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FEMINISM: BEYOND PATRIARCHY

Hysteria Magazine

Hysterical Feminisms

To politicise the oppressed is to engage them in dialogue, to raise awareness and provide them with the knowledge necessary for them to emancipate themselves and society as a whole. The process of fighting for gender equality is commonly termed feminism. Yet unlike the other freedom movements of caste, race and class, in which the respective populace often agree that they are oppressed, women’s rights movement must contend with dismantling internalized beliefs that women’s subjugation is natural.

Heterosexual and familial relationships often command great social control. The replication of wider gender oppression within these smaller units is rife. Thus women are subjected to a ‘dual-oppression’: one domestic and the other social. This duality leads women to endure intra-antagonisms beyond those experienced by other oppressed groups. Sexism in many heterosexual domestic relationships is so naturalized that many women often dismiss or overlook it. One could even term this situation ‘tamed slavery’. Women are tamed through societal insistence on submissiveness as a desirable feminine trait, a process that privileges men and disempowers women.

Feminist movements have long put forward the theory of patriarchy as a structural method of analyzing gender oppression. The 1980s saw mainstream feminism’s increasing shift from this theory towards the concept of intersectionality. Crenshaw’s theory argues that the systemic oppression of women is multi-layered, interrelated, and influenced by intersecting systems of race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity. Yet often missing from this broader analysis of oppression is an acknowledgement of the role of class. This approach allows for greater structural analysis of the present and provides a stronger framework on which a future egalitarian society might be based.

Oppression operates on both ideological and material levels. Gender, race, religion, caste, ability, nationality, sexuality and cultural oppressions have ideological origins while the roots of class oppression are material. Yet in practice both these categories overlap, as ideology cannot be enforced without material effects. Hegemony, the standardization of ruling class norms and the ensuing entrenchment of ruling class power, comes about through lived experience.

Feminism cannot afford to ignore the material conditions that give rise to the spectrum of gender oppression. A blinkered focus only on ideological factors results in too narrow an approach. Casting feminism as an isolated issue belies its strong links with other freedom movements and results in conflicts and hostility with other liberation struggles.

Let me ask this: would the abolition of patriarchy—the male domination structure—lead to the abolition of racial, religious, caste-based, sexuality-based, and ability-based oppression?

No. Not at all. Furthermore, with an atomized approach we cannot identify the root cause of this social discrimination. If we have to choose to eliminate one oppression after the other, it will again have its own consequences and antagonisms. Moreover, when the base is not altered, different variations of hegemony will manifest and emerge again over a period of time.

Oppression, an agent of hegemony, cannot have existed from time immemorial.  We therefore need to probe into the historical evolution of the issue. In the case of women, we can see from historical studies that human beings lived in groups, as in communes, and, according to some studies, biological paternity was not considered an important issue. “It was long thought – and it still is believed in certain primitive matriarchal societies – that the father plays no part in conception…”[1]

In a matriarchal society women held higher positions to men, gathered food, went hunting, led the clan and people were not subjected to any form of oppression. We may call it primitive communism. “The communistic household implies the supremacy of women in the house… because of the impossibility of determining the natural father with certainty, signifies high esteem for women…”[2]

A study of the past society reveals that production did not happen for the accumulation of wealth; there were no ‘goods’, there was no money and essentially there was no buying of labour. Subsequently there was also no exploitation and no hegemony. “Production at all former stages of society were essentially collective, and, likewise, consumption took place by the direct distribution of the products within larger or smaller communistic communities.”[3]

Production of ‘things’ is necessary for human survival. It requires the use of raw materials, tools and auxiliary materials. Even if these are all available, production is not going to take place just by placing them next to each other: somebody has to work on it. Therefore, we require labour. We need both the means of production and labour in order to produce ‘things’. Developments in the production process led to division of labour and formation of classes. The conditions that contributed to the growth of the prevailing economic system became the social order of the society. Social scientists have codified various types of society as primitive (more or less communal), slave, feudal and capitalist. We shall deal with capitalist production that currently dominates the world economy and the feminist theory advocated by capitalism.

Under capitalism, production for survival turned into production for accumulation of wealth. Profit is not a natural mandate. It is harnessed by capitalists for accumulation of wealth, for which workers are subjected to ruthless working hours, under brutal working conditions. Marxists call this new value created by excess labour power ‘surplus value’ and this is appropriated by capitalists as profit. This appropriation of surplus value is the basis for the hegemonic social relations and its manifestations.

Karl Marx delineates the division of labour in the earlier modes of production and under capitalism, summarized below:

Under capitalism, division of labour is based on private property and thus the owner–wage labourer relationship that emerges in this system is hierarchical. The labour relationship under capitalism saw the emergence of new mode of compensation for the labourer in the form of wages [money]; things became ‘goods’, means of production[4] became capital[5], and the exploitative formula was termed ‘profit’. This system of purchasing labour power by the owner of the means of production and the appropriation of surplus as profit is called exploitation of labour. This mode of production and the economic system based on private property is called capitalism.

Let us first briefly analyse social relations and then probe into personal relations at household level, as the division of labour is visible in both.

We as humans have to produce and consume in order to survive. Production is an economic activity, and a determinant of human life. Thus, human beings on both an individual and social level are subjected to product and labour relations. If labour relations are exploitative and unfair, it is very apparent that the resultant social relations will also be exploitative and unfair.

If a mode of production and the resultant hegemonic social order are materially based, limiting the feminist struggle to only patriarchy or any such ideological forms would be deficient. For argument’s sake, if we agree that by eliminating patriarchy we manage to establish gender equality,

  • how do we stop war and famine?
  • How do we eliminate poverty?
  • How do we eliminate the commodification of women’s bodies?

Manmade social order underpinned by unchecked desire for wealth engenders conflicts and it does not allow fair distribution. Karl Marx defines this as class antagonism in relation to property. He categorizes antagonistic groups as: 1) bourgeoisie (who own the means of production and whose source of income is profit), 2) land owners (whose income is rent from tenancy), 3) proletariat (who own labour and sell it for wages).

With an isolated approach on antagonisms and formation of state we appeal to the state to demand political reforms, ignorant of the fact that state is directly and indirectly ruled by those who control the means of production and that the state apparatuses only exist to support the existing hierarchies of power:

“As the state arose from the need to keep class antagonisms in check, but also arose in the thick of the fight between the classes, it is normally the state of the most powerful, economically ruling class, which by its means becomes also the politically ruling class, and so acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class….”[6]

Engels here demonstrates that the state and its legislative, judiciary, and military apparatuses will only work for the benefit of the ruling classes. Constant struggle may yield piecemeal reform. Yet as long as the economic system remains capitalist, we will not achieve equality: the internal logic of capitalism demands divide and rule to ensure a permanent disadvantaged, low-waged underclass.

To those who may argue that this argument is economically deterministic, and that patriarchy and other forms of oppression existed before class conflict arose, this denies the interrelatedness of social and economic disempowerment. Women, people of colour, LGBT folks, and people with disabilities comprise the lowest-paid members of the workforce, while many others are also homebound, drowning in poverty or pushed into sex work because of unemployment.

From the above discussion, it is clear that the evolution of society from communal living, to slavery, feudalism, and capitalism led to the creation of a modern system intent on producing profit and accumulating private property. The laws of commodity production and increase in wealth by those who possess of means of production further reduced any equality between men and women. The family became an economic unit of the society, in which sexual division of labour developed in line with the tools and mode of production. “According to the division of labor then prevailing in the family, the procuring of food and the implements necessary thereto, and therefore, also the ownership of the latter, fell to the man.”[7]

With developments in stages of production, a third division of labour was introduced in which the means of production were plundered and acquired by groups that took no part in production. “Here a class appears for the first time which, without taking part in production, captures the management of production as a whole and economically subjugates the producers to its rule … and exploits them both.”[8]  Thus it is clear that working men, the owners of the means of production, were denuded of those means, and were subjugated into slave-labour under feudalism and later as wage-labour under capitalism. “The process, therefore, that clears the way for the capitalist system, can be none other than the process which takes away from the laborer the possession of his means of production; a process that transforms, on the one hand, the social means of subsistence and of production into capital, on the other, the immediate producers into wage laborers”.[9]

The pursuit of profit by the owners of the means of production established hegemonic dependency through the process of appropriation, enslavement, and institutionalisation of the domesticated women living with the male breadwinners, while increasing the dependency of the breadwinner on the owner of the means of production for their living requirements.

Once again, it becomes evident that economic conditions and the consequent social order form the root cause of enslavement, in this context the enslavement of women, and the consequent ideological-social categorisation. This categorisation—the valuation and devaluation of different categories of labour power—allows for cheap labour and thus for profit accumulation. Further,under manifested power relations as patriarchy and capitalism, Woman, with her reproductive capacity, is devalued as a commodity of labour and is looked upon as a reproductive unit responsible for sustenance of labour power through maintenance of the labourer, as well as the reproduction of new labour power through procreation.

Thus, now that we have examined a root cause, or at least a catalyst, of patriarchy, we must ask, what process will eliminate the hegemony that perpetuates gender discrimination for cheap labour and control over women’s reproductive capacity?

Answer:  The end of capitalism—that which appropriated the means of production, that which enslaved us and subjugated us for the sake of attaining wealth, and made us dependent, even for basic survival; that which estranged labour; that which exploits the entire human race irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, and even religion. Capitalism must be overthrown and a new mode of production based upon collective ownership over means of production established.

It is not in my aim to replace feminism with Marxism, yet the Marxist approach aims to liberate far more women than does bourgeois feminism, which is concerned primarily with eliminating patriarchy. The bourgeoisie feminist flock (of any gender and sexuality) that demands economic empowerment based on the female accumulation of private property is not egalitarian. What must be remembered here is that

“The granting of political equality to women does not change the actual balance of power. The proletarian woman ends up in the proletarian, the bourgeois woman in the bourgeois camp. We must not let ourselves be fooled by Socialist trends in the bourgeois women’s movement which last only as long as bourgeois women feel oppressed”.[10]  

However, though the bourgeoisie is the capitalist class,[11] the bourgeoisie feminist ideology, the ideology of the ruling class, often influences and embraces all classes of women, including the proletariat. Working class women, ignorant of the self-interested nature of bourgeois politics, are frequently seduced by its ideology and fall into libertarian camps.

It is from this understanding and position of solidarity on humanitarian basis, Marxists express solidarity to all women’s movements:

“.. this movement also contains a more profound spiritual and moral aspect. The bourgeois woman not only demands her own bread but she also requests spiritual nourishment and wants to develop her individuality… The economic as well as the intellectual and moral endeavors of bourgeois women’s rights advocates are completely justified”.[12]

Furthermore, Marx says:

“In short, the communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. In all these Movements they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time”.[13]

In conclusion, patriarchy, though it may be a quasi-independent, as argued by bourgeoisie, in the present historical condition, it is comprised in or is absorbed by capitalism. Oppression is an exploitative mechanism and thus sex-based oppression is also found in capitalism with the motive providing cheap labour and higher profit. In the Indian context, this is further intensified by caste—another form of division of labour. Thus, patriarchy has become constituent of capitalism. Hence it is obvious that when the exploitation of labour based on private property is abolished and a socialist division of labour is established, patriarchy will also wither away[14] in the state, because under such equitable conditions, relationships between men and women will be more natural, as family will no longer be the economic unity of profit-oriented production.

“Men and women will not be bound together by pre-determined roles and notions of what is or is not ‘natural’, or out of economic necessity. Rather they will be free to enter into relationships which are suited to the emotional needs of the particular individuals concerned”.[15]

It is in this context that Marxist feminists suggest that the feminist struggle should be directed in the line of class struggle, alongside fighting the patriarchy. Such revolutionary struggles will carry the fight for: 1) equal division of household labour, 2) property rights 3) decision-making rights 4) fight for physical, cultural, and economic rights 5) fight for equal social division of labour of all and abolition of private property.

The eruption of the feminist self and of feminist politics if not anchored by class politics, if not brought into dialogue with socialist class struggle, will lose the at the emancipation of proletariat women.  So, if feminism intends to be all-encompassing, then socialism[16] is its guiding light. The new type of socialist society following the dictatorship of the Proletariat will not only be gender balanced, but also free of exploitation of labour, thus eliminating the encumbrance and conflicts arising out of dual labour. Such an existence will truly be a higher form[17] of living.

[1] Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, Vintage, 1977, pg. 39

[2] F. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Progress Publishers, pg. 49

[3] F. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Progress Publishers, pg 170

[4] Simplified and generalized for the sake of briefing, natural resources and labour have been included in it, but labour is autonomous.

[5] Karl Marx explains it in detail in his works.

[6] https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1884/origin-family/ch09.htm

[7] F. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Progress Publishers, pg 55

[8] F. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Progress Publishers, pg 162

[9] Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1, pg.668

[10] Clara Zetkin,  https://www.marxists.org/archive/zetkin/1896/10/women.htm

[11] “Bourgeoisie: Engels described the Bourgeoisie as the class of great Capitalists, who in all developed Countries are now almost exclusively in possession of all the means of Consumption, and of the raw materials and instruments (machines, factories), necessary for their production (Principles of Communism, 1847); and as ‘the class of modern Capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labour’…. The Bourgeoisie, as in this sense the Economically dominant class, which also controls the State apparatus and Cultural production, stands in opposition to, and in conflict with, the working class….”, Tom Bottomore, A dictionary of Marxist Thought, edited by Tom Bottomore, A Maya Blackwell book, 2nd edition. P. 36.

[12] Clara Zetkin,  https://www.marxists.org/archive/zetkin/1896/10/women.htm

[13] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto, combined edition with Economic and Philosphic Manuscripts of 1844, Karl Marx, translated by Martin Milligan, Prometheus Books, New York, 1988. P. 243

[14] http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/pamphlets/women-and-socialism

[15] F. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Progress Publishers, pg. 162

[16] As defined by Marx and Lenin, Socialism is essentially a transitional stage on the road to communism.

[17] Being a transitional stage it will be, as called by Marx ‘the higher stage of communist society’, under which the state will wither away, a totally different attitude to work will prevail, and society will be able to inscribe on its banner the motto ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’. Tom Bottomore, A dictionary of Marxist Thought, edited by Tom Bottomore, A Maya Blackwell book, 2nd edition. P. 500,501.

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Originally Published in: http://www.hystericalfeminisms.com/feminism-beyond-patriarchy/

To Read in Tamil: http://tinyurl.com/q9e2o7n

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பெண்ணைப் பழிக்காமல் பிழைப்பு நடத்துங்கள் திரைத்துறையினரே

//அப்படியானால் படத்தில் என்னதான் இருக்கிறது? காதல் என்னும் பாவனையில் ஆண் பெண் உறவுக்கான ஏக்கம் காட்சி ரீதியாகவும் வசனங்களின் மூலமாகவும் திரும்பத் திரும்பச் சொல்லப்படுகிறது. இவற்றை எந்த அளவுக்குச் சில்லறைத்தனமாகவும் ஆபாசமாகவும் வெளிப்படுத்த முடியுமோ அந்த அளவுக்கு இயக்குநர் வெளிப்படுத்தியிருக்கிறார்.// (திரிஷா இல்ல நயந்தாரா திரை விமர்சனம் – tamil hindu)
திரைப்படங்களை / படைப்புகளை பெண்ணிய நோக்கிலிருந்தும் விமர்சனபூர்வமாக அணுகும் வெகு சிலரில் அரவிந்தனும் ஒருவர். அவருடைய திரை விமர்சனங்கள் மிகவும் முக்கியமானவை. அனைவரும் படிக்க வேண்டிய ஒன்றும்கூட…
நான் இந்தப் படத்தைப் பார்க்கவில்லை. ஆனால் பிட்டு படம்டி எனும் பாடல் கேட்டபோதே நிச்சயமாக இது ஒரு கேவலமானப் படமாகத்தான் இருக்கும் என்று யூகித்திருந்தேன். தன் மேல் நம்பிக்கை இல்லாத ஒருவரே இப்படி விடலைப் பருவ காம உணர்வுகளையும், பெண்களை தூற்றுபவர்களாகவும்.. அதிலும் குறிப்பாக காதலில் பெண்கள் ஏமாற்றுபவர்கள், மோசமானவர்கள் என்பதாக மிகைப்படுத்தி ஏதோ ஆணினத்தை இரட்சிக்க வந்தவர்கள் போல் தங்களை முன்வைப்பர்.
நடிகர் விஜய் இந்தப் பாதையைத்தான் முன்னெடுத்தார். அதற்கு அவர் தந்தையே வழிகாட்டி. அதேபோல் சிம்பு, தனுஷ் என்று பட்டியல் நீள்கிறது. பெண்களை சபிப்பதன் மூலம்… பெண்ணினத்தை தாழ்த்துவதன் மூலம் இவர்கள் ஒரு பெரும் கூட்டத்தை தங்களின் ரசிகர்களாக உருவாக்கலாம், ஆனால் பெண்களுக்கெதிரான மோசமான நஞ்சையே இவர்கள் விதைக்கின்றனர் என்பதை அவர்கள்தான் அறியவில்லை, அல்லது அறிந்தும் ‘பிழைப்பிற்காக’ முதுகெலும்பற்ற காரியத்தை செய்கின்றனர் என்றால் அவர்கள் வீட்டுப் பெண்கள் எப்படி இதை சகித்துக்கொள்கிறார்கள் என்பது புரியவில்லை.
பெண் பற்றிய ஆபத்தான கருத்தியல்களை விதைப்பதிலும், ஆணாதிக்க கட்டமைப்பை அப்படியே கட்டிக்காப்பதிலும் திரைப்படங்கள் மற்றும் இதர ஊடகங்கள் மிக முக்கியப் பங்கு வகிக்கின்றன. உண்மையில், பெண்களைப் பற்றி மட்டுமின்றி ஆண்களையும் சதா சர்வ காலம் பெண்ணையே சார்ந்திருப்பவராகவும், பெண்ணுக்காக அலைபாய்பவராகவும், காமமே கண்ணாய் இருப்பவர்களாகவும் காட்டும் இந்த ஆபாச பிழைப்புவாதப் போக்கை உண்மையில் எதிர்க்க வேண்டியவர்கள் ஆண்களே.
ஆணையும் பெண்ணையும் பிரித்தாளும் செயல்களின் மூலம் இலாபமடைபவர்கள் முதலாளிகள் / நடிகர்கள் ஆனால் பெரும் நஷ்டமடைவது சமூகம். அந்த சமூகம் என்பதில் உங்கள் வீட்டுப் பெண்ணும் அடக்கம் என்பதை ஆண்கள் நினைவுகொள்ள வேண்டும்.
பெண் இனத்தை மீண்டும் மீண்டும் கொச்சைப் படுத்துவதும், குடித்துவிட்டு பெண்களை சபித்துக்கொண்டே இருப்பதும், பெண்களைத் தாழ்த்துவதுமாக இருக்கும் இவர்களுக்கு உண்மையில் பெண் உடலைக் காட்டாமல் பிழைப்பு நடத்தும் துணிவு இருக்கிறதா?
இதில் பெண்களின் பங்கு இல்லையா? அதில் நடிப்பவரும் ஒரு பெண்தானே என்றெல்லாம் அங்கலாய்ப்பவர்களுக்கு ஒரே ஒரு பதில்தான் என்னிடம் உள்ளது: ஆண், பெண் இருவரும் இதே ஆணாதிக்க சமூகத்தில்தான் பாடம் கற்கிறோம். பொது ஆணிற்கு இருக்கும் அதே அறியாமைதான் பொது பெண்ணிற்கும் இருக்கிறது. அதுமட்டுமின்றி, பெண் என்பவள் victimize செய்யப்பட்டவள், அவளுக்கு அத்தகைய வாய்ப்புகளே வழங்கப்படுகின்றன.ஆனால் அவர்களுக்கும் தார்மீக பொறுப்பு உள்ளது என்பதை நான் மறுக்கவில்லை.
ஆனால், முதன்மையில் இங்கு நாம் குறை சொல்வது ஆணினத்தை அல்ல, ஆணாதிக்க சமூகத்தின் சிந்தனைகளைக் கொண்டு தம் பிழைப்பை ஓட்ட நினைக்கும் அந்த ‘படைப்பாளர்கள்’ பற்றி மட்டுமே. அத்தகையவர்கள் ஆணாகவும் இருக்கலாம், பெண்ணாகவும் இருக்கலாம். இந்த சமூகத்தின் முன் எவர் ஒருவர் ஒரு படைப்பின் மூலம், செயலின் மூலம் ஒரு சிந்தனையை, ஒரு உடையாடலை, ஒரு படைப்பை முன் வைக்கிறாரோ – (அதாவது கருத்து சொல்லிகள்) அவர் பற்றிய விமர்சனமே இது. அத்தகையோருக்கு பொது புத்தியில் உள்ளவர்களைக் காட்டிலும் கூடுதல் பொறுப்புள்ளது….
ஜீ.வி பிரகாஷ், ஆதிக் மற்றும் அதுபோன்ற திரைத்துறையினர் தம் செயலுக்காக உண்மையில் வெட்கித் தலை குனிய வேண்டும்.
அரவிந்தனின் சொற்களில் சொல்வதானால் //ஆதிக் இப்போதுதான் திரை உலகில் அடியெடுத்து வைத்திருக்கிறார். அவரது பார்வை விசாலமாகி, திறமையும் கலை உணர்வும் வளர்ந்து செழித்து அவரால் பல நல்ல படங்களைத் தர முடியலாம். அப்படி நேரும் பட்சத்தில் தன் முதல் படத்தை நினைவுகூரும்போது அவருக்குக் கட்டாயம் கூசும்.//
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Protection of women under the labour laws

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By : Adv. Rahul Nath on 21 January 2015

INTRODUCTION

Women constitute half the population of the society and it is presumed that best creation belong to the women. But it is a harsh reality that women have been ill-treated in every society for ages and India is no exception. Women are deprived of economic resources and are dependent on men for their living.

From the cradle to grave, females are under the clutches of numerous evils such as discriminations, oppressions, violence, within the family, at the work places and in the society. In order to improve the condition of women in India, Legislature enacted the large volume of enactments pertaining to industry or work which contain special provisions for women such as: The Workmen Compensation Act, 1923; Payment of Wages Act, 1936; Factories Act, 1948; Maternity Benefit Act, 1961; Minimum Wages Act, 1948; Employees State Insurance Act 1948 and Pensions Act, 1987; etc.

PROVISIONS FOR THE PROTECTION OF WOMEN UNDER LABOUR LAW

Under the Industrial laws the women have been bestowed the special position in the view of their unique characteristics, physically, mentally and biologically. Some of the Acts related to employment were enacted during British period as well as after independence. The main objectives for passing these laws are to enable the women to increase their efficiency, to increase their participation in useful services, to ensure their infant welfare and to provide equal pay for equal work. The important labour legislations covering the women are:

1. The Factories Act, 1948

The Factories Act is a part of labour welfare legislations wherein measures have been laid down to be adopted for the health, safety, welfare, working hours, leave and employment of young persons and women. Exclusive provisions for women have also been incorporated in the Act keeping in view their soft and tender personalities.

 Provisions for welfare of women:

  • Prohibition of employment of women during night hours
  • Prohibition of work in hazardous occupations.
  • Prohibition of employment of women in pressing cotton where a cotton opener is at work
  • Fixation of daily hours of work at nine.
  • Fixation of maximum permissible load.
  • Provision for crèche

In every factory where more than 30 women workers are ordinarily employed, there shall be a suitable room for the use of children under the age of six years of such women.

  • Provision for washing and bathing facilities. The Act provides for separate and adequately screened washing and bathing facilities for women.
  • Provisions for toilets. The factories Act must make it obligatory for any factory owner to maintain an adequate number of latrine and urinals separate for women.
  • Provisions for rest rooms and canteens.
  • Provisions for mandatory benefits.

All the above provisions are simultaneously provided under The Plantations labour Act 1951, The Mines Act 1952, The Beedi and Cigar workers (conditions of Employment) Act 1966, The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970 and The Interstate Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and condition of services) Act 1979.

2. The Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948

The Employees’ State Insurance Act, one of the most important social legislation in India, it has been enacted to provide for various benefits in different contingencies. Under this Act, insured women workers get sickness benefit, disablement benefit, medical benefit and funeral expenses along with insured men workers. However, in addition to these benefits, insured women workers also get maternity benefit in case of certain contingencies arising out of pregnancy, confinement, miscarriage, sickness arising out of pregnancy, premature birth of child or miscarriage and death. The duration of maternity benefit available to insured women in case of confinement is 12 weeks, of which not more than 6 weeks shall precede the expected date if confinement. The maternity benefit is paid subject to the condition that the insured women do not work for remuneration on the days in respect of which the benefit is paid, In the event of the death of an insured woman, the maternity benefit is payable to her nominee or legal representative for the whole period if the child survives, and if the child also dies, until the death of the child.

The Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948 provides a scheme under which the employer and the employee must contribute a certain percentage of the monthly wage to the Insurance Corporation that runs dispensaries and hospitals in working class localities. It facilitates both outpatient and in-patient care and freely dispenses medicines and covers hospitalization needs and costs. Leave certificates for health reasons are forwarded to the employer who is obliged to honour them. Employment injury, including occupational disease is compensated according to a schedule of rates proportionate to the extent of injury and loss of earning capacity. Payment, unlike in the Workmen’s Compensation Act, is monthly. Despite the existence of tripartite bodies to supervise the running of the scheme, the entire project has fallen into disrepute due to corruption and inefficiency. Workers in need of genuine medical attention rarely approach this facility though they use it quite liberally to obtain medical leave. There are interesting cases where workers have gone to court seeking exemption from the scheme in order to avail of better facilities available through collective bargaining.

3. The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961

Economic dependence of women is what gives rise to their subordination in society today. Hence to remove such subordination and lay the foundation of equality women too must be made economically independent and must take an active role in all sectors of business today. Problem faced by women in the economic sphere of life are mostly relating to unequal wages and discrimination resulting from their biological role in nature of childbearing. To curb such problems and protect the economic rights of women the legislature introduced the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 and Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.

A maternity benefit is one that every woman shall be entitled to, and her employer shall be liable for, the payment of maternity benefit, which is the amount payable to her at the rate of average daily wages for the period of her actual absence. The Maternity Benefit Act aims to regulate of employment of women in certain establishment for certain periods before and after childbirth and provides for maternity and certain benefits.

Women can claim benefits under the act everywhere except in factories and the other establishment where the Employee’s State Insurance Act is applicable. Women who are employed, whether directly or through a contractor, have actually worked in the establishment for a period of at least 80 days during the 12 months are eligible to claim the benefits under this act. Cash benefits to women who are absent from work during the maternity leave, are not be less than two-thirds of her previous earnings.

Discharge or dismissal during maternity leave is considered to be void. When pregnant women absents herself from work in accordance with the provision of this act, it shall be unlawful for her employer to discharge or dismiss her during, or on account of, such absence, or give notice of discharge or dismissal in such a day that notice will expire during such absence or vary to her disadvantage any of the conditions of her services. Dismissal or discharge of a pregnant woman shall not disentitle her to the maternity benefit or medical bonus allowable under the act except if it was on some other ground.

Failure to pay maternity benefits or discharge or unemployment of woman due to maternity will result in imprisonment of the employer for not less than three months which may extend to one year and a fine of rupees two hundred which may extend to five thousand.

In Air India v. Nargesh Mirza [AIR 1981 SC 1829; 1981 (4) SCC 335], the Supreme Court struck down the provision of rules which stipulated termination of service of an air hostess on her first pregnancy as it arbitrary and abhorrent to the notions of a civilized society.

The ongoing argument in some circles is that the wage differential between women and men is caused by the need to compensate the higher labor costs employers incur by hiring women, in accordance with special laws to protect maternity.

Employers prefer to hire a male instead of female, without the burden of these additional monetary costs. This is however not enough as many employers do not hire married women or dismiss them before pregnancy. The act provides some protection to women economically especially today in an age where single mothers are becoming more prevalent it gives them stability in their lives to have their wages and the security of returning to a steady job. My personal views are that this act is not enough to guarantee women equality and economic security but it is definitely a starting step and though there are several bridges to cross.

4. The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976

Equal pay for equal work for women and men is a vital subject of great concern to society in general and employees in particular. There was a common belief that women are physically weak and should be paid less than their male counter parts for the same piece of work. Women all over the world, had till recently been very much in articulate and were prepared to accept lower wages even when they were employed on the same jobs as men. Even in the economically and socially advanced countries where remarkable progress has been made, discrimination still exists. In India, in the initial stages when legislation for the protection of workers was hardly thought of, factory owners taking advantage of the backwardness and poverty, recruited women on a large scale at lower wages and made them work under inhuman condition. International Labour Organization has evolved several conventions to provide protection to employed women. A number of ILO conventions have been ratified by India and some of these though not ratified have been accepted in principle. The principle of ILO has been incorporated in the constitution of India in the form of Article 39, which directs the states to secure equal pay for equal work for both men and women. To give effect to this constitutional provision the parliament enacted the Equal Remuneration Act, 1975.

Under this law, no discrimination is permissible in recruitment and service conditions except where employment of women is prohibited or restricted by the law. The situation regarding enforcement of the provisions of this law is regularly monitored by the Central Ministry of Labour and the Central Advisory Committee.

5. The Workmen Compensation Act, 1923

In any industrial society the problem of labour management relations becomes so important that some sort of social insurance becomes necessary to provide adequate protection from losses caused to the labourers by accidents. With a view to improve the condition of the workmen some social insurance legislations have been enacted. The Workmen’s Compensation Act 1923 is one of the earliest pieces of labour legislation, adopted to benefit the labourers. It covers all cases of accident ‘arising out of and in the course of employment’ and the rate of compensation to be paid in a lump sum, is determined by a schedule proportionate to the extent of injury and the loss of earning capacity. The younger the worker and the higher the wage, the greater is the compensation subject to a limit. The amount of compensation payable depends in case of death on the average monthly wages of the deceased workman and in case of an injured workman both on the average monthly wages and the nature of disablement. The Act intended to ensure the rehabilitation of the workman himself or of his dependent. The dependent can claim compensation in both cases i.e. death or injury. This law applies to the unorganised sectors and to those in the organised sectors who are not covered by the Employees State Insurance Act, 1948 which is conceptually considered to be superior to the Workmen’s Compensation Act.

6. The Minimum Wages Act, 1948

The minimum wages Act was passed for the welfare of labours. This Act has been enacted to secure the welfare of the workers in a competitive market by providing for a minimum limit of wages in certain employments. The Act provides for fixation by the central government of minimum wages for employments detailed in the schedule of the Act and carried on by or under the authority of the central government, by railway administrative or in relation to a mine, oilfield or major port, or any corporation established by a central Act, and by the state government for other employments covered by the schedule of the Act. The object of this Act is to prevent exploitation of the workers and for this purpose it aims at fixation of minimum wages which employer must pay.

The Act contemplates that minimum wages rates must ensure not only the mere physical need of the worker which would keep him just above starvation but must ensure for him not only his subsistence and that of his family but also preserve his efficiency as a worker. It would therefore, provide not merely for the bare subsistence of his life but the preservation of the workers and so must provide for some measure of education, medical requirements and amenities.

 7. National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005

Recently, the Government of India enacted National Rural Employment Guarantee Act whereby anyone who is willing to provide manual unskilled labour will be offered wage employment for 100 days. This Act provides the enhancement of the livelihood security of the households in rural areas of the country by providing at least one hundred days of guaranteed wage employment in every financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.

Priority is given to women in the allocation of work. Gender equality is one of the core elements of this poverty reduction plan which stipulates that at least one third of the labour force should be women with equal wages for both men and women. Various gender related objectives such as provision of hygienic work environments, safe drinking water, and childcare facilities at the work-site, distance of work-place not exceeding two miles from home, health care and nutrition are emphasized.

Women engaged in agricultural farming have to spend long hours under the hot sun but are invariably paid less than their male counterparts. Women’s participation in the labour force with no wage discrimination and direct control of resources and assets can substantially enhance her health, child welfare and socioeconomic status. This employment policy if properly implemented can certainly bring momentous changes in the lives of women.

The employment scheme undoubtedly has a positive impact on gender equity and power equation within the household. An alternative model of development must focus on the enhancement of living standards of rural India where majority of the population resides.

8. The Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act, 1970

Provisions of crèches were made where twenty or more women are ordinarily employed as contract labour. Female contract labour is to be employed by any contractor between 6.00 A.M. and 7.00 P.M. only with the exception of mid-wives and nurses in hospitals and dispensaries.

PRESENT STATUS OF WOMEN AT WORK

1) Participation of women in the workforce in 2008 is only:

  • 19.7% in the urban sector, and
  • 37.6% in the rural sector.

2) Women’s wage rates are, on an average:

  • only 75 % of men’s wage rates, and
  • constitute only 25% of the family income

3) In no Indian State do women and men earn equal wages in agriculture.

Thanks

Adv. Rahul Nath (MBA, LLB)

Via email from VimalaVidya