Women Workers Resolve to Gain Equality in Life and Work

AITUC Women’s Wing organize event to commemorate International Women’s Day  March 17th, Chennai

Com. Waheeda addressing women workers

Com. Waheeda addressing women workers

The Working Women’s wing of All India Trade Union Congress, the oldest central trade union in India, organized a hall meeting on March 17th, to commemorate the International Working Women’s Day. The central theme of the meeting was the demand to gain equality for women both at the household level as well as at the work space. In a meeting, attended by over 250 women workers from a spectrum of social and economic backgrounds, leaders from various affiliated unions and political parties spoke about various forms of injustice on women and the tasks ahead for women’s organizations in taking forward the struggle for parity with men in all dimensions.

Com. Waheeda Nizam, who presided over the event, said that while women carry forward the burden of everyday household work, it is never counted as productive or as ‘work’ yet if we were to monetize this work it will be a significant contribution to every household. Stressing the disparity and discrimination meted out to women at home and in work, she said that women suffer most from work related disorders and diseases, yet there is little recognition of this. Highlight some of the long pending demands for equality at work, like equal pay for equal work, improved working conditions and equal opportunity at work, she said that the fight to protect and promote women’s rights will continue with vigour.

Skit at AITUC event

Skit at AITUC event

This was followed by a short play by members of construction workers union affiliated to AITUC, in which they portrayed various forms of harassment and discrimination that women face in all forms of employment from domestic work to construction to IT employment.  Leaders spoke of specific instances of discrimination and struggle, motivating the workers to remain steadfast to the path of struggle and unionization. Ms Susheela, State President of National Federation of Indian Women, proposed resolutions for women workers that demanded the national minimum wage be raised to Rs 18000, implementing maternity benefit that included 6 months of leave and Rs 60000/- as wage compensation (for women in the unorganized sector) through the welfare board. She also resolved to oppose the anti labour, anti women policies of the central government and to organize women against these issues. The resolutions were adopted unanimously by clap of hands.

Kushboo Sundar, leader of congress party in Tamilnadu and an actress, was the main speaker for the evening. In her address she referred to the struggles she faced as a woman in a state she had just migrated to (Tamil nadu) with little knowledge of Tamil. She said though she was not well educated, she was confident and that allowed her to raise through the hurdles and become successful. Invoking vedic examples, she referred women as embodiments of energy and said that women shall succeed across all dimensions. Yet she also mentioned how men and women are not entirely equals and that a certain balance need to be maintained in domestic and work life. Again she emphasized the need to live of oneself rather than compromising with everyone in the household and feeling remorseful for not having lived to the fullest. Overall, it was a contradictory address, that touched upon various dimensions of woman’s life without being clear as to the way forward. It was well received by the audience and the mainstream media that rushed to capture every moment of her address on paper and camera.

Com. Deepa addressing workers

Com. Deepa addressing workers

The final speaker for the day was Com.Deepa, state treasurer of Democratic Youth Federation of India and a scholar on women’s work. Giving a very interactive and incisive lecture, she addressed various issues that women face in overcoming patriarchal social norms. In a very relevant intervention, she said that the struggle for women is not merely external with the society at large, but also critically inwards in overcoming the norms that have been indoctrinated into us as to the notions of ‘feminity’. Describing the various forms thorough which an ‘ideal woman’ is constructed by society, she said that reality is seldom a caricature of this ‘ideal woman’ and we should learn to question such gender imposition. “we often say Man and Woman are equal, but do we ever engage with what it means; do we ever in our everyday life treat a Husband and Wife as equal, a Father and Mother, a Brother and Sister, are all discriminated on the line of gender” she said eliciting approval from the audience. She also highlighted how, all woman are not equal, even in the suffering as they remain differentiated by Caste and Class. Here she referred to the recent murder of a dalit youth and brutal attack on a girl for  marrying outside the caste. In conclusion she maintained that the struggle for women’s rights will have to march on and across multiple dimensions.

The meeting closed with a vote of Thanks from Com. Shanti, secretary of domestic workers union.

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