Damyanty, looking back at the long history of the women’s movement in India, where do we stand today?
On the occasion of National Women’s Parliament in Amravati (the new capital of the youngest Indian state of Andhra Pradesh) a Telugu Desam Party Minister of the Legislative Assembly, compared women to cars saying that eve teasing, harassment, kidnap and rape can be averted if women stay at home as housewives just like cars are safe when parked in the garage.
Women on an average earn just half as much income as men over their lifetimes. Yet in all regions women work more than men. They do almost two and a half times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men, and if paid and unpaid work are combined women in almost all countries work longer hours than men each day.
Source : The world’s women 2010 : Trends and Statistics . New York: United Nations.
“’Women … just like cars are safe when parked in the garage’ - That is exactly the narrative of protection that we need to get out of!”
Such misogynist statements by politicians are unfortunately not an exception. At the same time media attention, public outcry, and women’s groups outrage leads to quick retractions. Another statement by the IMF Chief Christine Lagarde may seem at odds where she says that India could increase its GDP growth by 27 percent if the gender gap in employment can be reduced.
What is the current situation of working women in India?
In India women contribute only 17% of India’s GDP and make up 24% of the workforce compared to 40% globally. The social attitude reflected in the politician’s statement and the IMF Chief’s economic hypothesis are facts. However, one needs to scratch the surface a bit to realise that both do not reflect the situation on the ground. In fact and most unfortunately, most women still work in insecure informal employment. Their unpaid care and domestic work is a constraint on the type of work they can undertake, reinforcing their socio- economic disadvantages. There is evidently a need to address social and economic issues in tandem as one is not exclusive of the other.
“We need to address both economic and social issues.”
How can we do that?
To jump to a seemingly unrelated issue, the mobilisation of youth post the 2012 Nirbhaya Delhi rape case and the subsequent policy changes in rape laws are testimony to two facts. Firstly, misogyny and patriarchal attitudes are being challenged day in and day out. If that were not so this kind of flash mobilisation was not possible. And secondly, a strong women’s movement has been instrumental in highlighting and bringing change in discriminatory laws and practices in the country.
“The history of the Indian women’s movements has shown over and over again that positive change is possible.”
A series of legal reforms with respect to workplace harassment, maternity benefits and gender budgeting have become the part of an official agenda due to feminist thoughts and movement.
What can organisations like FES do?
At FES India we do try to understand and address such concerns. We focus on social and economic dimensions of women’s work mainly in the informal economy, the participation and representation of women in politics and emphasising gender sensitisation amongst multiplicators and change makers. Changing mindsets in a patriarchal society is the biggest challenge and this holds for both men and women. We work closely with partner organisations to challenge gender norms in our focus areas.
Can you give an example?
For instance, in our work with street vendors, our partner organisations Nidan (a Hindi word for solution) and NASVI (National Association of Street Vendors of India) advocate forcefully for the rights of women street vendors. In fact, the starting point was organising women vendors.
“Organising is crucial for collective action.”
Gender equality laws and policies to address issues of violence or care work including elderly care or child care to name a few are possible with such investments in organising. The journey which began with organising women and men led to a law for the Protection of livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending in 2014. This law recognises the employment generation by street vendors and seeks to balance their right to work along with preventing overcrowding. The law mandates involvement of street vendors in local government planning processes through participation in Town Vending Committees which has one third members as women. Their participation and articulation is necessary to strengthen women’s agency.
“The participation of women in decision making bodies is essential for pushing the women’s agenda.“
For instance when recording basic infrastructure for vending it came to light that in New Delhi (2013) there were 3712 public toilets for men and only 269 for women.
What is the core message that you want to stress for the Women’s Day 2017?
Again, on a seemingly unrelated note - all men in India are not misogynists and the potential of women’ s contribution to the economy requires a feminist view of all policies so that economic and social policies are not formed and implemented in isolation.
Read more about India’s struggle with feminism and social justice in Political Feminism in India: An Analysis of Actors, Debates and Strategies.
For more information contact Patrick Ruether FES India Office.
Or see our comic Feminism: