Whilst travelling through India I met many women…
We spoke about their lives, families and dreams… I soon realized there was a common thread that kept cropping up in our conversations: work. It is then when I decided to investigate how the existence of these women is affected by their capacity, or lack of capacity to work. I learnt that the concept of work can have many different meanings, and that the traditional roles assumed by women still remain out of sight when considering women’s labour and contribution to the economy.
In rural areas, many women have to work, forced by the necessity to sustain their families. But in other cases, it is the families that prohibit women from pursuing work outside the house. A lot of them, in cities and villages, spend most of their time doing essential work at home, but they don’t even consider it as such. As for young urban women, a career becomes a platform from which they demand recognition.
The obstacles and challenges that they face have inspired many of these women to confront traditional, patriarchal norms that prevent them from being independent. By challenging those norms they are becoming aware of their rights, and reclaiming more presence in public spaces and in society. Work turns out to be an essential instrument to take back control of their lives.
Through a series of articles, photography and a documentary film I will share the testimonies and stories of these women, with the aim to discover what “work” means for them, and to reflect on their role in today’s Indian society.
Unskilled labour and low wagesThe majority of rural women in India work either in basic agriculture or construction, where they perform the less qualified, lower paid jobs.
Most of them are marginal workers, who only work ocassionally (like seasonal agricultural workers).
'Conventional' jobs for women
The idea that women cannot learn skilled professions is still prevalent in India. There are many prejudices around the kind of jobs that they can perform.
It is important that opportunities are created in non-conventional sectors for women to access better paid, more stable employment.
Violence and insecurity
If women want to work, they need to feel safe. Women's safety in public spaces, as well as in the workplace, is a necessary requirement to improve their access to the labour market.
More girls in schools
Despite the efforts made in India to improve the access of girls to primary and secondary education, which have resulted in an increasing number of females students attending schools, this has not translated into more paid employment opportunities.
As they get older, many girls are forced to drop out from school to help with work at home or get married.
No labor rightsAround 80% of Indian workers are employed in the informal economy. This includes those who have no contract or access to social security, as well as those who work in small family enterprises, with no retribution or legal recognition.
Many of them are women.
Gender-biased social normsStrict pathriarcal rules regulate the lives of millions of women in India, preventing them from accessing paid jobs outside of their homes.
Gulafroz, first from the left, was forbidden to work by her husband during the ten years that they were married. As a result, she was entirely dependant on him, who sometimes would deny her money to buy essential products such as clothes or sanitary towels. A few years ago she gathered strength to separate from him.
Now, she works as an assistant in Dr. Tina Chhaptar's clinic, which is entirely staffed by women.
The gap on unpaid domestic workThe lack of infrastructure and services directly affects women's participation in the workforce.
In India, women do ten times more unpaid work than men. Like in many developing countries, essential tasks such as collecting water or cleaning and cooking are almost exclusively performed by women.