Women workers in different sectors have been more affected and vulnerable than men due to the lockdown which has been in place since March this year. Women in rural and urban areas of Tamil Nadu have lost their livelihoods and face an uncertain future. The lockdown not only took away their jobs and income, but also resulted in an increase in domestic violence and abuse.
Close to 30 womens’ organisations, under the banner of All Women of Tamil Nadu, held a five-week long online campaign to highlight the sufferings and demands of women workers. The campaign, which began on July 16, comes to a close in the week starting August 13, with their demands including direct cash transfer to all workers and ensuring safe public transport facilities.
‘Distribute Food Grains for Free Till December’
Rural and semi-urban women largely rely on manufacturing sectors – handlooms, firecrackers and matchboxes – and construction and textile industries, for their livelihood. The dependence on the work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) is greater in rural areas.
With the unplanned and sudden lockdown playing havoc among the workers, they left to fend for themselves without any income. The state government had announced the distribution of food grains for free till July. The federation demanded a cash relief of Rs 7,500 to all workers from the month of April.
“The most important demand was to ensure distribution of essential food grains and groceries to card holders of the Public Distribution System, till December 2020. The ongoing pandemic is prolonging, with no transportation available for women to attend work. Given the situation, the government should ensure that the people are provided with enough nutritious food,” said Manjula, General Secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women.
‘Stop the Menace of Micro-Finance Companies’
Many women also continue to face humiliation from micro-financing companies which had given them loans. With no income for over four months in a row, repayment of loans seems impossible.
Sujata Mody, President of the Penn Thozhillalar Sangam (Women Workers Union) said there is no mode of public transport available for women workers to reach their workplace. “For those who operate small establishments, the availability of raw materials has stopped. Those women associated with tailoring work or producing snacks have been locked in their homes since the lockdown began. How can they repay loans at this juncture?” she asked.
The federation has also called for a stop to the continuous harassment of women workers by micro-finance organisations.
“These women are not earning and are unable to do any small business. Loans distributed through micro-financing companies can be either subsidised, or the government can spend from funds obtained from international financial institutions. The Union Government must answer: What has it done for citizens apart from sanctioning rice to them?” Sujata asked.
‘Curb Domestic Violence and Child Abuse’
The lockdown has paved the way for an increase in instances of violence against women and children, according to the National Commission for Women and the State Women's Commission. With the police and other government establishments busy in containing the COVID-19 pandemic, such incidents have attracted less attention.
According to a report, 13,447 cases of crimes against women and children have been filed between March 25 and May 31 in the state “Out of this 360 are instances of child abuse, cases for which have been filed as per the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. This exposes the cruelty on women and children even during the lockdown,” added Manjula.
Around 372 individuals have been arrested under the POCSO Act till May 2019 while the conviction rate remains low. The payment of interim compensation to the victims also remains low – at three percent as per data from February 2019.
‘Release Political Prisoners’
The federation also called for the release of political prisoners during the lockdown. Its press release condemned the arrest of poets, writers, activists and students for peaceful acts of political dissent. The Union Government is trying to silence its critics under different draconian acts, the federation alleged.
Its other major demands included restarting public transport with all safety measures in the state and a withdrawal of all anti-labour laws and ordinances enacted by the Centre.