International Working Women’s Day 2018
Across the world, working women marked the International Working Women’s Day with strikes and protests against unequal wages and sexual harassment.
On March 5, Penn Thozhilalar Sangam organised a demonstration in Tiruvallur near Chennai. While recognising the value of women’s labour, the participants also highlighted the apathy of the central and state governments towards workers in general and women’s occupation in particular. The NREGA workers complained about the shrinking number of work days and the delay in distribution of wages. Garment workers highlighted rampant sexual harassment as well as victimisation by companies for forming unions. A 10-point charter of demands was presented that included revamping labour welfare boards.
Several organisations and came together in New Delhi for a protest rally demanding action on issues affecting women, from the right to work to the right to love, from the continuing threats to the security of women to the threats from the conservative forces. The march also reiterated the demand for 33% reservation for women in the parliament.
All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) took to the streets of Thiruvananthapuram demanding that the government enforce the Maternity Benefit Act, as amended a few years back. They claimed that while the government had amended the paid leave to 26 weeks, private companies were still only offering 12 weeks of paid leave. This is in violation of the law. They also released a charter of demands for women workers.
A major strike by women workers brought all of Spain to a standstill on International Women’s Day. Over 5.3 million workers participated in the strike across all industries, with even women TV anchors going ‘off air’. Coordinated by an umbrella group, the 8 March Commission, and armed with slogans such as ‘If we stop, the world stops’, ‘No woman gets an orgasm polishing kitchen floors’, and ‘They took away so much from us that they ended up taking away our fears’, the striking workers called for an end to Spain’s enduring machista culture. It was organised as a two-hour 'walk out’ with women leaving their work and joining their comrades on the streets and city squares. The strike drew huge crowds on to streets and squares across the country to call for change and equality.
Hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets in Argentina demanding action against sexual harassment at workplaces, equal wage and the right to abortion. The protestors took to the streets banging pots and utensils to draw attention. Organised as part of the International Women’s Strike, the major protests were concentrated in Buenos Aires. Argentina prohibits abortions except in cases of rape or critical health risk to the woman. This is being challenged by the women who demand their right to choose.
In Turkey, a small group of 200 women took out a protest march demanding their rightful place in the economic domain which has been denied to them over generations due to the traditional cultural norms of the Turkish society. Turkey now ranks 130 of 144 in the gender gap index of the World Economic Forum, based on access to health services, educational attainment, economic participation and political empowerment. The ascendance of Erdogan and his right-wing party has only made matters worse. The BBC covered this protest and details the context in which it took place.
In a conspicuous contradiction, corporations were creating ‘all women’ workspaces as a way to commemorate working women’s day, while women workers across the world were on protest demanding the governments and the corporate world to revisit their employment, wage and labour practices to improve gender parity and sensitivity,
Many Indian air-carriers like Air India, Vistara and Spice Jet announced special flights with all women crew as an example of the growing equality of sexes at work. Even the Indian Railways got into this promotion by announcing an all-women operated ‘Deccan Queen’ - a special tourist train.
Critiquing this gesture by Air India, Dhriti Mehta writes in The Ladies Finger that behind the facade of such symbolic promotions lies an unpleasant reality of discrimination and harassment. Taking the example of Air India, she highlights the need to move beyond such gestures and to not let Women’s Day becoming a time to promote brands.
While the protests and the paternalistic promotions by brands could present optimism, the reality of women workers remains dismal. India continues to slip down the ranks in gender parity. An article in The Economic Times by Vaishali Sinha highlights that even as the country’s economy went through a boom in the past decade, the condition of women in employment has only worsened as evidenced by India’s rank in the Gender Parity Index (WEF) falling from 87 to 108. She argues for companies to become ‘equal opportunity’ organisations. She quotes economic reports to state that measures to draw more women into work and provide equal pay will give a huge boost to the national and global economy.
Unfortunately, the pay scale agreements between cricket players and BCCI, released a day before women’s day has become illustrative of the huge bridge that needs to be crossed in terms of equal pay. While BCCI has raised retainer fee by over 200% across the board, the national level female players get a mere 10% of the fees of the male national players. The huge difference has come under criticism from many quarters.
It’s ironical that the government is celebrating women’s day while forcing women to work in dismal conditions with poor wages that don’t get credited on time. Down to Earth has highlighted the plight of nearly a million ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) workers who have not received their payments for months on end. Barring a few states, the ASHA workers get incentives instead of a fixed salary. And it ranges from Rs 15 (for preparing a malaria slide) to Rs 1,000 (for being DOTs provider if there is a TB patient in their area). There are 43 activities they are supposed to engage in depending upon the need of the concerned area. They are supposed to get a combined sum of these incentives at the end of every month. Even this has now been delayed for several months. An article in The Wire about a nurse’s strike in Alappuzha, Kerala that has been raging for over 200 days describes the poor wages and long working hours suffered by the highly trained nurses. The hospital that had failed to even provide minimum wage and statutory benefits has dismissed 112 nurses for taking part in the strike and has remained intransigent about conciliation.
Chemical factory explosion leaves three workers dead, several injured
The explosion was followed by a fire which killed three people and injured 13 others, reported the New Indian Express. It took place on March 8 at Ramdeo Chemicals in the Boisar-Tarapur industrial estate in Maharashtra's Palghar district. The impact of the blast was apparently felt up to 8 kilometres away.
A sea of red marches to Mumbai as 25,000 farmers demand that the state keep its promises
More than 25,000 farmers began a ‘Long March’ from Nasik to Mumbai under the aegis of the All India Kisan Sabha. The farmers are marching about 180 kilometres in total to remind the Maharashtra state government about its promises regarding loan waiver and reforms in the agriculture sector. The BJP government had given assurances to the farmers last year after an 11-day agitation but have subsequently reneged on their promises. Watch Newsclick’s video report on it here. NDTV also reports that the farmers (many of whom are women and Adivasis) are also fighting for the protection of tribal villages that are under the danger of flooding due to river linking projects. The march is not a sedate gathering, with each day full of walking, dancing and music. At night, the exhausted thousands sleep under the open sky. A reporter for PARI asked 60-year old Rukmabai Bendkule, a farm labourer from Dondegaon village if the government will give in to their demands: “Do they have an option?” she smiles.
‘Gawking Wages’: Kerala CM censures trade unions
In Kerala, the practice of nokkukooli or ‘gawking wages’ has come under criticism from the Kerala CM Pinari Vijayan. As The News Minute writes, “Nookukooli is a practice supported by trade unions in Kerala, where head load workers demand payment for merely watching the goods get loaded or unloaded, while industrialists or merchants or common householders use their own labour for the work. If the head load workers step in to unload/load the goods, the investors will have to pay through their nose for the service.” It’s a practice that has been going on for years and groups have been complaining about it for as long.
Reinstate suspended workers: TNSTC workers protest
The major strike by the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation in January is having an effect even today. In Madurai, eleven workers were suspended and still have not been reinstated. According to the unions, these workers have been suspended for longer than allowed according to the rules without any explanation or information being provided by the corporation.
Funds crunch leaves sex workers without healthcare
Due to reduced grants from the National AIDS Control Organisation, Karnataka State AIDS Prevention Society is undergoing a massive funding crunch. Nisha Gulur, Karnataka Sex Workers Union treasurer, told New Indian Express, “Outreach workers have not received salaries for 10 months. Distribution of condoms has stopped and they are no longer taking workers to integrated counselling and testing centres once every six months. Two years ago, in one targeted intervention (TI), there would be four outreach workers and 16 peer educators. Now, there are two workers and four peer educators. One educator has to reach out to 100 clients.” Pushpalatha R, project director, Swathi Mahila Sangha, Malleswaram, said, “Payment of Rs 52 lakh is pending from KSAPS since 2012. Previously, a doctor was given Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000. Now, it has reduced to Rs 15,000. Which doctor will render his services for that sum? Previously, workers were taken for sexually transmitted infections treatment once in three months, now it is six.”
In Canada, doctors demand lower salaries to help nurses
A group named Médecins Québécois Pour le Régime Public (MQRP) has been circulating a petition which has got more than 700 signatures by doctors who are protesting their pay raises when other medical staff - nurses and clerks - are being overworked and underpaid. Simultaneously, patients are not receiving the care they need because of budget cuts. “The only thing that seems to be immune to the [health-care system] cuts are our salaries,” the petition by MQRP, the doctors' group, stated. “Contrary to the Prime Minister’s statements, we believe that there is a way to redistribute the resources of the Quebec health system to promote the health of the population and meet the needs of patients without pushing workers to the end.”
PARI series on Women and Labour: Out of all the media outlets to mark International Women’s Day, the People’s Archive of Rural India has, by far, the greatest collection. From the Bhadels of Goa (a community of women porters in Margao) to the Kondhs of Rayagada in Orissa who are trying to build a gender-equal society, from rural entrepreneurs in Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand to carrom champions from Maharashtra, their collection is a delight. Please do go and read them.
History of IWWD
- Don’t forget what International Women’s Day is really about – striking: The Independent has a history of the day here. The article has an arresting photo of Jayaben Desai, a British-Asian woman on strike at the Grunwick factory in 1977, holding a sign on the picket line.
- From last year’s edition of Life of Labour on International Working Women’s Day: A brief overview of the origin of IWWD and excerpts from Jacobin and Thozhilalar Koodam on the challenges faced in organising women workers today.