As another ‘women’s day’ dawns upon us one might ask, what do we truly have to celebrate? While women constitute a sizable proportion of the global workforce, many continue to remain invisible. They face the double burden of unpaid care work and have limited opportunities for decent paid work. The vast majority of India’s women workers, 95 percent (195 million), are employed in the informal sector. Across the globe women earn lower wages, work in poorer conditions and are very poorly represented in policy forums that have the potential to influence change. And yet, across all our projects, women have demonstrated immense resilience and agency to subtly but surely challenge the unequal power dynamics that govern their lives.
In Ambur, Tamil Nadu, a collaborative project with Marks & Spencer and Farida Shoes gives us a glimpse into the everyday struggles of women in the leather industry. To address these challenges these women have come together to organise themselves into a livelihood collective to ensure they have a sustainable source of income. When Nargis a 55-year-old member of the collective remarks, ‘I am glad that I have work and I don’t need to depend on anybody to feed me in my old age’, she is asserting her right to economic independence.
In rural Haryana, a UNDP supported project addresses the challenges faced by rural micro-entrepreneurs. Under the project women have taken on leadership positions as ‘biz-sakhis’ to support other women to start and improve their micro-enterprises. These rural women micro-entrepreneurs demonstrate an eagerness to learn and engage with the world of business, traditionally thought to be an all-male bastion.
The Hidden Homeworkers project, supported by the European Union, in collaboration with Home Net South Asia and Home Workers Worldwide, demonstrates the immensely challenging circumstances that homeworkers contend with. Across India, Nepal and Pakistan, women homeworkers are coming together to claim social entitlements and demand better wages and working conditions. Revathy, a homeworker under the project demands, ‘we want formal recognition from the government. We want direct contact with factory owners, and we want to receive a fixed minimum wage”. Through collectivising and building capacity women in these contexts have chosen to speak -up and empower themselves.
However, this journey towards empowerment is far from over. This became clear last year as the Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted women who were faced with drastically reduced work and incomes. The lockdown measures forced small businesses to pause operations and the vast number of women in the informal sector had to manage without access to social entitlements or interim remuneration from their employers. To make matters worse, women were burdened with added domestic and care giving responsibilities during this time. It became clear that the impacts of the pandemic were felt much more severely by women.
But here too, we witnessed immense courage in the face of adversity. Our partner teams and field staff for these projects, who are predominantly women, continued to work despite challenging circumstances. Many put themselves at risk to distribute relief to worker communities. On the ground, these women negotiated the increased risks of virus transmission, unavailability of public transport, added domestic responsibilities and grappled with an uncertain future. Together with their families and communities they have kept hope alive.
At Traidcraft we recognise
the need to support these activities We believe that supporting women to become
more empowered in their work has the potential to contribute to greater
equality in other realms of life as well. And so, today, let us celebrate the
immense courage and resilience women bring to their lives, to fight unequal
power dynamics and ultimately create a better world for all of us.