People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIV

No. 10

March 07, 2010

Legacy of International Women’s Day

 

Hemalata

 

 

THE demands raised by the Second International Conference of Socialist Women, when it decided to observe an International Women’s Day are almost as relevant today as they were around hundred years back. Equal wages and eight hours work remain elusive to most of the women workers even now. Maternity benefits and crèches are something unheard of for the women workers in the unorganised sector. Women in India are denied their due place in legislatures.

To commemorate the centenary of the International Women’s Day, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions has decided to conduct a year long campaign focussing on the demands of equal wages, eight hours workday, maternity benefits, crèches, food security and 33 per cent reservation for women in legislative bodies.

Today, attempts are being made to trivialise and vulgarise International Women’s Day by converting it into yet another occasion to sell home appliances and beauty products; attempts are made to rob it of its class content; to advocate hatred against men hindering the common struggle against exploitation of both men and women in the capitalist society. In this situation, it is necessary to ensure that the revolutionary character of International Women’s Day is preserved by highlighting the link between women’s emancipation and the emancipation of society from exploitation.

Today, in the 21st century when science and technology has advanced to such heights unimaginable a hundred years ago, when production has reached unprecedented levels, 1.3 billion of the world’s population subsists on less than $ 1 per day. 75 per cent of these are women.  Women contribute to the production of 60 per cent of the world’s food supply; yet majority of the 800 million impoverished and hungry are women and children. Under imperialist globalisation, health care, social security benefits, overtime pay etc are under attack by the corporate management, even in the developed capitalist countries; working women, particularly poor and single women, are the worst affected. Many governments, including ours are curtailing the hard won rights of the workers including women, by amending the labour laws achieved through years of struggles.

The policies of neo liberal globalisation pursued in our country since the last around two decades, whatever be the party leading the government at the centre, have wrecked havoc with the lives of the women workers. With the agrarian crisis, the employment opportunities in the rural areas are coming down. Thousands of women are forced to migrate to the cities either alone or along with their families in search of job opportunities. But they do not find any decent jobs. The maximum increase in women’s employment in the urban areas has been as domestic workers who do not have any job protection, minimum wages, social security benefits etc.

Notwithstanding the obsession of the advocates of the neo liberal globalisation with the growth rate of the economy, the reality is that the conditions of the majority of women and children are deteriorating. Hardly five years to reach 2015, India is very far from the Millennium Development goals which include eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, improving maternal health and reducing child mortality etc. It ranks the very last on health and survival and is at the 134 position out of 177 countries in the Human Development Index.  1,25,000 women in the country die every year from pregnancy and pregnancy related causes, most of which are preventable. The maternal mortality ratio continues to be unacceptably high at more than 300 per 1,00,000 live births. We have the largest number of stunted children in the world; every second child under six in the country is underweight. But the concern of the government is confined to rhetoric. Its purse strings are liberally released for the rich and powerful; not for the poor and needy.

Comparing Gender Equality derived from three National Family Health Surveys spanning 13 years, a report published by the International Institute of Population Studies (IIPS Mumbai 2009) shows that far from improving, the gender gap is widening. While the child sex ratio continues to be alarming in Punjab and Haryana, even Kerala registered an adverse child sex ratio.

It took the Indian government nearly thirty years to enact the Equal Remuneration Act. But more than 34 years after it came into existence, women get 30 per cent lower wages than men. According to a survey, 85 per cent women earn only 50 per cent of the official poverty level income. The conditions of the women workers in the Special Economic Zones are reminiscent of the conditions of the women workers in the 19th century garment factories.  Though officially, labour laws are applicable in these SEZs, they are flouted with impunity with the open connivance of the authorities.

A recent survey among 3,000 home based workers in ten states, conducted by the CITU, found that the average income of the home based workers was less than Rs 25 for a full day’s work. Social security or any other benefits were unheard of, not only for the women home based workers but for the 96 per cent working women in the unorganised sector.

The government itself is resorting to a clever ploy of calling hundreds of thousands women as ‘social workers’, ‘community workers’, ‘accredited activists’ etc, to exploit their labour and deny them minimum wages and social security. The traditional responsibilities of women within the family like cooking, looking after the children etc are extended to the society and the government makes women do these jobs outside their homes for free or for paltry ‘honorarium’ as in the case of anganwadi employees, ASHAs, mid day meal workers etc.

Thirteen years after the Supreme Court judgment, no legislation has been made against sexual harassment, which infringes upon the democratic rights of women. Even after many rounds of discussions, consultations and workshops, the government has not introduced the bill against sexual harassment in the parliament.

It has been more than a decade since the women’s reservation bill has been initially introduced in the parliament, but none of the bourgeois parties is sincere in getting it passed. The UPA too was not serious in ensuring the passage of the bill though it had the full support of the Left parties in its earlier tenure. The struggle for ‘making parliament more democratic’ which was launched more than a hundred years ago demanding voting rights for women continues today with the demand to ensure due representation of women in the parliament in our country.

These are the serious issues confronting the working class and women in the country on the eve of the centenary of International Women’s Day.  The capitalist society, based as it is, on the urge for profit, has proved itself to be incapable to solve any of the basic problems of humanity; neither is it capable of ending gender oppression. Neo liberal globalisation and its consequence, the recent global economic crisis, have once again brought into focus this failure of capitalism.

The need for the working class and for all the other exploited and oppressed sections of the society today is to unite and launch massive struggles against this discredited system, which only can lead to the emancipation of women. Working women have to play their due role in this struggle. Writing on the occasion of International Women’s Day in 1921, Lenin emphasised the need to mobilise women into the political struggles. He said ‘…you cannot draw the masses into politics without drawing in the women as well. For under capitalism the female half of the human race is doubly oppressed. The working woman and the peasant woman are oppressed by capital, but over and above that, even in the most democratic of the bourgeois republics, they remain, firstly deprived of some rights because the law does not give them equality with men; and secondly – and this is the main thing – they remain in household bondage’.

It is to focus on this task of bringing more women into the struggles by organising them, highlighting their specific demands and ensuring that they are given their due role in the trade union movement, that the CITU has decided to observe the centenary of the International Women’s Day throughout the year in a befitting manner.

This International Women’s Day, let us pledge to protect its original character as a day to commemorate struggles against exploitation and oppression; let us launch a powerful movement to create awareness among women on the real causes of women’s oppression and the need to defeat them; on the existence of alternatives and the necessity for united struggles to achieve them. Let us express our solidarity to the struggles of women all over the world to achieve their due rights. Let us rededicate ourselves to launch sustained struggles towards a society free from exploitation.