moderating a panel on Women's Work, founder of NGO Hasirudala Nalini Shekhar, spoke about how women's work is not often considered as work based on her work with waste-pickers in Bengaluru where waste-pickers themselves devalued their work.
“We have failed to quantify the amount of work women do. Most work the women do is perceived as low-skill job and paid lower wages. Lack of unionisation is responsible for this poor state. At a time when questions are being raised about equal citizenship, women's work and just pay should become a political issue too,” feels Shobha Raghuraman.
Dr Anupama Kavalakki, who tries to decipher the factors that deprive women from taking charge of their lives.
“Dudime (paid work) and kayaka (service) are different. Tireless, thankless and unpaid work is also a form of atrocity. The Indian husband is a rare species in the world as we have created a parasite. Is the women's work at home her choice? We must take pride in being a housewife as all women are housewives whether they are employed or not. It is not inferior to any work. We fall for false identities and titles like “annapurna”, “Grihalakshmi” and “loving mother” which are like the crowns made of thorns. The day we learn to call out the hurt these titles are causing, we will find answers to many questions.”
“Imposing multitasking on ourselves is bad. Like they say, too long a sacrifice will stone a heart. Learn to say no rather than buckle under the pressure. Women should be treated as independent entities and not as 'care of' the father or husband,” asserts Anupama.
S. Varalaxmi, member of CITU said the new labour code had negated the trade union's hard work of 100 years. “The 44 labour laws have been made into four labour codes, which has legalised exploitation. The women work is treated as part-time and are paid low wages. There are efforts to deny us work. Privatisation of mid-day meal is an example. The laws are employer-centric,” says Varalakshmi.
Shekhar reminded that the monster economy should be demolished. “A structural transformation of the economy and devolution of power, where extractive labour that overlooks the welfare of the commons should be rejected,” she said.
Lakshmi, a union leader spoke about how domestic workers work got recognition and respect only after the formation of their union.
Nagalakshmi, member ASHA Workers' Union stated that like Netaji once said, no struggle where women and men walk shoulder to shoulder will not succeed. Women’s struggle is multifaceted as they have to struggle both within their homes as well as with the power structures in the external world.
Kalyani Menon Sen, an independent researcher spoke about how the recent protests by women in India are a key moment in feminist politics as women from low income minority population are asserting their rights of citizenship.
An independent researcher Gita Menon stressed that caste or class afflictions often present formidable challenges in the formation of the collectives, during a panel discussion on women’s collectives and the challenges faced while forming these collectives.
Prathibha says collectives lend great moral strength to garment workers, who still struggle with issues like low wages (Rs 9,500 per month), sexual harassment at workplace. She demanded adoption of non-discriminatory practices at the workplace and provision of living wages to ensure a life of dignity to women workers.
Mokshamma, who had led 4,000 women in the padayatra from Chitradurga to Bengaluru to demand prohibition laments the government which did not heed Gandhi looked the other way when we appealed for alcohol ban as it is leading to crimes against women in rural areas.
Recalling the initial years of collectivising, Mokshamma, an activist from Raichur, says, “In 2000, a woman daily wager earned only Rs 60 a week. So, women had no hope and shooed us away. Slowly, we won their confidence. Our children need education and we need work, they told us. We fought for it and managed to get 3,000 houses sanctioned from the government and admitted their children to free hostels and saved the children from entering sex slavery. We encouraged them to take up sheep rearing. We struggled for pension for 5,000 Devadasi women.”
Mokshamma urged the government to have female employees at the counseling centres so that women can approach these centres with confidence and dignity.
Reimagining the future of women, writer-activist Sharada Gopal said that rural women often suffer from identity crisis. “Women need an identity first. She marries and goes to another house as a domestic slave. They are not recognized as farmers and often are treated only as labourers.”
V. Gayatri, who is working with a farmers' collectives says, the current agricultural system is anti-women. The nutritional base is being destroyed by weedicides and preference for commercial crops like sugarcane is pushing rural women to look for MNREGA work.
Earlier in the day, economist Jaya Mehta calked upon women farmers to tackle agrarian distress through cooperative farming and collectivisation of labour.
“Women are de facto controlling their farm land as the men folk have migrated to cities in search of employment. There is also high rate of farmer suicides that is pushing the women to fend for themselves,” she added.