Comment

To Prevent Harassment

To Prevent Harassment
26th March 2013

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2012 was passed by the Parliament on Feburary 26, 2013.

Passing a law is but one step in the long journey towards gender justice in the workplace and in society in general. To make the law effective, people in all workplaces must be aware of the law, be committed to ensuring a safe working environment, and know how to handle complaints in a timely and dignified manner. This will require awareness, policy advocacy and legal actions, both in the organized and unorganized sector, and also to extend this to the Armed Forces, which are not covered by the current act. It is an arduous task and needs much more support from the government, courts, and employers, along with organizations of women, workers and lawyers who have been concerned with this issue for decades. Many people have written about the issues concerning difficulty of reporting and proving harassment, safeguarding against retaliation for reporting, especially in cases where one does not obtain a conviction.

To prevent sexual harassment of women at the workplace, however, we need to prevent more than sexual harassment alone. We also need to prevent discrimination of women. To address the issue of equal pay for equal work, one must first value the work that women do. In many fields men and women are segregated and men’s work is paid more. Even so, men and women must be paid at the minimum wage (Rs. 115 / day) or higher. Though the Constitution of India guarantees equality before the law and Article 39d specifically states that “that there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women,” most working women in India earn less than their male counterparts and often earn below minimum wage.

Fighting for minimum wages is no simple task. Recently a team from Hyderabad responded to a call from bonded laborers in the brick kiln industry. While trying to meet the workers, the people faced assault and threats of abuse and murder. Though they contacted many government officials and media persons to witness the plight of the workers, there were ignored, both before and after the attacks.

These are the kinds of battles that those concerned about ensuring safe and dignified workplaces need to fight. As long as threats like those faced by the concerned citizens from Hyderabad go uninvestigated and unpunished, the environment will not be safe for men or women workers to report harassment and oppression, nor for concerned citizens to extend solidarity.

For further reading …

Attack on Volunteers Investigating the Condition of Workers at Brick Kiln in AP
March 19, 2013, http://sanhati.com/articles/6239/

Parliament passes Bill to prevent sexual harassment at workplace
Gargi Parsai, February 26, 2013,
http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/parliament-passes-bill-to-prevent-sexual-harassment-at-workplace/article4455795.ece

Sexual harassment of women at workplace bill 2012 passed by Lok Sabha
September 6, 2012
http://www.lawyerscollective.org/blog/sexual-harassment-women-workplace-bill-2012-passed-lok-sabha.html

Kiran Moghe (2007), Maharashtra President of AIDWA (All-India Democratic Women’s Association)
“Almost 400 million people – more than 85% of the working population in India – work in the unorganised sector. Of these, at least 120 million are women.”
from “Understanding the Unorganized Sector” http://infochangeindia.org/agenda/women-a-work/understanding-the-unorganised-sector.html

A Brief History of the Battle Against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace
Vibhuti Patel, 2005
http://infochangeindia.org/women/analysis/a-brief-history-of-the-battle-against-sexual-harassment-at-the-workplace.html

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Report

2012

Below is an overview of my work in 2012 in the following areas:  Jivika, Women’s Health, learning, support to AID chapters, projects and publications.

Jivika

Jivika started as an effort to encourage consumer producer links, based on the faith that people were looking for ways to buy products that used fewer resources and supported more livelihoods in the rural areas at living wages.   We also sought to develop products that helped people live more sustainably, reducing dependence on disposables, and encouraging lifestyle choices compatible with a greener and more peaceful world.    We also wanted to see that half the revenues from sales went to the producers and not more than half went into marketing and shipping the products, so as to reign in the ecological footprint and the income-gap reflected in the overall enterprise.

Though it was difficult to meet all the criteria in any given product we kept these guidelines in mind while developing and marketing products.  This has limited the range of products that we make, the kinds of materials we use and the ways that we can sell and accept payment.  Because we want consumers to be linked with the people involved in bringing the product into their hands, we have not pursued online sales, which would in effect remove the person closest to the point of sale.   Typically people see products on the AID website or at a table at an event and volunteers talk to the customer, either via email or in person, before closing the sale.   Even in cases where customers contact us by email, volunteers may meet the customer in person.  These conversations form part of the outreach of jivika, to increase the amount of time that people spend thinking about where their goods come from and their role in building a sustainable world and examining the power of their purse to impact social and environmental justice.

Working with the Srikakulam team we are training tailors and young women learning to sew in making some of the unique products in our line that are also simple for novice tailors to produce.  These include baby slings, menstrual pads and cloth bags, where size specifications are not as exacting as they are for ready-to-wear garments.   Those who do well will be assigned loose-fitting clothes such as the khadi hoodie or pyzama.

At an AID wide level, more of our partner organizations are supplying fair trade goods.  We need to develop some criteria for adoption of products.  While not all products will meet all criteria, we can expect every product to meet at least, say, three criteria of social and environmental responsibility in order to be marketed via AID.

Fair trade:  We have been producing and marketing products that help support sustainable living and livelihoods.  These include khadi kurtas and other popular garments, nursing kurtas,  baby slings, and cloth menstrual pads.

Products for sustainable living

  • -energy-saving “EZ Cooker,”
  • “anytime-anywhere” nursing kurta,
  • “no need to whisper” menstrual pads
  • “say no to plastic” cloth bags.

I have taken these products to the weekly organic farmers’ market in Mumbai.   Three large EZ Cookers are in use every week at the organic cafe which is part of the farmers’ market.

AID Publications

Maharashtra Nature Park

AID 2013 Calendars at Maharashtra Nature Park

I continued uploading AID resources on the AID website as well as Twiki and AID Gallery and helped volunteers and chapters access these for various publications.

Our 2013 Calendar highlighted the role of bicycles in diverse aspects of sustainable development, including health, environment, transportation, education and livelihoods. I worked with publications team and fundraising team, including Vinod, Rishi,  Sai, Shilpa, Naga, Dushyant, Mona and others.

We printed 5000 copies of the calendar in the United States and 1000 copies in India.  Some of these were used for a physics conference in Pune and others were sent to AID India Chapters for local awareness.

AID Cares

As part of the campaign to bring sustainable agriculture into our every practice, also known as AID Cares, I table at the organic farmers’ market in Mumbai, and raise awareness of the same in local and like-minded circles.

Women’s Issues

Gender Footprint:  Following the AID Conference of 2008, I sought a way to connect the micro and macro components of gender bias and violence.  This connection becomes all the more urgent when gender issues come to public attention, as they did at the end of 2012.  It was vital to ensure that outrage did not reinforce people took the opportunity to introspect and begin changing from within, as well as recognizing violence inherent in social and political structures.   The Campaigns team issued a statement and sent the same to the Justice Verma Commission, appointed to issue recommendations to address violence against women and gender justice.

Srinadh reminded the group that this could be “a moment to ask questions of ourselves and each other not just authorities.”  Reviving the ongoing gender discussions that have ebbed and flowed within AID, the publications team started planning to raise the issue in the newsletter and at an AID wide level.

Piya Chatterji reflected the hopes of many volunteers who took part in the discussion in the conclusion of one of her messages:  “And I hope that AID might be able to open up forums of discussion around these issues in a more systematic way.”  I plan to work on this in the coming years.

Context

The work closest to my heart is currently on the periphery of mainstream and even of prominent alternative development programs.    My approach has been slow and steady, seeking partners who are involved at the ground level and also sounding out communities that have the potential to be involved and benefit from the kinds of interventions.

These involve health and education through what can be termed a natural, community based and continuum approach that connects how we are born to how we nourish the body and mind.

Women’s Rights in Birth

In January when I presented birth stories of a few rural women at the Bangalore Birth conference I noted that much of the knowledge that they had gained through non-textual sources was being rediscovered and made available to those who rely on textual sources for learning.  In the transfer from the non-literate to the literate, the knowledge had become expensive, affordable to the few and leaving the majority who had sustained that knowledge over generations, now deprived and dependent on inferior systems and services.

Slow Learning

In February I presented my newfound concept of slow learning at the Learning Societies Conference which took place in the village of Jhadpoli, in Vikramgadh Tehsil in Maharashtra.  The session was well received and led to further exploration of this approach to learning.

Slow learning recognizes the learning that takes place because something else was not learned.  The “something else” typically belongs to a standard roster of learning outcomes, already known and classified according to the knowledge system in the community prevailing around the learner.  While not learning this prevailing knowledge, the learner explores other knowledge, with a freedom that depends precisely on the inability of the prevailing community to recognize and classify that knowledge.  The learner pursues knowledge as if doing it for the first time in history, regardless of its value or correctness in the prevailing knowledge system.

Therefore while typical education programs may have a checklist of learning outcomes that will be used to evaluate the learners, with more checked items indicating more learning and in turn greater success of the program, slow learning looks between and beneath the checked items to the inner curriculum driving the learning of the child.  In this sense, the fewer checked items, the more space for this inner curriculum to grow.

Slow learning empowers the learner over the learned and honours what is not learned and what is not readily recognized as learning by prevailing knowledge systems.

Examples are given in Slow Learning, published on the pages of Swashikshan: Indian Association of Homeschoolers.

Conferences

January 2012  Birth India Conference.  I presented on Birth Stories and the advocacy, training and empowerment required to ensure that women have the right to informed and healthy birth experiences.

May 2012 AID Conference.  Took part in sessions on Projects, Publications, Campaigns and Internships.

August 2012 Northeast Unschooling Conference.  I presented on Multigenerational Living and Learning, a practice that has until recently been the norm around the world but is threatened by current trends in education and labour.

December 2012 – World Breastfeeding Conference.  I presented on the topic of Forgotten Foods:  Tradition, Nutrition and the Price of Memory.  The video is here: “Forgotten Foods” presentation at World Breastfeeding Conference Delhi.

Visiting AID Chapters

Along with Ravi I visited San Francisco Bay Area, Baltimore, Maryland, Boston, Albany, Amherst and other chapters.  We worked with volunteers and spoke with community supporters to help explain the way AID works, what makes the work effective, and how they could participate in supporting the work.  In Boston, Seattle and Maryland the chapter also hosted a fundraising dinner where we spoke with community supporters.

In Seattle along with Sunitha and Murthy and Madhavi we met with some local members of the community to seek donations.  We got some thoughtful suggestions and feedback on our awareness materials.

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