Shramshakti (1988): Report of the National Commission on self employed women and women in the informal sector||
Although this Commission was appointed as the National Commission on Self Employed Women, it decided to cover all poor women because it was felt that there are some very important characteristics shared by all of them. These characteristics can be roughly summed up as: fewer and poorer opportunities to work, greater impact of unemployment, underemployment and casual nature of work, greater vulnerability because of lack of skills and education; lesser mobility, heavy responsibilities: a systematic social practice of under rating women's work, and lack of access to better technologies, tools and productive assets. To a large extent, poor women keep moving between the status of self employed, casual labour and unemployed
2. Poor women are not a homogeneous group. They are divided on various grounds like caste, class and employment activity. What they have in common is deprivation and discrimination. They have poorer access to development. They are discriminated against in the family itself, in terms of distribution of income, consumption and assets. Consequently poverty affects women with lower consumption levels, poorer health and lower education. Women headed households particularly have a higher incidence of poverty.
3. The vast majority of rural women in the unorganised sector is landless: they work in the fields, they look after the animals, they are actively involved in food production, food processing, forestry and rural industry They also participate in construction work, labour in the factories, work in mines and engage in trade and vending, in addition, they have the burden of bearing and rearing children, collecting and fetching water, gathering firewood, cooking and cleaning activities which consume much time and energy Deforestation, famine, drought and other calamities affect women much more adversely than men
4. Although women work for longer hours and contribute substantially to the family income, they are not perceived as workers by either the women themselves or the data collecting agencies and the Government as all of them do not recognise the multidimensional functions of women which include their productive and reproductive labour. Women quite often are the major earners for their families. This also goes unrecognised.
5. Similarly, the approach of Government to women's development is one of adhocism leading to marginal benefits. The declaration of the international Year for Women generated many debates on the status of women. The Government appointed a Committee on the Status of Women which made a comprehensive study of the problems of all women. A Chapter on Women was included in the Sixth Plan which was followed by attempts to cover women under poverty alleviation programmes and the starting of a few new schemes. However, Government programmes designed for women have not been proportionate either to their needs or their numbers. As far as labouring women are concerned, there has been no thrust to improve their lot by concerted efforts. This is in spite of the fact that the Seventh Five Year Plan Document recognises the plight of working women, in the context of women's role in agricultural production the Document records:
Women play an important role in agricultural production, animal husbandry and other related activities such as storage, marketing of produce, food processing etc. Apart from these they spend almost 10-12 hours per day doing household chores, including fetching of water and gathering of fuel. Large number of female labour are engaged in marginal occupations in order to supplement the family income by collection of fish, small game, firewood, cowdung, maintenance of kitchen gardens, tailoring, weaving and teaching, Quantification of these activities in terms of work hours contributed, or its income generating equivalent, was not attempted or recorded (emphasis added). Some of the new technologies have displaced women from many of the traditional activities. The incomes of the poor households are increased by women, although they have to face many problems due to family responsibility, limited mobility and social restrictions. The Green Revolution has led to increased demands for casual labour, dispossession of small landholders from their land and consequently, pushing out of women from such small land holdings to become wage earners. Though many of the tasks performed by males are getting mechanised, the women continue to toil in labour intensive jobs, like rice transplantations cleaning and storage of grain in post harvest operations, picking of leaves and fruits, hand shelling of groundnut, picking out common seed etc.
6. In the Planning processes, under the trickle down theory it was expected that women will equally benefit along with men. This has been belied by actual developments. The Sixth Plan Document recognises that "in spite of the development measures the Constitutional legal guarantees women, have lagged behind in almost all sectors.'" In the past decades, there have been various forces and pressures which have reduced women to a low and secondary place. These forces have been more dominant than those which have tried to push women towards growth and development.
7. The limited achievements in the anti-poverty programmes have been more than offset by the problems of land alienation and environmental degradation, increasing agricultural poverty, concentration of resources in a few hands, increasing polarisation of the rich and the poor and polarisation between urban and rural areas. Women have been particularly hard hit by these developments.
8. In spite of their important role in agricultural production, the land reform measures like land ceiling and distribution and tenancy reforms have not benefited them because land has rarely been in the name of women. More and more common property resources have been taken over by the Government or have been privatised. This has added to the burden of women who are almost solely responsible for collecting and fetching water, gathering firewood, small game and other forest produce. Environmental degradation like deforestation and commercialization of forest resources, indiscriminate tapping of ground water resources have further aggravated women's problems, increasing agricultural poverty has led many men to migrate in search of work, leaving their families behind to face the consequences. To this could be added large scale displacement by dams and industrial projects which do not always bring benefits to the local population. The displaced persons become pauperized and their women are worst affected since rehabilitation plans make no attempt what so ever to help the women to gainful employment to attempt to compensate the loss of the economic activity in their previous locations.
9. The labour market is not neutral to men and women. It favours men against women. Gender inequalities exist in almost all sectors. The division of labour is highly sex biased. In rice cultivation, for example, seeding, transplanting, weeding and threshing operations are women's jobs while ploughing is done by men. In the textile industry, in most areas, weaving is essentially done by men while women do spinning and other operations. Similarly, in construction work, men do the skilled jobs of brick laying while women mix mortar and carry headloads of earth and bricks.
10. The discrimination is further manifested in male and female earnings which has been revealed by micro studies, according to which operations that fetch higher wages are male preserves, whereas work of arduous nature bringing in lower wages is done by women. The same. is the case in industries like bidi-making, construction work, cashew and coir. Here women are assigned unskilled work: they are paid less even in skilled operations.
11. In the urban informal sector, some of the lowest paid occupations have a disproportionately high percentage of women. In the organised sector, 90 per cent of the women are found in unskilled and semi-skilled jobs. There are a large number of marginal female workers and they face strong "discouraged worker effect" in the slack season.
12. Gender inequality is also marked in acquiring educational and vocational skills, In spite of the impressive increase in total numbers of literate women the male-female gaps remain large, and a slow rate of progress of women's education is noted with a virtual stagnation in the area of technical education. The male-female gaps in enrolment tend to increase with successive higher levels of education. The rural urban differences in literacy rates continued to be much larger for women. Amongst children between 6 to 11 years one out of every three girls is outside the schools while the enrolment of boys is reported to be 100 per cent. The drop-out rate of girls is very high compared to boys.
13. A major short coming of the education strategy has been that workers in poverty striken groups of landless farmers, marginal workers in unorganised sector, urban slum dwellers, workers and migrant workers have not been reached. Since women have less access to education and skill training, they lag behind in exploiting instrument through which women can attain equality. The present situation of illiteracy amongst women which is negatively related to fertility rates, & infant child mortality rates, farther perpetuate gender inequalities.
Growth of Unorganised Sector
14. There has been a phenomenal growth of the unorganised sector. Given the labour market conditions and the existing socio-economic environment most of the female work force is in the informal unorganised sector The labour force in the unorganised sector is characterised by a high incidence of casual labour mostly doing intermittent jobs at extremely low wages or are doing their own account work at very uneconomical returns There is a total lack of job security and social security benefits The areas of exploitation are high resulting in long hours, unsatisfactory work conditions and occupational health hazards The organised sector takes advantage of this vulnerable position of the labour force in the unorganised sector Large industries now find it advantageous to decentralise production units of larger registered units The powerloom industry is a case in point where large segments of artisans and workers are not independent producers, but are either employed on piece rate basis or controlled by advances or working on substantive orders for large industrial units A typical example is that of the large number of bidi workers While advantages are being claimed by the principal employers on the ground that it is a small or cottage industry, the labour force is actually working for a pittance
Women Headed House holds
15. The number of women headed households are maximum among the poor Women headed households are a result of widowhood, migration, desertion or the illness/ unemployment/addictive habits of their husbands The delivery structures normally do not recognise women as head of households Therefore, they are deprived of many scheme of the Government and public institutions Secondly, they suffer a higher incidence of poverty and occupy the bottom rung of the society There is no worthwhile social security for widows, or women who have been deserted or whose husbands have gone away as migrant contract labour and have not returned The Commission's own assessment is that women headed households have increased in recent years although the official data collecting services do not register this.
16. Modernisation and technological changes have affected women adversely Growth of technology and commercialization have led to mass production and have also in turn resulted in some increase in employment There has been a marginal improvement in women's employment in sectors like electronics But the number of women who have been thrown out of employment is far greater The introduction of new technology in the long run requires new skills Women do not have access to these skills and training, in many cases women have been forced to move out from skilled areas to unskilled areas Women working on their own account have also suffered due to technological changes and they are swelling the ranks of landless/casual/marginal workers Hardly any research has been done to evolve technology which will improve the employment situation of women and alleviate their drudgery by developing tools which could make their work simple.
Credit Raw Material and Marketing
Promotion of women's employment faces several obstacles, one of them being an increasingly complex marketing and credit system Cheaper forms of credit have been made available through financial institutions but the central problem faced by women in low income earning ventures is that they have no security to offer. According to the existing schemes for small loans to women living below the poverty line, no security should be asked for, but in practice, this. is insisted upon The problems faced in extending credit to women are socio-economic Attitudes to women do not allow them to take up independent economic ventures. Further, women are largely unaware of the existing credit facilities or physically unable to reach the banks, particularly in rural areas. They are also reluctant to approach the banks because they are unfamiliar with the policies and cumbersome procedures which is further compounded by their illiteracy and the inability of the authorities to comprehend the credit requirements of poor women. Although women have proved themselves better in repaying of loans than men, the bias is towards men. Another obstacle is the tendency of the banks to finance large enterprises rather than small ones. Women in particular are normally involved in very small enterprises and they need small loans for carrying out their day to day business. Since credit is not easily available to them from financial institutions they invariably fall victim to the avaricious money-lenders who charge exhorbitantly high rates of interest. This leads to a vicious circle where the required amount of raw material is not available because of lack of credit facilities. Since women cannot expand their ventures they are unable to face competition; they either stagnate or are weeded out of their own account work.
18. The situation in the sphere of marketing is" very similar. The forces operating and controlling marketing have become complex demanding better designs and techniques and mass production. The immediate local market no longer can absorb their entire production. The synthetic ropes produced by mass production methods are competing with coir or grass ropes. Even the collective struggle of producer women may not protect their source of livelihood, let alone improve their working conditions. This decline in handicrafts was initiated during the colonial period. The Government's efforts to revitalise these old handicrafts and sick industries have been thwarted by its own counter policy of industrialisation and commercialisation of the economy. Women who are widely engaged in these handicrafts are the major victims; they steadily swell the ranks of rural labour migrants to urban areas.
19. A large section of the poor self-employed women doing their own account work who are engaged in unorganised work are exploited by various people like wholesalers and money-lenders, and even the municipal authorities and police. Even to sell their wares, they have to suffer the humiliation of being kicked and shouted at by local authorities. The system of licensing of space vendors is cumbersome and inadequate. To get a licence, women interviewed by the Commission reported that they have to fall into the system of bribery which they can ill afford.
Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes and Minority Groups
20. The SC/STs have for centuries been socially ostracized and economically deprived making them the most vulnerable group. The founding fathers of our Republic recognised this fact and thus made special provisions in the Constitution for granting special privileges to them to bring them into the mainstream. However, the fact remains that in spite of the well intentioned policies of the Government and various on-going schemes/programmes for their welfare and development, the majority are not able to take full advantage of these schemes and programmes for lack of knowledge and access due to domination of powerful vested interests. Within these groups women remain more deprived.
21. Most of the SC/STs are landless labour and hence the bulk of their women folk are working at subsistence level along with their men folk as agricultural labourers, construction workers or engaged in gathering fuel, fodder and water for survival. Many are engaged in producing traditional handicraft items. These women are fighting to survive in the face of intense competition from cheaper mass produced items. The Scheduled Tribes who were mainly forest dwellers were traditionally dependent on the forest for their daily necessities. With the shrinking of the forest, the nationalization and reservation of forest lands and privatisation of common property resources, these people have been badly hit. Their women who in their traditional set up enjoyed an almost equal status with men now find their sources of economic contribution denied to them They turn to migrant labour which is one of the most vulnerable groups in the country.
22. The official statistics as available in the thirty second round NSSO (1977-78) brings out the situation very poignantly More than 52 per cent of SC/STs in rural areas possess no land or property Another 35 per cent own less than five acres However, the Work Force Participation Rates among the SC/STs women is much higher compared to women from other castes and there is evidence of higher incidence of casual labour amongst these women The difference between usual status and daily status is also quite high
23. The minority groups like Muslims and Christians together form the bulk of the illiterate and unskilled labour The women are at the lowest rung of literacy and skill This perpetuates the entire cycle of lack of skills and low wages which is difficult to break Besides, all the messages of small family norms do not apply to them as extra hand means some additional income Furthermore the low health status leading to higher infant mortality rates makes it difficult for them to accept small family norms Large families add to the women's already heavy work load for which they receive little in return Not surprisingly, their health status is very low Religious taboos and social customs also contribute to enhancing the low status of women
24. Increasing pauperization in rural areas has led to streams of migration and polarisation between rural and urban areas with considerable concentration of wealth and social services in the urban economy in addition, there have been migrations due to displacement by irrigation and industrial projects This has affected women on two fronts If men migrate then women have to take the total responsibility for the family left behind If the whole family migrates, women themselves face the problems of having to perform the dual role of earner and home maker while living and working in conditions which lack even the basic sanitary facilities In addition, there has been increase in the workforce participation rate of marginal workers While men may not work for a pittance, women have no choice They suffer exploitation at the hand of contractors, (as in construction work) and have to move from place to place in search of work leading to greater hardships
25. The heavy manual labour performed by women, the shocking working and living conditions, malnutrition, repeated pregnancies and poor quality of health services take a heavy toll of the health of the women. They also suffer from other occupational health hazards like postural problems pain in the joints and other such complaints. There is absence of data and lack of recognition of occupational health hazards in the unorganized sector of the country Apart from the poor quality of health services and the poor accessibility of women to them, maternity benefits are also not available to women in the unorganised sector
26. While women carry the primary responsibility of bearing and rearing children, this. responsibility is considered secondary to the role of male bread winner. In addition, poor women are invariably involved in economic activities. However, most of these activities are related to family occupations like agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry, weaving, construction labour and cottage industries. The women's personal contribution gets merged with the family and becomes invisible. Even where she gets wages which are generally low she is at best seen as providing supplementary income to the family. The reality,
Her contribution in production goes unrecognised
however, is that women's income is used for the survival needs of the family Her domestic chores are arduous yet she gets no recognition for this work Although women have the dual role of reproduction and production, their contribution is considered as 'Secondary', 'Marginal' and 'Supplementary' Even when women have to do vital preparatory work as in weaving, agriculture and pottery they are at best called "helpers" This under-valuation is all pervasive. It manifests itself in disparities in wages and other rewards for women labour, in access to and control over resources, in lack of infrastructural support and above all in great disparity in work burdens
27. Laws for the removal of the overwhelming pressure of unemployment, women's vulnerability and a situation of surplus labour Two factors have compounded this difficulty, the emergence of labour displacing technology and an automatic preference by employers of such technology that reduces their responsibility for labour management Moreover, the implementation machinery of the Government is very weak Government as an employer has proved to be a poor model During its field visits the National Commission found that in a number of cases even the basic amenities of clean water, toilet facilities and creches were not provided in the Government run establishments/factories
28. A widely held view is that employers show a preference for women only when they are prepared to accept lower wages than men and also because they are expected to be more docile and submissive Thus laws for the protection of women workers such as maternity benefits, child care, removal of discrimination in wages, only result in the reduction of women in organized employment and push them more and more into unorganized, more exploitative and invisible occupations.
29. The phenomenal growth of the unorganized sector which hardly falls within the ambit of labour and common laws has further increased the vulnerability of women who are divided by their economic conditions, class, linguistic community and caste and affects their capacity to organize themselves to fight for their rights as workers. Women's participation in trade unions and other organisations has been negligible for various reasons and has adversely affected the process of obtaining justice as provided by law. The absence of suitable legislative or administrative devices for their protection is a big stumbling block in their advancement.
30. There is a direct link between income, housing and economic activity, Lack of housing particularly affects women. They are the home makers, doing almost all the household work including child care. Those women who are self employed are generally home based, so the home is also their work place. Further in our social set up women's needs for privacy are greater. While viewing the subject of housing, we have to go beyond the concept of just 'physical structure', it includes social and community facilities, essential services and civic amenities and it is connected with employment and earnings.
31. The housing shortage is increasing in spite of programmes being taken up by the Central and State Governments. The situation is worsening in both rural and urban areas. The accessibility to land, local construction materials and natural resources is on the decline which deprive the poor women of houses. About 70 percent of women have no access to community latrine, lighting and drinking water.
32. Priorities from the women's perspective are proper kitchen, latrines, and safe areas for the children to play while they are involved in household chores. The lack of these expose women to disease and sexual attacks (when they go out into the fields in the early morning or late at night). Moreover, when they are involved in home based economic activities and cattle care, the limitation of space makes their living conditions worse at times bordering on a sub human level with women, children and animals sleeping in the same area with title or no ventilation.
33. There has been a proliferation of shanty towns on the fringes of urban centres To these towns and slum areas there is a movement from the impoverished rural areas in search of higher and steadier wages. Some come to live permanently while others come during the agricultural off-season but they all face a shortage of housing facilities and other civic amenities The migratory labour position is worse as the demand of work compels them to move from place to place. Those who manage to get houses do not have any tenurial rights. They are normally unauthorised localities and face demolition and eviction.
34. Women living in urban slums, face greater difficulties than in rural areas, largely because of the terrible over-crowding, lack of privacy and lack of essential services (for which they are entirely dependent on civic authorities). Also, they are terrorised by local thugs and slum lords and face a very real threat of sexual molestation.
Child Care Facilities
35. Children in these families suffer the effects of poverty and all that goes with it like malnutrition, overcrowding unhygienic conditions of living, lack of opportunities for education etc. In addition, they suffer from neglect or lack of proper time and attention from their mothers and other adults, who are pre-occupied with carrying their livelihood. Children from families which are constantly on the move, such as labourers on roads, railways, canals and other employment guarantee schemes suffer still more disadvantages as a result of being constantly on the move An often invisible victim is the young girl in the family who assists her mother in housework, in collecting fodder, fuel and water, in economic activities and the care of younger children
36. The need for child care services for poor working women is undebatable, such services are necessary not only as a support service for the mother but also for the all round development of the child The existing child care services can be grouped under three categories namely statutory, voluntary and public There are laws which provide for creches for women in the organized sector like the Factories Act, 1948, Plantation Act, 1957, Mines Act, 1952, Contract Labour Act, 1970 and the Inter-State Migrant Workers Act, 1980 in practice legislation has not given much relief to women Although as estimated by the Directorate General of Employment and Training there are 3428 lakh (September 1987) women employed in the organized sectors, only about 50,000 children receive child care services under legislation. The creches which exist are normally of poor quality and ill-attended And by and large, the law is evaded or only a token provision is made. Further since the legal obligation is generally linked up with the number of women workers, employment of women is discouraged or ways are found such as contract work to evade the law As far as contract labour is concerned, again there is evasion of responsibility by the contractors.
37. In the voluntary sector, the Central Social Welfare Board provides assistance to voluntary agencies to run child care services for poor women and in the unorganised sector. The coverage is very limited it caters to about ten thousand creches covering approximately 25 million children of less than five years The creches are concentrated mostly in the urban and semi-urban areas
38. In the public sector, the integrated Child Development Services provides a package of services like supplementary nutrition, immunisation, health check-up and referral services for the children of less than the six years and for expectant and lactating mothers This scheme does not provide day care services for the working mothers The anganwadi often works for only a few hours in the morning and they normally have low quality nine pre-primary classes Under this programme, approximately nine million children are covered
39. In spite of the programmes that exist, the coverage is very limited. Approximately only 10 million children get the benefit of child care facilities These facilities in many cases are only for three to four hours which do not coincide with the working hours of the mothers
40. There is need for an integrated approach to women's development Under the State Governments, women as a subject are relegated to the residuary area of social welfare Only a couple of State Governments give some importance to social welfare, elsewhere, social welfare as a sector has a low priority and within this sector, women have the lowest priority The approach has been to give marginal benefits to women in a situation of destitution and exploitation There is basically no stake involved and no vested interest in their favour The political potential of these women who are in large numbers has not been exploited by both women themselves and the politicians They generally tend to cast their votes according to the wishes of their men Political parties do not have adequate women representatives to take care of the interests of poor working women All political parties are guilty of not owning upto the responsibility for advancing the cause of poor women even though lip service is paid to them
41. Moreover the Government machinery which is the largest delivery structure through which development resources are channelised has proved to be indifferent and ineffective in reaching the women The reach of the voluntary agencies is limited, and they do not penetrate into all districts, blocks and panchayats There is also a great deal of variation in their effectiveness in mobilising and organizing women to take advantage of the various developmental programmes
42. At the planning level, there is consciousness about women's low status and a need to focus on women's development, however, as far as the delivery system is concerned, it is based on a stereotyped concept of women's development where women are given some benefits in a sporadic and haphazard manner. The development agencies in their eagerness to complete their targets are not concerned whether there is an adequate coverage of women Recently, in a few schemes like IRDP, targets are being fixed for women, but even there the achievement is below the targets Fixing of targets under the Special Component Plan for the Scheduled Castes have proved useful. Similar fixation of targets in the case of women as a separate disadvantaged group would have facilitated their absorption in the main stream of development The implementation machinery is largely insensitive to the basic needs of women in poverty
Dissemination of Information
43. A crucial shortcoming in the existing machinery relates to the lack of any effective mechanism for dissemination of information amongst women regarding women's development programmes. This lack of knowledge is one of the causes for the sluggish pace of activities relating specifically to women's programmes, inadequate pressure exerted by women groups on administrative structures has also led to the machinery not responding to the needs of women.
Constitution of Task Forces Groups
44. The National Commission undertook extensive tours in the States to see for themselves the working and living conditions of poor women. The Commission had a dialogue with the working women representatives of industry, voluntary agencies, labour unions and State Government functionaries. Since the membership of the Commission is very small, they decided to constitute Task Force Groups in the critical areas of Macro Policies, Health, Communisation, Protective Legislation and Organisation to make an in-depth study to assist the Commission in its investigation.