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‘Invisible’ Women Brick-kiln Workers in Punjab Demand Their Rights

Women brick-kin workers in Punjab are demanding equal pay and accomodation

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Image source: voanews

Hundreds of women brick-kiln workers from India’s Punjab state have come together in a rare gathering to demand equal pay and better accommodation, as the country’s often invisible women laborers become increasingly vocal in their fight for rights.

More than a thousand workers, most belonging to India’s so-called lower castes and tribes, met in the city of Bathinda last week in perhaps the first such gathering in the country.

The women workers in brick kilns are invisible — they are not recognized as workers, they don’t get paid for their work, and they have no rights or benefits,” said Gangambika Sekhar, an advocate with Volunteers for Social Justice, that organized the event.

“We wanted to send a message to the government: ‘you say there are no women workers in the state’s brick kilns. Well, here they are’,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Unknown number of workers

There are no official figures for the number of people employed to cut, shape and bake clay-fired bricks, mostly by hand, in tens of thousands of brick kilns in India.

According to the Center for Science and Environment, at least 10 million people work in these kilns.

Exploitation of workers, many of them poor migrants from other states, is common as brickmaking is largely unregulated, experts say. Most of the workers are illiterate, paid a pittance, and held in debt bondage.

The wealthy state of Punjab is home to more than 600,000 workers in brick kilns, by some estimates. About half are women, who are not included in the kiln’s records and are not paid a separate wage from their husbands.

Many of the women workers are sexually abused, and conditions for pregnant women are particularly bad, as they do not have access to medical facilities, and are forced to work well into their pregnancy, activists say.

Women are enslaved by the patriarchal system, they are enslaved by the caste system, and they are enslaved by the minimum wage, which is such a pittance that they are forced to live in abject conditions,” said Manjit Singh, a retired professor of sociology at Panjab University.

Better conditions

A signature campaign was launched last week in Bathinda to appeal to President Pranab Mukherjee for better conditions for the state’s women brick-kiln workers. Activists are also trying to organize the women into unions, similar to efforts in Maharashtra state.

There are signs that women workers elsewhere are heeding the call to unionise and fight for their rights.

Last week, protests in the southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu by garment workers, mostly women, forced the government to scrap a controversial proposal to change the rule on pension withdrawals.

“Women workers – from teachers to textile workers and daily-wage workers – are so desperate, they are demanding their rights,” Singh said.

“They are learning the benefits of a collective voice, and of coming out on the streets and protesting, rather than doing so within the confines of their workplace. We will see more of this,” he said. (VOA News)

 

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Mission of Female Empowerment, Ivanka Trump Aims at Increasing Economic Opportunities For Women

She was in the East African country to promote a $50 million initiative enacted by her father in February that is aimed at encouraging women's employment in developing countries.

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US Senior White House advisor Ivanka Trump attends a meeting as part of the African Women’s Empowerment Dialogue, on Apr. 15, 2019, in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump’s daughter and White House advisor, Ivanka, is heading to the Ivory Coast to continue her four-day trip aimed at increasing economic opportunities for women in the West African region.

Ivanka Trump, who serves as advisor to her father on economic empowerment, began her trip to the region with a visit to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa Sunday, where she announced a multi-million dollar U.S. government initiative to support women entrepreneurs.

The “2X Africa” initiative announced Monday by Trump and David Bohigian, the acting head of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, aims to mobilize $1 billion and directly invest $350 million in companies and funds “owned by women, led by women,” or by “providing a good or service that intentionally empowers women on the continent.”

Donald Trump
It was not immediately clear if the controversy that surrounds the U.S. president will follow his daughter to Africa. The president has not been kind in his remarks about Africa and its migrants. VOA

Later in the day, Ivanka Trump met with President Sahle-Work Zewde. They discussed a need for reform in Africa that would lead to improved opportunity and inclusivity for women.

She also held discussions on women’s empowerment with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, commending him for increasing the number of women in leadership positions in his government.

On Sunday, Bohigian signed a “letter of interest” with an Ethiopian company called Muya to help support the company through OPIC financing. Muya, owned by fashion designer Sara Abera, produces household products and was the first Ethiopian company to obtain membership in the World Fair Trade Organization.

Trump visited Muya on Sunday after she arrived in Addis Ababa for a summit on African women’s economic inclusion and empowerment.

 

“Fundamentally, we believe that investing in women is a smart development policy and it is a smart business,” Trump said after sampling coffee at a traditional Ethiopian ceremony. “It’s also in our security interest, because women, when we’re empowered, foster peace and stability.”

White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump smiles at Azalech Tesfaye, who is the recipient of loan guarantee through USAID, as Trump meets women who work in the Ethiopian coffee industry, Sunday Apr. 14, 2019.
White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump smiles at Azalech Tesfaye, who is the recipient of loan guarantee through USAID, as Trump meets women who work in the Ethiopian coffee industry, Sunday Apr. 14, 2019. VOA

Trump also laid a wreath at an Ethiopian Orthodox church to honor the victims of last month’s Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 people on board.

It was not immediately clear if the controversy that surrounds the U.S. president will follow his daughter to Africa. The president has not been kind in his remarks about Africa and its migrants. (VOA)