Shramshakti: Report of the National Commission on Self-Employed Women and Women in the Informal Sector
A report on self-employed women in India:
“There is no work, yet the grind of working is killing me…”
In the course of travelling to public hearings, meetings with government and project officers, women’s organizations, cooperatives, and specified work sites, the members of the Commission often stopped along the roadside whenever they saw women at work, and asked them about their work, their family situation, and the problems they faced in both these spheres.
Occasionally the women’s responses were encouraging–they were getting a fair wage, or they had a mother-in-law to help look after the children while they worked, or they had taught themselves a special skill, like carpentry or making switch gears, (areas traditionally dominated by men), so they could make ends meet. But these positive responses were rare. All too often the Commission heard tales of abysmally low wages (some as low as 20 paise or Rs. 1-2 per day), of widespread night-blindness from malnutrition, of harassment by officials––from physical abuse by forest guards to bribe–abuse by police in market place––and of an alarming number of families surviving solely on the women’s earnings (from 20%-60% in every group the Commission encountered). The most disturbing part of these accounts was that so many of the women had no hope of ever escaping rom this drudgery. After having to spend 23 years breaking stones and head-loading in a Rajasthan mine, or peeling and beating coir for 18 years, or being born into a migrant road crew, or carrying toxic sulphur powder for seven years––all for a fraction of the legal minimum wage––what reason is there to think that their families’ lives will change?