Monday, July 07, 2008

Work matters

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, June 29, 2008

The Other Half

In Aurangabad, Maharashtra, a group of women have taken on the challenging but difficult job of burying or cremating the bodies of accident victims. The women are a part of a self-help group. Traditionally, most such groups engage in traditional task s — “womanly” tasks, one might say — such as making papads, embroidery, making paper products etc. to earn money. It is rare that you hear of a group that breaks away from the norm.

According to a newspaper report, the women in Aurangabad successfully won a contract put out by the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation for this task. Four groups of men had also applied and had asserted that such work was not “woman’s work”. Yet, the 11 women of the Panchsheel Mahila Bachat Gat managed to win the contract. They are paid Rs. 15,000 per month by the AMC for five bodies and Rs. 3,000 for every additional body. The women say that they manage to save Rs. 500 per body. And amazingly, these women have overcome their own aversion to such a job and their worry about what others would say, including members of their family. They strongly believe that victims of accidents, often unidentified, must be given a decent burial or cremation.

Gendered professions

This story is interesting because it raises questions about the kind of jobs women can do, or cannot do. While women with education have crashed through many barriers and broken stereotypes in this country, choices for work are limited for poor women. Much of what they do is unpaid work, particularly in rural areas where women engage in agricultural work. Even in cities, poor women either work as domestics or do home-based work for which they are poorly paid.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)

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