THE decision to observe International Women’s Day focussing on the issues of women was taken by the second international conference of socialist women held in Copenhagen, in 1910. In 1911, millions of women marched on the streets on the occasion of International Women’s Day. Over the years March 8 has come to be accepted and observed all over the world as International Women’s Day.
The origin of International Women’s Day lies in the struggles of women workers against their exploitative working conditions and to assert their rights and this struggle continues to this day. International Women’s Day this year has the added significance that March 5 this year is the 150th birth anniversary of Rosa Luxemburg, a great woman Marxist theoretician who fought for emancipation of society and women from exploitation.
Through their struggles, women have indeed won some rights and no doubt achieved some improvement in their working conditions. But patriarchal attitudes, undervaluing women’s work, inequality in wages and opportunities and other types of discrimination continue to dominate across the globe even today. Women today bear the brunt of neoliberal attacks on the conditions of workers and all other sections of toiling people.
Women’s conditions in India are further on the downslide after the BJP government came to power at the centre. Retrograde and patriarchal views confining women’s role to taking care of the family and children are being promoted under the BJP regime. Women’s rights to befriend people of their choice, choose and marry as per their choice, their right to dress and to lead their lives as per their choice – are all under attack by the right wing forces. Incidences of violence against women have increased.
India’s position in the Global Gender Gap Index in 2019-20 came down by four notches from that in 2018 – to 112 out of 153 countries. Within a span of 14 years, India has fallen 39 places on the World Economic Forum’s economic gender gap, from the 110th position in 2006 to 149 in 2020. Economic opportunities for women in India today are among the lowest in the world. According to the data released by the World Bank in June 2020, India's female labour force participation (FLFP) is the lowest in South Asia. From 30.3 per cent in 1990, it has dropped to 20.3 percent in 2020, falling behind Pakistan (22.2 per cent) and Afghanistan (21.8 per cent).
This does not mean that women in India are not working; this is mostly because most of women’s work is undervalued and unpaid. According to eminent economist Jayati Ghosh, ‘the decline in women’s employment really reflects a shift from paid to unpaid work’. Domestic work is not counted as ‘work’; collection of food, fuel, cattle feed, water and sewing, tailoring, weaving etc for household use are also not counted as ‘work’. According to an OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) report, women in India spend nearly six hours a day on unpaid work, while men spend only 52 minutes a day. Researchers have found that if women’s domestic work and other forms of unrecognised and undervalued work are counted, female work participation in the country would be 86.2 per cent compared to 79.8 per cent for men.
It is important to note that this lack of recognition of work done mainly by women is not something that impacts women alone. By devaluing the work performed by women within the household, the work itself is undervalued, even when it is performed outside the household, for the society. The wages paid for these jobs, performed by women outside their households are very low. Despite all the talk of ‘women’s empowerment’ by the government, the reality is that the government itself undervalues women’s work in our country. The lakhs of women employed by the government of India in its various schemes, like the anganwadi workers and helpers of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme, the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) and the Urban Social Health Activists (USHAs) of the National Health Mission (NHM) or the midday meal workers – all of whom cook and feed women and children, take care of their health etc – are not even recognised as workers and are paid a measly amount as ‘honorarium’ or ‘incentive’. It is seen as an extension of their domestic responsibilities to the society, and called ‘social work’.
In addition, India is one of the countries where the wage gap between men and women performing the same jobs, is very high. On an average, women are paid only two thirds of the wages paid to men.
The same attitude is displayed towards women in agriculture. Women form the backbone of our agriculture. They perform many of the tasks in cultivation, in management of livestock, poultry, collection of forest produce etc. Around 73 per cent of women workers in rural areas of the country depend on work in agriculture. But their contribution to agriculture is not recognised. They are not recognised as farmers. This patriarchal attitude is also reflected in the recent comments of the chief justice of India asking why women and the elderly were being ‘kept’ at the protest sites.
Unpaid work by women is not specific to India alone. The time spent by women in unpaid work across the world is several times that by men. Even in Norway, considered to be one of the most gender equal countries in the world, second in rank in the Global Gender Gap Index 2020, women spend almost double the time spent by men on unpaid domestic work. In Japan, it is more than four times. Undervaluing women’s work is rooted in the historical division of labour between men and women and the evolution of patriarchy with the development of private property and its inheritance.
Today, women continue to fight for recognition of their work as work, against undervaluation of their work, for equal opportunities, equal wages and equal rights as citizens.
Women workers, particularly the scheme workers, are fighting to be recognised as ‘workers’, for ‘wages’ for their work, not honorarium; women workers are fighting for equal wages, for maternity benefits, crèches and safe, sexual-harassment free workplaces and dignity at workplaces as well as in the society. They are also joining the struggle against the attacks of the ruling classes on the working class in the form of labour codes, on the workers’ hard won rights including the right to organise and collective bargaining. Hundreds of thousands of women workers and employees in different sectors have been participating in the strikes and demonstrations called by the trade union movement.
Women farmers are fighting to be recognised as ‘farmers’, for registration of land in their names, for credit and other benefits on par with male farmers. They are also joining the farmers’ protests against the three farm laws that threaten the very survival of the farmers, handing over our agriculture to big corporates.
Women have been playing a significant and visible role in the ongoing historic farmers’ struggle against the three farm laws that are meant for corporate encroachment of our agriculture and leave our farmers at the mercy of the big corporates, destroying their livelihoods. Women in Punjab have been in the forefront in campaigning for the mobilisation at Delhi, in collecting food and other necessities to sustain the protests. Thousands of women have been participating in the protests at the borders of the national capital since November 26. They continue to do so affirming their right to participate in the protests, as peasants and as women, despite the remarks by the chief justice of India, who asked why they were ‘kept’ there. The remarks clearly reflect the patriarchal mindset. Women from Punjab and even Haryana, considered socially backward, have been addressing huge gatherings comprising men and women at the toll plazas and other places.
Women activists, particularly anganwadi employees, ASHAs, MGNREGA workers and others have been active in the solidarity actions to the farmers’ struggle. Hundreds of them not only participated in the protests at the Delhi border but also have been mobilising other sections of workers for solidarity actions. Active participation in the farmers’ protests in addition to that in trade union struggles has raised their consciousness to a higher level. Anganwadi employees from Punjab symbolically carried water from Ravi and Beas rivers and also soil from Jallianwala Bagh to express their solidarity to the farmers when the BJP government cut off water at the protest sites after the January 26 incidents.
While raising the immediate demands, these struggles also are against the neoliberal policies being pursued by the BJP government led by Modi, which are meant to protect corporate profits and for the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. By participating in these struggles in large numbers, women are not only fighting for their class interests but are also challenging the patriarchal values promoted by the present system.
Such struggles against the policies have to be intensified further by involving the mass of toiling people, men and women. Defeat of the neoliberal policies and changing the system that nurtures patriarchy alone will facilitate women’s march towards emancipation, for attaining their rightful place in society.
On this International Women’s Day, let us pledge ourselves for carrying forward such struggles.
AICCWW to Hold Demonstrations
Demanding Recognition of Women’s Work
A R Sindhu
IN the background of the ongoing struggles of the working class and peasantry against the policies of the Modi government, the All India Coordination Committee of Working Women (CITU) has decided to observe the International Women’s Day, March 8, 2021 highlighting the issue of recognition of women’s work as workers and peasants. The AICCWW meeting held online on February 1, 2021 had given a call to organise demonstrations across the country to highlight the issue during the International Women’s Day campaign which would conclude on March 8, a day of asserting women’s rights.
The committee said that the activity is in continuation of the consistent campaign during the previous years and the women’s ‘jail bharo’ on International Women’s Day 2020 which has seen one of the biggest mobilisations of women throughout the country.
“The entire gamut of the scheme workers working in various government schemes delivering crucial services including health, nutrition, education in schemes like ICDS, NHM, Mid-day Meal Programme, SSA, NCLP, NRLM etc are still waiting for their right as workers. These women workers subsidise the basic services of our population through their unpaid and underpaid labour. This gender segregation of work for further exploitation is in addition to the existing unequal wages and working conditions for women in many sectors,” AICCWW noted.
The AICCWW drew attention to the pivotal role played by women as frontline workers in effectively arresting the greatest pandemic that hit the country in this generation. It said that the ASHA workers, anganwadi workers and helpers, the mid day meal workers etc who played the key role in detecting and containing the Covid-19 at the grass-roots level were deprived of even the status of a worker or employee. The committee called it shameful that the government treats these workers as volunteers and are paid a pittance, far below the minimum wages.
The AICCWW also highlighted that the frontline workers were forced to work without any safety measures costing many their lives. Despite the dire conditions, many states have not paid these workers, even the paltry remuneration, in most of the states for months together, it said.
During the lockdown thousands of women, especially the migrant workers and domestic workers lost their jobs and are still awaiting income support by the government. Now, the country has an alarmingly low women’s work participation rate with 80 per cent of the women of the working age out of work. “But we all know that this cannot be true and the fact of the matter is that the majority of the women’s work is either non-recognised and unpaid or highly underpaid. The majority of agricultural workers are women and the major chunk of the agricultural operations and animal rearing work in the small land holdings are done by women from the family who are never treated as farmers or own any land,” it said.
The committee noted that with skyrocketing price rise, women are forced to undertake precarious jobs for the survival of their families. With the passing of the four labour codes and three farm acts, and the large-scale privatisation, the situation will become worse, it said.
The committee also highlighted the increase in violence against women and children during the pandemic time. Moreover, many activists including women are being framed in false cases in an effort to stop voices of dissent, it said.
Apart from recognition of women’s work as workers and peasants, the campaign would highlight the need for regularisation, minimum wages and pension for scheme workers. They resolved to include issues related to unpaid and unequal wages and about contracting women’s work participation in addition to rising problems of job losses and unemployment.
The AICCWW said that they would raise awareness on burning issues like the unprecedented rise in prices of cooking gas and petroleum products and essential commodities, increasing violence against women and children during the campaign this year.
Long-pending issues like removal of all protective legislations and entitlements for women and the representation of women in elected bodies including 33 per cent reservation in parliament and assemblies would also be raised in the campaign, the committee said.
Working women have taken up a massive campaign exposing the policies of the government to reach the unreached. Efforts are being made for joint activities with fraternal mass organisations and the women’s subcommittees of fraternal trade union organisations in the planning and observance of the International Women’s Day, it said.
They demanded immediate time-bound action on 12 demands including recognition of women’s work as workers and farmers; inclusion of women’s unpaid and underpaid work in the GDP and taking specific measures to reduce women’s unpaid work such as provisions for adequate water to each household, subsidised cooking gas, arrangement for childcare (crèches) and elderly care etc. They demanded regularisation of scheme workers as workers/employees with minimum wages and social security as per the recommendations of 45th ILC. Equal wages for equal work for women in all sectors, strict implementation of POSH Act in all workplaces, effective measures to prevent violence against women and implementation of Justice Verma Committee recommendations are among the listed demands.
The AICCWW demanded the government to take up legal measures to promulgate amendments in all laws for joint pattas including under Forest Rights Act to ensure women’s land rights. Special priority to be given to single women headed households including widows, abandoned and deserted women. Women farmers must be included in all government schemes for farmers. They also demanded an Act to provide 33 per cent reservation for women in all legislative bodies at the earliest.
They also demanded withdrawal of labour codes, farm acts and Electricity Amendment Bill. They demanded the government to stop privatisation of PSEs and services, and ensure public health services to all.
Arresting price rise, withdrawal of increase in the prices of cooking gas and other petroleum products, free ration including all essential items to all and income support of Rs 7,500 per month to all non-tax paying families are among the major demands put out by the committee.
The AICCWW also demanded the government to create more job opportunities for women, special schemes for income support to all those who lost jobs and to ensure 200 days work in MNREGA at Rs 600 per day and to extend the scheme to urban areas as well.