Shramshakti (1988): Report of the National Commission on self employed women and women in the informal sector||
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Labouring women in the self-employed and informal sector are an important segment of the labour force. They do arduous work as wage earners, piece-rate workers, casual labour and paid and unpaid family labour. The economic and social conditions of the women are dismal. This has been a matter of concern not only for persons outside the Government, but also within the Government. Although there is no obvious discrimination against women in the plans and programmes, and there are special schemes for them, in implementation, various socio-economic forces have operated against them. This concern is voiced in the Government Notification No 9-11/85-WW dated 5 January 1987 constituting the National Commission on Self Employed Women as given below -
Despite the existence of various Constitutional legal provisions safeguarding women's employment a large number of women workers particularly in the unorganised sector suffer from various disadvantages relating to their working lives as well as in their homes. The coverage of labour laws has not benefited these women workers in many crucial areas especially health, maternity and social security. With the changing social and economic conditions, women's productive roles have assumed new significance but without back-up support and services a healthy combination of women's productive and reproductive roles cannot be sustained.
2 The National Commission on Self Employed Women was constituted by the Government to make a comprehensive study of the working and living conditions of poor women in poverty.
3. The composition of the National Commission is:
|1.||Smt. Ela R. Bhatt (M.P.)||Chairperson|
|2.||Dr. Armaity S. Desai||Member|
|3.||Dr. R. Thamarajakshi||Member|
|4.||Smt. Mrinal Pande||Member|
|5.||Smt. Jaya Arunachalam||Member|
|6.||Miss. Veena Kohli Member||Secretary|
4. Dr. Vina Mazumdar was nominated on the National Commission vide Notification No. F.9-110/85-WW dated 5 January 1987. She resigned on 14 June 1987. Her resignation was accepted vide Notification No. F.9-110/86-WW dated 1.9.1987.
5. The terms of reference of the Commission are as follows:
(i) To examine the present status of women in the self-employed sector with special reference to employment, health, education and social status.
(ii) To assess the impact of various labour legislations on the self-employed specially in respect of maternity benefits and health insurance.
(iii) To identify the constraints on increase of productivity of self-employed women and the gaps in training, credit, upgradation of skills and marketing.
(iv) To survey employment patterns, including production relations and assess their impact on the wages of the self-employed women.
(v) To undertake a survey of the effects of macro policies relating to investment production and technology on the status of self-employed women.
(vi) To consider the link between the productive and re-productive roles of the self-employed women, with special reference to their health status.
(vii) To suggest measures relating to all sectors for removing the constraints which adversely affect the integration of self-employed women in the national development process.
According to a further notification No. F. 9-110/86-WW dated 1 April 1987 the above terms of reference were extended to cover all unprotected women labour in the country and extend to women in the informal sector.
6. The Commission decided that it will cover and study the entire gambit of unprotected labouring women to include self employed and wage labour, paid and unpaid labour and contract labour. The Commission decided to cover following categories of workers:
(a) Women doing manual work like agriculture, construction labour and other sectors.
(b) Home-based producers (including artisans and piece-rate workers).
(c) Women engaged in processing work in traditional and non-traditional areas.
(d) Providers of services like washerwomen, scavengers and domestic help.
(e) Petty vendors and hawkers who do not hire labour except for taking the assistance of family members.
(f) And all other poor labouring women, in the unprotected sector not covered in the preceding sections.
7. In view of the wide scope of the concept of worker the Commission has used the terms 'self-employed', 'informal' and 'unorganised' in the report interchangeably.
8. The Commission also decided that all the terms of reference should be addressed to the following three objectives:
(i) To bring into visibility poor unprotected labouring women to which the large majority belong.
(ii) To bring out the contribution of the target group of women as mentioned at (i) above to the family economy and national economy.
(iii) To identify and examine the successful methodologies in organising the unorganised women labour.
9. The Commission adopted threefold strategy for carrying out its work:
(i) It decided to harness and analyse the existing research and studies available and commission new studies, wherever neccessary.
(ii) The Commission decided to tour the country in order to have meetings with women in the target group and to get direct evidence. The Commission decided to have a video coverage of its tours so that an authentic visual report could be presented to the Government which would relate to the conditions of the women workers in their own words.
(iii) The Commission issued questionnaires to women to get basic information.
10. The membership of the Commission being very limited, it was not possible for the Members of the Commission to study and cover the vast area of the subject assigned to it. it, therefore, decided to have five Task Force Groups. The composition of the Task Force Groups is given in Appendix II. Except for the Task Force on Workers, all the other four Task Force Groups had experts/academicians/activists/field workers in the respective areas. The four Task Force Groups aimed to study:
(i) The impact of macro-policies and the role of development agencies, and the concept/definitions adopted by the official data collection agencies.
(ii) Occupational Health.
(iii) Communication network systems.
(iv) Legislative protection.
11. Task Force Croups in turn commissioned fifty-seven new studies the list of which is given at Appendix V.
12. The fifth Task Force of Workers was constituted, the scope of which extended to the following
(i) area of exploitation
(ii) experience of organising
(iii) women workers' priorities as perceived by them
13. Since members of this Task Force were not all literate, the report was given partially in writing and partially orally which was subsequently documented.
14. The Commission requested certain experts to prepare review papers, Eight review papers on subjects like Handloom, Domestic Workers, impact of Urban Development, Vendors, Anti-poverty Programmes, impact of Macro Policy on Women Workers in Mines and Child Care Service were prepared.
15. The Commission sent ten lakh Questionnaires to be filled by or on behalf of women of the target group to all the States and Union Territories. After a considerable follow up, the Commission received 1.40 lakhs Questionnaires which were computerised. The findings were interesting and some of these have been corroborated by the Commission's tour observations and other sources.
16. The Commission also had meetings with the following:
1. Smt. Margaret Alva, Minister of State, Department of Women and Child Development.
2. Smt. Pupul Jayakar, Adviser to Prime Minister.
3. Women Members of Parliament.
4. Smt. Kumudben Joshi, Governor, Andhra Pradesh.
5. Shri Jyoti Basu, Chief Minister, West Bengal.
6. Begum S.M. Abdullah, Jammu and Kashmir.
7. State Ministers of Women's Departments and other related Departments.
8. Secretaries in the Government of India, holding charge of Ministries/ Departments of Women and Child Development, Rural Development, Welfare, Labour and Education.
9. Chairman and Members of the State Advisory Boards
10. Chairman/Managing Director, Women's Development Corporations.
11. State Labour Commissioners.
12. Central Trade Union Leaders.
13. Representatives of Voluntary Agencies.
14. Managing Directors of Forest Development Corporations.
15. Experts in Media.
17. While on tours in the States, apart from meeting women workers, representatives of workers organizations and voluntary agencies, the Commission also had meetings with State Government officers which were generally presided by the Minister in charge of Women's Programme or the Chief Secretary. This willing support of a cross section of persons including women workers enabled the Commission to complete its task of writing its report which is the first investigation of its kind at a national level.
18. The National Commission was initially constituted for a period of one year. In view of the wide scope of its study, it was not possible for the Commission to give its report during this period and an extension of 6 months was given to the Commission upto 4 July 1988 vide Notification No. 9-110/85-WW (Vol.ll) dated 11 February 1988. For the first year of the Commission's functioning, the Government had allocated Rs. 48 lakhs. The Commission, however, exercised great restraint. The approximate expenditure of the Commission which includes the extended tenure, is Rs. 29.50 lakhs. This amount has been incurred on the constitution of Task Forces, commissioning of studies, field visits of the Commission to 18 States, getting the Questionnaires prepared and filled and analysis of the data received, video coverage of women workers and office expenditure.
19. The Commission is conscious of the limitations of its Report. The task given to it is very massive, the number of women workers involved are very large, the problems that these women face are vast. As against this, there was almost total absence of data in the critical aspects of the work and life situations of the women in the self employed and informal sectors, it was not possible for the Commission within the time frame to get a fresh census done nor was it possible to commission studies at the national level. The Commission would have also liked to have met many more women workers than it actually did. However, in spite of these constraints, the Commission has tried its best to put together in this Report the issues concerning the labouring women, examined the existing institutions and mechanisms and given recommendations for future action, In doing so the Commission has tried to voice the feelings and aspirations of the labouring women. This Report is accompanied by a Video Report which is an authentic account of the labouring women in their own voices regarding how they perceive their work and life situations, their concerns and suggestions for a better life.
20. The Commission is grateful to the Government for the faith and confidence that it reposed in it. The Commission does hope that its study will be useful to the Government and to other institutions and voluntary agencies who work for these women.