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International conference on Contours of Women’s paid and unpaid work


From 12th to 13th July, Tata Institute of Social Sciences hosted an International Conference on the Changing Contours of Women’s Paid and Unpaid Work. The conference was organized by the School of Management and Labour Studies & School of Development Studies in partnership with ActionAid Association (AAA), Citizens’ Rights Collective (CiRiC), European Commission (EC), Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), UNI-APRO, International Centre For Development and Decent Work(ICDD), German Academic Exchange(DAAD), Federal Ministry For Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Excellent Centre For Exchange And Development (EXCEED), Bharat Petroleum Corporation of India (BPCL) and Indian Oil Corporation of India (IOCL).

TISS, Women's paid and unpaid work


The sessions took place over two days and were based on the following themes: Macroeconomic Perspectives on Paid and Unpaid Work of Women, Globalization, Culture and Labour, Paid and Unpaid Work of Rural and Urban Women, Equal World Equal Spaces, Women in Collective Struggles, Women in Corporate World, Informality, Gender, and Cities (with the participation of Action Aid), and Women in the Workforce & the State. In addition, there were a series of parallel sessions on Women in Formal Sector and Women in Informal Sector.
To give an overview of the conference, Professor Vibhuti Patel explained how crucial it is to investigate women’s work to further deconstruct the subordination of women.
“The current year marks a century for the women’s suffrage movement which began as a right to vote or the right to women being treated as citizen. But it also snowballed into the deconstruction of house work and examining the concerns of women who are getting into the larger economy.
The conversation around invisible and visible work, productive and unproductive labour, unpaid care work which is non monetized has thrown light on the nature of subordination of women. It is our submission is that economic independence is the minimum necessary condition for dignity of women
Feminist economists have deconstructed the care economy and the contribution of women in the mainstream of economic development. They have pointed out ideological weighment that trivializes productive and unproductive labor through patriarchal control over women’s sexuality, fertility, and labor.
There is a famous joke told in the economics classroom: If a man marries his cook, national income will reduce, as a cook she gets wages, as a wife, she will not get anything for the same thing
We had in the 70s the wages for housework movement throughout Europe. In Iceland it was 100% successful, even the president’s wife was on strike. They did not want monetization for housework but wanted to highlight how unpaid labour should be accounted for in the national income
Studies done by feminist economists have shown how the opportunity cost of care economy or how the care economy’s ideology percolates into the mainstream economy where women are at the bottom of the pyramid
The overarching concern with respect to women’s participation in the workforce has been the changing labour processes. In South Asia, we have witnessed a continuous decline in women’s workforce participation. The World Economic forum has lamented the fact that there has been a deduction of 7 points in participation. The mainstream economists call it FEAR- Female Economic Activity Rate. Labor employment relations and occupational health issues have been at the center stage of the concern.
A miniscule proportion of women in world economy are in the formal/organized sector. In the context of informalization a precarious labour force faces back breaking work, longer hours, and dead end work which gives no self-actualization
It is not only in Africa, Latin America, and Asia that women are at the receiving end of the capitalist system but in developed countries women of colour are at the bottom of the pyramid of the economy
A noted German feminist economist stated “Capital accumulation on the world stage rides on the back of the cheapest labor of colored women. Women are the last colony of 21st century economic globalization
Talking of women CEOS in the financial sector and fortune 500 companies, they are showcased as a symbol of empowerment of women
But a large number of professionally qualified women are stuck at the lower level in the corporate sector
The presence of women in board rooms across the world is negligible. Apparently, they are better placed but do not get the level playing field. In the current #MeToo movement which came in the context of sexual harassment, more women in more powerful positions is the only solution to sexual harassment against women which the World Bank has declared as the most devastating occupational hazard for the 21st century women.
ActionAid was an important participant in the conference, particularly in the session on Informality, Gender, and Cities. The organization has been working on two important initiatives to engage with the question of labour and women’s work that were explained at the conference
“The Urban Action School is a training program cum engagement site for mid-career practitioners and scholars and policymakers on issues related to urbanization but reimagined in the framework of workers’ rights of the people who are generally not part of decisions related to policymaking
So we try our best. There have been multiple urban action schools and that platform that have been organized over the past three years. This platform has catered to grassroots practitioners who come and share their knowledge of first hand experiences organizing people in making transformative change with people who we know as experts, people who are scholars who theorize on the subject. So there is an exchange of sorts.
The other initiative that Action aid is supporting currently is a collective of scholars, practitioners, and experts of labor. The initiative is called Workers Solidarity Network and was formed last year. The idea of this particular group is to engage on the knowledge aspect of the workers’ question across the country.
We feel that a lot of the studies and research that happens related to issues of labor and to women’s work tends to get constrained in slightly academic jargon, in conferences and universities and so on. This particular group consists of the people who have been trying to reach out to the larger masses with what the studies and theorizations mean for the movement of the workers to translate the learning of theoretical work into practice. And at the same time, encourage people from the movement who write and theorize to theorize more and get their work into the mainstream of academic theorization on the labour question in India.”


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