Thursday, October 26, 2023

Women Empowerment; Equity a leap towards Equality


Women are 50% of the population in India, but the issues concerning women have not been a point of serious debate for long, policies to ensure larger participation of women in all social, economic, political sectors and in workforce is discouraged by people with patriarchal mindset. Talking about menstrual issues continues to be a taboo, any debate on menstrual leave policy and paid period leave is long contested, ignoring the statistics and refusing to acknowledge the biological challenges women face.

India’s women workforce participation has been the lowest in comparison to global numbers, unfortunately there is a further decline over the last 6 to 8 years. The reasons for the decline in female participation in the labour force are several - social, cultural, education, economic, hiring patterns, lack of pro-women policies, changing job market, lack of political will to enact policies to incentivize women employment etc.

And as women continue to enter the workforce in lesser numbers, it is important to acknowledge the biological challenges of women and the need for more equitable, comfortable working conditions and policies to promote women in workforce.

Studies show that more than 50% of mensurating females suffer from dysmenorrhea (pain associated with menstruation), over 65% of working women share concerns that they face discomfort and mental stress during 1-2 days of their menstrual cycle.

There are biological differences between men and women, women experiencing menstrual discomfort and suffering from illnesses related to menstruation (including dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and mood disorders) will benefit from the menstrual leave policy. Every woman has different challenges at different time in life when it comes to menstrual issues, hence there is a need for more equitable and pro-woman policies that covers most women and more importantly the voiceless ones, this will indeed make us a more gender just and progressive State and Nation.

The history of menstrual leave policy debate is more than a century, it was first been implemented in Russia in 20th century, it was removed in 1927 citing discrimination of women workforce by employers. In January 2023 Kerala granted menstrual leave for female students, in 1992 a GO was issued by Government of Bihar making provision for 2 days special leave for women working in government offices.

In 1947 Japan enacted the law to provide leave for mensurating women, but Article 68 of Labour Standard Law does not specify it as paid leave. Under Labour Act 2023, Article 13 in Indonesia women have right to 2 days leave per month but these are not additional leaves.

In Taiwan’s Gender Equality Act three additional days per year are granted to the 30 days of health-related leaves. In February 2023 Spain became the first country in Europe to implement a comprehensive menstrual paid leave policy for its women workforce. In Zambia since 2015 women are entitled for one day leave in a month know as Mother’s Day.

Some organizations in the private sector have embraced the demand for paid period leave acknowledging the biological challenges women employees face, also as a need to create more equitable work space for women, some of the examples being Zomato, Swiggy, Culture Machine, Mathrubhumi, Magzter, Byju's etc.

In January 2023, in response to a PIL filed in the Supreme Court, seeking the apex court direction to all State Governments to frame a policy for menstrual leave for female students and working women, and the Supreme Court on 24th February disposed the PIL suggesting the petitioner to make representation to Union Ministry for Women and Child Development.  

Over many decades, efforts have been put in by the Governments, NGOs, Institutions to create awareness through campaigns and educational initiatives about menstrual hygiene, despite the efforts any discussion about menstruation is still taboo in our country. And the taboo nature continues in the society at large to neglect serious issues of menstrual problems women are undergoing for several decades.

One can understand that there is an argument against paid period leave, implementing it may discourage private companies from hiring women employees, for long across the globe organizations keep finding excuses to restrain from hiring women into their workforce and paid period leave could become one more reason and not a good one.

Many have been questioning the need for a policy now, when women have been working for decades without any such demand. But the fact is women have been suffering quietly trying to ‘fit in’ irrespective of the challenges, and as a civilized society we need to ask ourselves if we will continue to carry the patriarchy cycle forward or will we challenge status quo and make progress towards an equitable society.

Economic argument is that paid period leave can hinder businesses and increase financial burden, but when studies are saying women employee productivity can impact negatively due to menstruation, then the argument against paid period leave holds no water.

Also most importantly, Dr BR Ambedkar the architect of our constitution has ensured gender equity in our constitution, Article 15 (3) of the constitution states ‘Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children’, and Article 42 of the constitution statesThe State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief’.

Recently Ms. Ranjeeta Priyadarshini Law Student from Odisha who is travelling across India seeking support from every State Government to make Paid Period Leave a Legislation connected with me, after the release of a book on her sustained campaign by Pradeep Kumar Singh in Bengaluru.  

Ranjeeta Priyadarshini and my interaction with Karnataka Labour Minister and the Health & Family Welfare Minister gave hope that there can be healthy and unbiased debate. Karnataka is a progressive State that always thrived on Buddha, Basavanna, Babasaheb, Kuvempu philosophy and thoughts, and it is important to recognize that gender equity is an important step towards gender equality. Karnataka Government indeed has a social responsibility to make Karnataka a pro-women workforce State and to ensure larger participation of women in the workforce by enacting equitable policies for its women.

No shying away from alternate views, economic and financial challenges and questions, pressure from across industries against the paid period leave, but if Government along with paid period leave considers incentives to organizations that employs more women, the concern of declining women participation and unwillingness to employ women across industries can also be addressed positively.

Only time will tell if Karnataka will be the 1st State in India to pass a gender just and pro-women Paid Period Leave Legislation applicable for both government and private sector.    

Kavitha Reddy

KPCC General Secretary

Friday, October 13, 2023

Children of Lesser Deity

Hate, violence, unrest is gripping India more than ever, centuries of tradition and cultural practices are painted with streaks of religious color damaging the social and cultural fabric of India. ‘Unity in Diversity’ had been our biggest strength, and the foundation of our Nation building was the celebration of our diversity and taking everyone along making it an inclusive India. 

The diversity of India is so vast that almost every village has its own deity and cultural identity, most of these deities are mere stones or roughly carved images kept in open or under a tree without any permanent structures or could be obstruct items like bangles, tree, clay lump, coconut etc. These deities referred as Kuladevaru (deity of a caste or locality), Oorudevaru (deity of the village) are the deities of everyone in the village irrespective of religion and castes but for non-brahmins as the deities are offered animal sacrifice and rituals may be performed using animal blood. 

People pray to these gods and goddesses as they believe that they are the protectors, saviors, and healers and are accessible to all. People irrespective of religion offer prayers to Maramma to heal their family member suffering from chickenpox, sacrifice an animal (mostly hen and sheep) to Muneeshwara seeking peace at home or to calm a naughty & stubborn child at home. 

The famous Plague Maramma was prayed to save people dying from plague, Yellamma, Patalamma, Kariyamma, Nagappa, Bhadramma, Choudamma, Saplamma and many more of the Shudras worshiped deities believe to have their own unique powers to heal people who seek their blessings.

Emergence of Hindutva ideology propagating a single identity of religion and culture is becoming a threat to diverse identities of these Shudra's deities and the practices of the Shudras, where there is no set rituals or chanting of mantras, anyone could perform the pooja and make offerings of meat too. People from across faith seek blessings of these local deities which are blended into our cultural fabric locally across the nation. But the hyper Hindutva push is slowly painting the color of religion, and a burkha clad woman at the Nuggikere Hanumantha temple or bindi wearing woman at the dargah are forced to choose sides and color, disregarding their freedom, belief, and personal choices. 

People across all faiths visit the ancient Kumaramangala temple in Kasargod to seek the blessing of snake god and escape the curse of snake, there are millions of such examples where people across faith praying to local deities as they truly believe in the power of these deities to protect, heal, and bless. 

What we are experiencing today is a violent, disruptive Hindutva political ideology trying to enforce itself as a single Hindu narrative, the problem is not the political ideology itself, but the intent to capture power by destroying the harmony and diverse belief culture that has its deep roots in every village of India by misusing the Hindu religion is the real threat. 

Dr Ambedkar said “religion is for man and not man for religion’’, forcefully installing saffron flags at will, questioning the beliefs of people from other faiths, intimidating, questioning the meat eaters, and even branding them evil, mocking them as converts are extremally dangerous trends we are witnessing. This reminds me of a very popular Kannada movie ‘Bedara Kannappa’ of Dr Rajkumar, where the hunter Kannappa offers meat to Lord Shiva. We were thought to believe that we can offer any kind of food to the deity with immense sincerity, love, gratitude, and the deity will accept it. If the fate of the believers in the current Hindutva hyper propaganda is this demonizing, imagine the people who are agnostic and who are non-believers. 

From birth to death the practices of upper caste, Shudras, Dalits are not identical so are our deities, the practices in north, south, east, west of India is not identical either, when most of the Hindus bury the dead in the south, Hindus from north are unable to comprehend this practice. The deities of the Shudras are for protection, healing, blessing, whereas the Hindutva propaganda of gods is about heroism, curse, preaching, fear, and unless we do not realize the cultural erosion the false narrative of Hindutva propaganda is causing, our diverse identity cannot be protected. 

Tree with more branches always grows bigger, gives more shade, and houses more birds, like wise cultural diversity of India is her biggest strength and gives shade to all deities, practices, and beliefs, will our diversity allow a political Hindutva ideology to cut the Tree? only time will tell.

Kavitha Reddy