Women’s International Democratic Federation held a seminar on ‘Women and Work – Advances and Setbacks’ on 19th March 2014 on the occasion of the 58th session of UN Commission on Status of Women that was held in New York on 10 – 21 March 2014.
Yanira Herrera Kuper, secretary, International Relations of Cuban Women’s Federation and representative of the WIDF regional office for America and Caribbean presided. WFTU representative Hemalata was a panellist in the seminar and spoke of WFTU’s perspective on the issue and her experiences in India. The other panellists included Ana Rocha, Women Secretary of Rio de Janeiro from Brazil, Berta Joubert, coordinator of the IA Centre for Women, USA, Maritzel Gonzalez, Cuban Women’s Federation and Maria de Fatima, general secretary of Women Mozambiquan organisation and the coordinator of WIDF regional office for Africa. All the speakers highlighted the persisting inequalities that working women face at their workplace and the attacks on their trade union rights under neoliberal globalisation, particularly in the aftermath of the global crisis and the need for the trade unions, women’s organisations and other such forces to unitedly fight against the neoliberal policies to achieve the goal of women’s equality. Vijayalakshmi, also representing WFTU made an intervention.
Given below is the text of the speech of Hemalata:
I thank the Women’s International Democratic Federation for giving me this opportunity to speak in this seminar on ‘Women and Work – Advances and Setbacks’ being organised on the side lines of the 58th session of the UN Committee on the Status of Women.
I represent the World Federation of Trade Unions, a class based trade union organisation having over 86 million members in 126 countries in all the continents across the world. The WFTU stands for the rights of women workers, for their equal opportunities and wages and for decent and dignified working conditions for all working women and end of all exploitation.
I would like to make four points. Though there have been some advances for a small section of working women, these have not been uniform across the countries and even within the countries for all working women. Under the neoliberal policies being pursued in most of the countries in the world, working women have experienced many setbacks. As I come from India, I would like to share my experiences based on our work in India.
In the last decade the total number of women workers in India has come down by over 20 million. Agriculture is in serious crisis as a result of drastic reduction in public spending in agriculture. 80% of working women in India were working in agriculture. Because of the agrarian crisis large numbers of women do not get any work in agriculture but it is not compensated through non agricultural work. Large numbers of women migrate to towns and cities in search of work but they get employment only in the informal sector with no income security, social security etc. The sector where women’s employment has increased in the last decade is as domestic workers. Reports indicate that even in the advanced capitalist countries the number of women in the informal sector is increasing.
The unpaid work of women is also increasing. The unpaid care work of women is being widely discussed in the CSW session. But the government of India itself is employing millions of women in its different departments but refuses to recognise them as ‘workers’ simply to avoid paying them minimum wages and other benefits. They are called ‘social workers’, ‘activists’, ‘volunteers’ etc and paid a meagre ‘honorarium’ which is less than 25% of the minimum wage. Some of them are not paid any fixed wage at all except an ‘incentive’. The traditional domestic responsibilities of women – of providing food, looking after the children, the sick etc in the families is being extended to the society and they are made to work with no or nominal remuneration. While the government provides huge tax and other types of concessions amounting to billions of dollars it denies minimum wages and other basic facilities to these women workers.
The global crisis is being utilised to increase the attacks on the workers. Many governments are resorting to austerity measures and curtailing the wages and other benefits of the workers while at the same time providing huge tax and other concessions to the employers, the capitalists in almost all the countries. While their profits are increasing the share of the wages of the workers is drastically coming down. Working women are the worst affected by these austerity measures. It is recently reported that even in developed country like Britain, one in five mothers was skipping meals to feed their children. Despite all the talk of supporting the MDGs, most of the governments are not allotting adequate funds for achieving them, particularly to those related to women and girls. Under neoliberal policies public spending on basic needs like education, health, social security etc has come down with increasing privatisation of these services. Without adequate public funding it will be impossible to achieve these goals.
What is necessary for achieving the MDGs is to reverse the neoliberal policies. It is necessary to mobilise the workers, men and women to fight against these policies. The WFTU and its affiliated unions are trying to mobilise the workers including large sections of working women in the fight against the policies that increase the attacks on the workers and benefit the few capitalists. I think there is a need to develop a wider and stronger fight against these policies. Organisations like the WFTU, WIDF and others have to come together in this struggle. It is through such united fight by mobilising all sections of workers and women alone can the conditions of working women be improved and inequalities ended.