March 08, 2011

Happy Women’s Day

Image: Portrait by Nathan Altman of Anna Akhmatova


AMID ALL THE  free drinks, ladies ‘nites’, jewelery discounts and super celebrations, there’s also this on International Women’s Day: the Karnataka government has decided that people in factories, 90% of whom are women, will be working longer hours (10 instead of 8). Ten hours of work is not just too much in the monday-blues kinda way; it’s inhuman. Add the commute. That’s 12-14 hours of the woman’s day gone. And these are women who most likely have to do all the housework and parenting when they get home. From the news report:

“Women employed in garment factories are already being pushed to work more than the prescribed hours to meet difficult daily targets. With this alteration, managements could be encouraged to inflate targets, without being obliged to enhance salaries…”

The government says that women themselves demanded the increase. If they did,  it’s a howl of desperation. When you earn next to nothing per hour, you need to stack up the hours.

It’s a little hard to pop the champagne while governments and companies try to overwork women until they pop it.

An earlier post by Anita Ratnam about the appalling conditions in garment factories here. Please read.

Also, we came in  98th in a survey on women’s political participation, 47 places behind Pakistan and 80 behind Nepal.

I’m not being cynical. That would be betraying all those women who stood and fought and won us our jobs, our votes, our ability to earn, our freedom to go out. Much, much congratulations to them and to us for making it this far. But also, I‘m going through a  small reality check moment because anniversaries of any kind make me want to take stock.  (If I wasn’t a poet, I’d probably be an accountant.)  Not spouting cliches about “the way ahead”, roads, paths, streets, gullies etc. But you know what I mean.

Happy Women’s Day.

2 comments to Happy Women’s Day

  • Sometimes events in India are so absurd. The whole world is moving towards less working hours (at least officially) and here we legislate for more. I’m a little confused though about why it’s a women’s issue and not a general labour one – do you feel that had most of the workers been men this wouldn’t have been pushed through?

  • @Bride: Of course it’s a general labour issue as well but it’s a women’s issue in terms of its effects–1) because 90% of them are women who already work in deplorable conditions 2) because women usually do more work in the house so longer working hours adds to the burden.

    I’m a little surprised at the 90% figure but here is the quote it comes from: “An estimated 3.5 crore people work in the unorganised sector. Over 90% of this work force is made up of women, says Varalakshmi S, state secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).”

    Even if one says a majority of the women, or many women, the problem is still serious. Do I feel that it would not have been pushed through if it were men–no, I don’t feel that. Or rather, I don’t know enough about what went on behind the scenes to feel that. However: the same law is going to affect women differently because of the dynamics in the rest of their life. What happens to childcare in these homes, for example? Like poverty is a general issue but women’s poverty needs to be talked about separately because poor women tend to have problems that are different from poor men–greater vulnerability to rape, lack of access to basic sanitation, maternal health issues. I’m sorry my post wasn’t clearer about this.

    Absurd is right. 🙁

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