[News] Women Hold Up More Than Half the Sky

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Thu Oct 14 09:14:34 EDT 2021

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*Women Hold Up More Than Half the Sky: The Forty-First Newsletter (2021)*

Illustration: Junaina Muhammed (India) / Young Socialist Artists

Junaina Muhammed (India) / Young Socialist Artists, A woman working in 
the korai fields, where women often work from a young age to earn a living.

Dear friends,

Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social 

*Reminder*: Indian peasants and agricultural workers remain in the midst 
of a country-wide agitation sparked by the proposal of three farm bills 
that were then signed into law by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party 
government in September 2020. In June 2021, our dossier 
summarised the situation plainly:

It is clear that the problem in Indian agriculture is not too much 
institutional support, but inadequate and uneven deployment of 
institutions as well as the unwillingness of these institutions to 
address the inherent inequalities of village society. There is no 
evidence that agribusiness firms will develop infrastructure, enhance 
agricultural markets, or provide technical support to farmers. All this 
is clear to the farmers.

The farmers’ protests, which began in October 2020, are a sign of the 
clarity with which farmers have reacted to the agrarian crisis and to 
the three laws that will only deepen the crisis. No attempt by the 
government – including trying to incite farmers along religious lines – 
has succeeded in breaking the farmers’ unity. There is a new generation 
that has learned to resist, and they are prepared to take their fight 
across India.

In January 2021, the Supreme Court of India heard a series of petitions 
about the farmers’ protests. Chief Justice S. A. Bobde reacted to them 
with the following startling observation 
‘We don’t understand either why old people and women are kept in the 
protests’. The word ‘kept’ rankles. Did the Chief Justice believe that 
women are not farmers and that women farmers do not come to the protests 
of their own volition? That is the implication behind his remark.

A quick look at a recent labour force survey shows 
that 73.2% of women workers who live in rural areas work in agriculture; 
they are peasants, agricultural workers, and artisans. Meanwhile, only 
55% of male workers who live in rural areas are engaged in agriculture. 
It is telling that only 12.8% of women farmers own land, which is an 
illustration of the gender inequality in India and is what likely 
provoked the Chief Justice’s sexist remark.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation pointed out 
a decade ago that ‘Closing the gender gap in agricultural inputs alone 
could lift 100-150 million people out of hunger’. Given the immense 
problem of hunger in our time – as highlighted in last week’s newsletter 
– women in agriculture must be, as the FAO notes 
‘heard as equal partners’.

Illustration: Karuna Pious P (India) / Young Socialist Artists

Karuna Pious P (India) / Young Socialist Artists, Brick work, locally 
known as /pakka me kaam./

>From Tricontinental Research Services (Delhi) comes a superb new dossier 
on the status of women in India, /Indian Women on an Arduous Road to 
Equality/ (no. 45, October 2021). The text opens with an image of five 
women working at a brick kiln. When I saw that drawing, I was 
transported to a calculation 
made by Brinda Karat, a leader of the Communist Party of India 
(Marxist), about the labour of women construction workers. Bina, a young 
woman working in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, carries between 1,500 
and 2,000 bricks to masons in a multi-story building. Bina carries at 
least 3,000kgs of bricks every day, each weighing 2.5kgs, yet she earns 
a pittance of under ₹150 ($2) per day and suffers from severe body 
aches. ‘The pain has become an intrinsic part of my life. I don’t 
remember a single day without it’, Bina told Karat.

Illustration: Daniela Ruggeri (Argentina) / Tricontinental: Institute 
for Social Research

Daniela Ruggeri (Argentina) / Tricontinental: Institute for Social 
Research/, /Childcare workers protest the Modi government’s unfair 
treatment of women and workers.

*Reminder*: Women in India have been an integral part of the farmers’ 
movement, the workers’ movement, and the movement to widen democracy. 
Does this need to be said? It seems that something so evident requires 
constant repetition.

During this pandemic, women public health workers and women childcare 
workers have played a central role in holding together society, all 
while being disparaged and having their work trivialised. On 24 
September 2021, ten million scheme workers – those who work for 
government schemes such as public health (Accredited Social Health 
Activist or ASHA workers) and crèches (/anganwadi/ workers) – went on 
strike to demand formal employment and better protection for their work 
during the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Tax the super-rich’, they said 
repeal the farm bills, stop the privatisation of the public sector, and 
defend women workers.

Over the past few years, ASHA workers have complained about routine 
harassment, including sexual harassment. In 2013, the Indian government 
the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act to protect both formal 
and informal workers. No rules have been framed for ASHA and other 
scheme workers, nor are these workers able to lift up their experiences 
of harassment to the front pages of corporate media.

Our dossier carefully dissects the prevalence of patriarchal harassment 
and violence, making sure to identify the different ways that such toxic 
behaviours strike at women of different classes. Working-class women in 
unions and in left organisations have built a kind of mass sensibility; 
as a result, their struggles now incorporate demands against patriarchy 
that had otherwise been distant from their lives. For instance, it is 
now clear amongst many working-class women that they must win maternity 
leave, equal wages for equal work, guaranteed crèches, and redressal and 
prevention mechanisms against sexual harassment in workplaces. Such 
demands cascade back into the family and community, where other 
struggles – such as against patriarchal violence in the home – expand 
the horizon of democratic movements in India.

Illustration: Vikas Thakur (India) / Tricontinental: Institute for 
Social Research

Vikas Thakur (India) / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, A 
cycling training camp in Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu.

The dossier closes with wise words about the importance of the farmers’ 
movement for the women’s movement:

Though the Indian women’s movement has seen many ups and downs over the 
decades, it has remained resilient, adapted to changing socioeconomic 
conditions, and even expanded. The current situation might present an 
opportunity to strengthen mass movements and to steer the focus towards 
the rights and livelihoods of women and workers. The ongoing Indian 
farmers’ movement, which started before the pandemic and continues to 
stay strong, offers the opportunity to steer the national discourse 
towards such an agenda. The tremendous participation of rural women, who 
travelled from different states to take turns sitting at the borders of 
the national capital for days, is a historic phenomenon. Their presence 
in the farmers’ movement provides hope for the women’s movement in a 
post-pandemic future.

*Reminder*: Nothing in the slogans coming from the farmers’ encampments 
is unique. Most of these are long-standing claims. The demands made by 
women farmers at the protest sites and amplified by the farmers’ unions 
the Draft National Policy for Women in Agriculture put forward by the 
National Commission for Women in April 2008. This policy included the 
following key demands, each one applicable today:

 1. Ensure that women have access to and control over resources,
    including land rights, water, and pasture/forest/biodiversity resources.
 2. Guarantee equal wages for equal work.
 3. Pay minimum support prices to primary producers and ensure that
    sufficient food grains are available at affordable prices.
 4. Encourage women to enter agriculture-related industries (including
    fisheries and artisanal work).
 5. Provide training programmes for women including agricultural
    practices and technologies that are sensitive to the knowledge that
    women possess as well as the practices they carry out.
 6. Provide adequate and equal availability of services such as
    irrigation, credit, and insurance.
 7. Encourage primary producers to produce and market seeds, forest and
    dairy products, and livestock.
 8. Prevent women’s livelihoods from being displaced without providing
    viable alternatives.

The left women’s movement has put these demands back on the table. The 
right-wing government will not hear them.

Illustration: Ingrid Neves (Brazil) / Tricontinental: Institute for 
Social Research

Ingrid Neves (Brazil) / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, A 
seaweed harvester facing the rough seas.

Once more, our dossier comes to you designed with great care and love. 
This time, our team has worked closely with the Young Socialist Artists 
(India). Together, we found powerful photographs from the history of the 
Indian women’s movement and from the farmers’ protests and used these as 
references for the illustrations in the dossier. We look forward to 
inviting you to an online exhibition of this art, our small gesture 
towards expanding a possible pathway to a socialist future.



Website <www.eltricontinental.org>




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