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Women & work

Understanding the unorganised sector

By Kiran Moghe

Almost 400 million people - more than 85% of the working population in India - work in the unorganised sector. Of these, at least 120 million are women. The recent Arjun Sengupta Committee report is a stark reminder of the huge size and poor conditions in this sector. A subsequent draft Bill to provide security to workers, which bypasses regulatory measures and budgetary provisions, has generated intense debate

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Uncovering women's work

By Jayati Ghosh

A substantial amount of women's time is devoted to unpaid labour. Yet, much of women's work is invisible. The productive contribution of household maintenance, provisioning and reproduction is ignored. As a result, inadequate attention is paid to the conditions of women's work and its economic value

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A lawless sector

By Susan Abraham

With the growing fragmentation of the labour force in India, employment without security has become the norm. Even as organised sector workers struggle to use whatever is left of labour laws and social security schemes, workers in the unorganised sector have very little legal protection in terms of job security, wages, or working conditions. As more and more women are forced to take up work in this sector, the real challenge is to ensure that the laws and schemes that exist (on paper) for the diminishing numbers of workers in the organised sector are extended to the vast majority of workers in the unorganised sector

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It's been a hard day's night

By P Sainath

In a process of reverse migration, hundreds of women in Maharashtra's Gondia district travel from small towns to the villages, staying away from home for 20 hours a day, to earn a daily wage of around Rs 30. The beedi industry has closed down in their hometowns and there are no jobs

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'We pay for the work with our dignity'

By Aparna Pallavi

Women of the Kol community on the MP-UP border carry 30 kg of wood every day across several kilometres and return home with Rs 15. Others survive by working long crushing hours in stone quarries or on farms for meagre wages. The women are sexually exploited by landowners, upper caste groups, and government officials. "If we put up a resistance," one woman says, "we will starve to death"

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Carriers of the dregs of humanity

By Freny Manecksha

Scavenging, or lifting human excreta, is the only work available to many women of the Halalkhor and Dom communities of Mau in Uttar Pradesh. They occupy the lowest rung amongst people who must work at the very bottom of a caste-determined occupational order. They are exposed to health risks, education for their children is almost unheard of, the communities are socially isolated, and people have few chances of finding other work

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Disquiet in Gudalur valley

By Mari Marcel Thekaekara

Change is rushing into the adivasi communities of the Gudalur valley of Tamil Nadu's Nilgiris district. The imposition of land deeds, the arrest of adivasis if they collect forest produce, their dependence on work on tea and coffee plantations and 'ecotourism' are introducing a new gender divide and affecting women's work

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The domestic workers of silicon city

By Kathyayini Chamaraj

The struggle of domestic workers in Karnataka for decent wages and work conditions is two decades old. But even at the prescribed minimum wage, the average domestic worker's wages are insufficient even to cover the food needs of the average family, let alone other needs, forcing women and girls to work seven days a week in multiple homes

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On a slim scaffolding

By Rakesh Ganguli

Standards laid down for women labourers under the Factories Act, like handling limits of 20 kg, rarely apply to construction workers. All norms remain negotiable in the construction industry and labourers and their organisations must give in to the demands of contractors and builders. In such conditions, women workers are especially vulnerable

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Seeds of change

By Aparna Pallavi

Devastating changes in agriculture have sidelined the skills of many women farmers in Vidarbha. Commercial seeds in packets have made traditional sorting and storing practices obsolete, machines have taken the place of sowing work, and gas cylinders have replaced cowdung cakes. The women of a village of adivasis talk about how their work has 'disappeared'

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Displacing Godavari's women

By R Uma Maheshwari

The Polavaram dam will irrevocably alter the local adivasi economy of cultivation and collection of forest produce. It will also displace 85,000 agricultural workers in Andhra Pradesh, 62% of whom are women. The women recognise one basic principle that State policy ignores: the Godavari's flows are linked to their lives and livelihoods. But when it comes to compensation for this incalculable loss, women do not figure in the calculations

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Bitter harvest

By Chitrangada Choudhury

Every year, for decades, an army of half-a-million rural poor has been undertaking a desperate migration for work that ends in India's largest swathe of sugar country, feeding the high-profit sugar factories of Maharashtra. The abysmal living conditions of the workers are matched by the exploitative terms of work, and women and girls carry the burden of additional tasks

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On the 'Ladies Special'

By Lina Mathias

The women-only compartments on Mumbai's locals and 'Ladies Special' trains are unique spaces for the city's working women, who have converted the benefits of this reservation to even greater effect. For many, the compartment itself is transformed into a workplace to sell anything from shelled peas to lingerie

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In search of water

By Seema Kulkarni

The crisis of drinking water is a crisis in the lives of poor and marginalised women. The impact of drought and scarcity is felt most severely by women due to their gender-defined roles in collecting and utilising water for the survival of their households. Often, the other side of improved productivity due to irrigation also means increased labour for women

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No place for single women

By P Sainath

Once, Andhra Pradesh's top leaders queued up at Bandi Lachmamma's home with promises. The debate on farm suicides hit the headlines when her husband took his life. Years later, she works as a coolie in Anantapur earning much less than the minimum assured by the NREGS. The country's flagship development programme has helped hundreds of families in the state, but it turns away single women

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Micro gain, mega hype

By Laxmi Murthy

Micro-credit may offer some women the initial boost for sustainable self-employment, and in some instances enables them to question gender and caste subordination. But at a time when macro-policies are eroding smaller scale markets and promoting large-scale export-oriented production, which is out of reach of rural women, the power of micro-enterprises to lift women out of poverty becomes exaggerated

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'Flexi' firms, rigid realities

By Nandita Gandhi

With liberalisation, many industries relocated, subcontracted and downsized. Many women workers had to retire or were retrenched. In the plastic processing and diamond polishing units in Mumbai, employers have brought in young women as workers for lower-end jobs at lesser wages. When jobs are subcontracted, older women often do the same work in an informal setting on a piece rate system

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Sick and tired

By Padma Deosthali

Women from Mumbai's slum colonies are increasingly working in industrial and sub-contracting units that lack any safety mechanisms or even facilities like separate enclosed toilets. Workplace conditions, an overall deterioration in living conditions in the city, and the load of housework and home-based paid work that often entails handling hazardous material is affecting women's health

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The violence of stigmatisation

By Meena Saraswathi Seshu

The whore stigma pushes women in prostitution outside the rights framework. It is stigmatisation and discrimination that effectively de-limits their option of making money from sex, and discrimination cuts them off from the privileges and entitlements supposedly accorded to all citizens irrespective of what they do for a living

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Better ways of working

By Ela Bhatt and Renana Jhabvala

Puriben Ahir's whole life in the desert region of Banaskantha, Rajasthan, has been a search for ways to make enough to eat, drink, have a decent life. For her, work is life. But through SEWA's cooperative and decentralised methods of production and distribution she has found a better way of working. Her embroidery links her, her family and her village to people everywhere. Her thread brings investment and knowledge and skills into her village

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Weaving change

By Rupa Chinai

Natural resource management in Ngainga and other Naga habitations of Manipur is transforming the lives of women

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"This is our fate"

By Mari Marcel Thekaekara

The women who clean our filthy public toilets are called ‘safai karmacharis’. We would do well to call them ‘bhangis’ and remove the pretence of understatement, says this writer who has been studying the community for the last 10 years and finds the process of change excruciatingly slow

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Impact of globalisation on women

By Vibhuti Patel

Globalisation is riding on the back of millions of poor women and child workers in the margins of the economy. The structural adjustment programme has forced working women into the unorganised sector and deprived them of their rights

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