Report of Convention on Women and Labour.

Unseen work, unheard stories


February 29, 2020

Today 29, Feb 2020 at Kodaji Basappa Auditorium, Bengaluru Senior Economist Jaya Mehta, Ex Minister Motamma, Well Know Singer M.D.Pallavi and Navajeevana Mahila Sangha Senior member Mokshamma inaugurated the Convention on “Women and Labour – Unseen work, unheard stories” organized by  Gram Seva Sangh and Centre for Budget and Policy Studies (CBPS) by watering a plant.

After the inauguration M.D. Pallavi started with a welcome song and also narrated multiple stories to portray how women’s work often goes unseen and their voices unheard not only because their work is considered “domestic” but various circumstances including censorship constrain them even in professional spheres.

Jaya Mehta, economist from Joshi Adhikari institute spoke about their work on agrarian distress and the difficulty of relieving the situation because of 93% of those involved in agriculture being either landless or small  and marginal farmers.  She spoke about women having to play a vanguard role in resolving the agrarian distress as cooperative farming and collectivization of labour is the only way out. Women have an important role to play as many women are now in de facto control of land either because of migration of male folk in search of employment or also because of the high rate of farmer suicides.

Moderator for the panel on womens’ work, Nalini Shekhar, spoke about how women’s work is not often considered as work based on her work with waste pickers in Bengaluru where waste pickers themselves devalued their work. In the same panel, Dr. Shobha Raghuram emphasized the criticality of understanding women’s presence in the production economy both in terms of means of production as well as production relations. Dr. Anupama spoke about the importance of defining whether we work by our choice or is the work imposed on us. She also spoke about how coercion is not always by others and sometimes the amount of sacrifice women choose to make is also a problem. In order to answer the question of how to make womens work seen, the panel emphasized on devolution of power in the production structures.

In the panel on womens’ movements various speakers talked about the importance of collectivization of women to make their voices heard. Ms. Lakshmi spoke about how domestic workers work got recognition and respect only after the formation of their union. Ms. Nagalakshmi spoke about how women’s struggle is multifaceted as they have to struggle both within their homes as well as with the power structures in the external world. She spoke about the importance of unions in such a context as not only do they help in matters of work but also give them the confidence to extend their voice to other spheres. Kalyani Menon Sen spoke about how the recent protests by women in India are a key moment in feminist politics as women from low income minority population are asserting their rights of citizenship. The panel emphasized the role of collectives as well as of various collectives coming together to make womens work seen and their stories heard.

The panel on women’s collectives discussed the challenges faced in forming these collectives. Gita Menon spoke about how women in themselves are not a homogeneous entity and caste or class afflictions often present formidable challenges in the formation of these collectives. Ms. Prathibha underlined the importance of adoption of non-discriminatory practices at the workplace and provision of living wages for establishing dignity of life for women workers. Ms. Mokshamma, while talking about Devadasis, emphasized the importance of having female employees at the counseling centres so that women can approach these centres with confidence and dignity.

In the panel on Reimagining the future Sharada Gopal said that rural women often suffer from identity crisis as they are not recognized as farmers and often are treated only as labourers. Especially for dalit women, there is an added complexity because of the stigma associated. V.Gayatri emphasized the importance of nutrition to be recognized as a right for rural women. Women are yet to acquire leadership roles in local governance and we must work towards realising it in future.

Sabeeha Bhoomi Gowda, VC of the Akkamahadevi Women University highlighted a few important observations of the convention told, we need to salute the marginalized rural women, because the amount of tough time they are going through and still challenging those in contemporary times. We need to learn a lot from them and extend its learning towards academia also.

Transman Rumi Harish will taking expressed that we need to be inclusive of sex workers, LGBT communities and other professions these communities engage with to make such efforts more inclusive and sang the vachana’s song. Agni team women group performed the Paray attam folk performance and Pervin Verma sung the songs with Guitar performance while concluding the session.

Gandhi Bhavan, Hasirudala, Fields of Views, N.S.S contributed towards organizing the convention, many women’s movements, unions and organizations actively participated in the convention.

K. R. BALAJI.