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Organizing displaced women in India

14 April, 2014Due to gender roles in many societies, women and girls often face threats and risks and they are less likely than men and boys to have access to their rights. These threats are particularly exacerbated in situations of displacement.

In uprooted families it is generally women who battle their way through; as widows or heads of the household they face daily struggles for survival. Aiming to increase displaced women’s access to rights through international and national advocacy, the IndustriALL Global Union South Asia Office endeavours to provide access and to organise them.

The Bokaro Steel Plant is located in the Bokaro district of Jharkhand, and is the fourth integrated public sector steel plant in India. Proximity to coal, iron ore, manganese, and other raw materials helped in the selection of this place.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, construction of the steel plant and the township was done on a large scale. During this process of industrialization and urbanization, local people were forced from their homes and displaced. A tenable solution was never found, and the next generation is lacking housing, social security and often a proper roof over their heads.

The steel plant has reduced its permanent workforce from 40,000 to 1,800. At the same time there has been a huge increase of precarious workers, who now amount to 22,000. These contract workers are denied statutory wages, medical facility and social security. Women are consistently over-represented in this type of work.

With the active participation and cooperation of the INMF National and State committee's, IndustriALL India Women's Committee and local stakeholders, the IndustriALL’s South Asia office has initiated a consultation with these communities. The first steps have been to build trust and establish working relations. Activities such as awareness camps, rights advocacy, medical camp and workshops will be held as part of the IndustriALL projects for improved understanding of the displaced communities, and to subsequently organise them. Working with displaced people is also one of the objectives of the India Steel, Energy and Mining Organising project, as well as for the Organizing Precarious Workers Project for South Asia.

On 6 April, South Asia Office through IndustriALL's affiliate INMF, India Women Committee and local stakeholders organised a meeting with the displaced women. More than 300 women workers belonging to tribal and displaced communities attended the meeting and shared their concerns and demands.

Speakers including IndustriALL South Asia regional secretary Sudhershan Rao Sarde, INMF General Secretary Raghunath Pandey, IndustriALL South Asia regional coordinator, Shahnaz Rafique and chairperson of IndustriALL India Women Committee, Devika Singh addressed the challenges of the displaced communities.

IndustriALL South Asia regional secretary Sudhershan Rao Sarde says:

The traditional trade union movement has failed to incorporate the genuine concerns of these displaced communities. It is high time IndustriaLL Affiliates recognize this historical folly and make amends by organizing them.