Women’s rights in India

Prisha was married at 15 when her parents decided to sell her to a man who offered them 30,000 rupees. Prisha’s family had many debts and this was a way in which her father decided he could pay them off. Like Prisha, there are thousands of girls who are sold to strangers for money, sometimes even kidnapped.

 A young Muslim bride during a mass wedding ceremony in Ahmedabad. Marrying girls off at an early age is common practice in rural areas of India. Photograph: Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images

A young Muslim bride during a mass wedding ceremony in Ahmedabad. Marrying girls off at an early age is common practice in rural areas of India. Photograph: Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images

One year later, Prisha was a mother. Her husband treated her without any respect and always came home drunk. He frequently hit his wife and daughter, a cultural habit he learned from his parents. Prisha was a good wife, but the tiniest mistakes were made into a big deal and she felt the consequences. She was scared of her husband, but she could not leave him because she was more fearful of how society would see her.

Do women have rights in India?

Soutik Biswas stated in an article published by The BBC that many women in India have to ‘face threats to life at every stage’. Most women learn to deal with violence, inadequate healthcare, neglect and inequality at a very young age. Discrimination against girls and women starts at home where boys are treaded with various advantages such as education and freedom of movement. Sanjay Kumar explains in an article published by The Diplomat that ‘discrimination within the family breeds violence across society against women. Any violation of social norms is treated with contempt’. Honor killings occur across India as the patriarchal society creates barricades for women who want to grow and liberate. Actions that seems to dishonor the family cannot be tolerated and in extreme circumstances families (usually the head of the family) will perform an honor kill to regain respect from society. Unfortunately violence against women is a particularly normal approach to resolve social conflict.

Prisha’s husband demanded she find a job because he did not want to work anymore. She comes from a lower caste and has few marketable skills. However, Prisha is one of many young girls who found work at a garment factory. She worked at a small production facility that only hired 11 other workers, mainly women. Prisha learnt how to sew very fast, but working conditions were very poor and she was disappointed by how little the pay was. She had to meet impossible quotas, 150 pieces an hour, otherwise she would have to face abuse. Prisha decided to talk to her manager about a raise. Instead of a raise, she found herself locked up in the factory for two days straight, forbidden to eat, sit, or go to the toilet. She had to face physical abuse and harassment throughout her captivity and did not even receive her wages.

How does employment affect Indian women in the textile industry?

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Women workers in the textile industry don’t benefit from international labour laws; in fact they hardly exist in developing nations. The working conditions at many production facilities in India are horrendous and unethical. Women workers are pushed to their limits in order to deliver a daily target whether pregnant, sick or unwell. Pushpa Achanta published an article on the online portal Waging Nonviolence, explaining that ‘if they don’t meet their quotas, they face deductions from their wages and, sometimes, lose their jobs’. Physical and verbal abuse is common in the garment industry in India. Many women workers who fail to meet their daily targets are frequently beaten, abused and called ‘dogs and donkeys’. They can be told to ‘go and die’ in front of their co-workers. Unfortunately, many women are also sexually harassed at the work place. Men can undervalue women: some men may think that have the right to do whatever they desire to a woman’s body. Some working women come home after being tortured and forced into prostitution by their managers leaving them scarred for life.

Prisha had gone through mental and physical distress working for the production facility. She decided to join the Garment and Textile Workers Union to see whether she can secure better working conditions and pay, but she received neither. She was forced to leave the union due to sexual harassment from a male union leader. She decided to form a new union only for women so they could protect themselves.

Why isn’t there a change?

Indian society needs to change its attitude towards women to empower them and provide greater security; however, reversing decades and centuries of social order will be difficult.  The BBC states that ‘there is deeply entrenched patriarchy and widespread misogyny’. Violence used against women can be seen as disciplinary action to resolve social conflict. Fortunately, there has been some development towards treating women better through education. The Diplomat explains that ‘education has enhanced mobility and visibility of women in Indian society’. Regardless of improvement in education for Indian women, they are far from being safe. Women still struggle to break free from tradition and patriarchy. Women’s rights and liberties have not been seen as a priority for the government. Though there has been talk that the Indian government will improve the protection of women, little action has yet been taken.

A few months later, Prisha and other working women met to discuss basic labour laws, policies and report gender-based harassment. Many women were scared to be associated with any union because men would threaten them. Prisha’s husband also discouraged her from staying in the union and abused her more than usual. Prisha never gave up and continues to raise awareness and help other women who are harassed and abused.

We want to ensure that no abuse takes place in our production facility in India. We know all of our employees and take care of them. We encourage our employees to speak their mind and tell us if something unethical is happening. Since we control our production we are closer to our employees to ensure their safety.

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About the Author

Valentina is passionate in expressing her voice through her writing, which she hopes will have a social impact. She grew up as a third culture kid that always fought for what is right and achieved a BA Hons. in International Business in order to understand the business world more clearly and leave a possible mark on society. Currently she is working for an ethical start-up company called Chanzez. Chanzez has been set up to provide people with chances whether they are people who design clothes, people who work to make clothes or people who want to be able to buy ethically produced clothes.

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