Shramshakti (1988): Report of the National Commission on self employed women and women in the informal sector||
When the Prime Minister announced the formation of the National Commission on Self-Employed Women, I had no idea the responsibility would fall on me to carry out its objectives despite my years of lobbying for such a Commission.
This Commission has been an overwhelming experience for me to meet and listen to the great women of India working in fields, forests, factories, mines, their homes or on mountains, roads, shores or in downtown markets. I now realise that they are not categories: 'self employed' or 'formal informal sector' they are like the rest of Indian working population. They are distinct only to the extent that their worker status is more unstable, more vulnerable.
I learnt these women are better fighters against poverty than their men, have more calculative, stable, forward looking strategies to deal with their own environment, yet the women remain poorer. But this cannot be proved through Research Studies.
Awareness has spread with education, though slowly, in the country. Awareness of their rights, and they being protected 'somewhere' by 'someone' is there in the back of their minds. The new opportunities are gradually catching their attention. In every group that we met, there were one or two bright, articulate, defiant young women ready to act as catalysts for a better future. I may venture to make a generalisation that everywhere in the country, these women are ready to absorb new ideas, more assistance, even to get organised to better their future. This is the most imminent challenge posed before us by these women today. If left to women's Groups and to the poor women's own efforts, it is unlikely that such organisations will come up that soon. and in large numbers to make a significant dent on the situation of these women.
That is why, the Commission has recommended to the Government to actively help initiate and maintain a network of grass-root level organisations like Village Mahila Mandals. It is ironic that one is asking the State to support a machinery to promote action for change in State policies, but we have done it with great hope on the strength of the Foreword of our Seventh Plan stating 'Development is basically about people'. Women (people) must participate if the nation has to develop. Therefore, I strongly plead for entrusting the Village Mahila Mandals with the responsibility, one, of implementation of poverty alleviation programmes to begin with, and. two block level planning, monitoring and setting targets for women's development at the local level. To fight the wrath of nature, droughts and floods, I believe Village Mahila Mandal is the best vehicle.
Everywhere in the country we found women were the most committed proponents of our future. A concern for future is strong within them. So, the future of the nation lies in the hands of these (poor) women. No doubt, they have thought of plans for future, and also share, the dream of entering the 21st century with steadier step along with the Prime Minister, Shri Rajiv Gandhi. Therefore, we recommend a fair, concrete share for women in the coming Eighth Plan.
Many comprehensive policy recommendations have been outlined in the final chapter of this Report. They will help to lead us into the Eighth Plan with a positive sense of moving towards equality and social dignity for all our citizens. They are only small seeds of change, but every year we see the women of this country cultivate abundant crops from such small seeds.
I take this opportunity to sincerely thank the Government of India for setting up such an important Commission to find ways and means to ameliorate the sufferings of the unprotected labouring women. I thank the distinguished Members of the Commission. My special thanks to Dr. A. Desai and Smt. Mrinal Pande for their valuable contributions. Dr. Desai's probing mind and objective approach has enriched the subject matter of the Report. Smt. Pande with her vast experience in media actively helped in the preparation of the Video Report. I would like to thank Dr. R, Thamarajakshi for diligently going through the final draft of the report. I thank Miss Veena Kohli, Member Secretary for her energetic, dedicated contribution to prepare the Report, and in time. I thank members of the Task Force, and others scholars, numerous voluntary agencies all over the country, and government officials in various States for their advice and cooperation. I particularly thank the secretariat for their untiring, ever smiling teamwork. All my humble thanks to the countless labouring women whom I met. as they are the Shakti personified.