Today, there is a renewed interest in women's participation in the public sphere, whether as political movers and shakers, or as important participants in the economy. This series will bring you features and opinion that track changes, gains and challenges in both these worlds.


Global:Women & Economic Power
Domestic Care Givers: Homes As Unregulated Workplaces
By Geeta Seshu

Vimal Hirwai, a proud member of the Maharashtra Moulkarin Gharkamgar Sanghatana, has been a domestic worker for more than 30 years. Hirwai's daughter, Laxmi and granddaughter, Geeta, are also members of the union, but while Vimal and Laxmi are domestic workers, Geeta is a private 'nurse'. The story of these three Mumbai women provides a fascinating insight into the world of home care workers, encapsulating changes in their working conditions and salaries, even as it underlines the fact that the recognition that eluded Vimal's work continues to elude both her daughter and grand-daughter. Unacknowledged, unorganised and unregulated, this best describes the status of domestic workers in India.

* "The times must change, how long can we work like this without even being recognised?"


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India:Women & Economic Power
Maximum City, Minimum Opportunities: How Mumbai's Unorganised Women Workers Cope
By Geeta Seshu

Laxmi, 27, employed for the last eight years in an engineering unit, may be commuting for long hours, may get a meagre pay, may have to come home after a day of backbreaking work only to get on to doing household chores, but she still does not want to give up her job to either stay at home or work as a domestic. Every morning, scores of young Mumbai women alight from local trains at the Nala Sopara station and head to one of the numerous factories in the area that manufacture anything from electrical goods to garments to machine parts. The self-esteem and camaraderie these women experience as they catch up with their friends on their way to and from work may be a major attraction for them, but unorganised workers have low wages, no benefits and dismal working conditions.

* The work-station is a long bench and the women get individual high stools to sit on. "They don't want us to get too comfortable otherwise we won't work as fast as we should," laughs Laxmi.


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India:Women & Economic Power
The Forgotten Women Behind The Commonwealth Games Sites
By Tripti Nath

Rajni and Chidami, a couple from Mau Rampur in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, take turns to attend to their two-month-old child, Aashiq, at a construction site near the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi. As Rajni gets busy digging, Chidami wipes his wet brow with cement laden hands to check on the baby lying on a bed of plastic bags. Workers have come from as far away as Jhansi and Warangal to build the glitzy venues of the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Among them are innumerable women, many of them young mothers. But even as they create state-of-the-art sports facilities, their working conditions and wages leave a lot to be desired. Contractors are intimidating, protective working gear is hardly forthcoming, there are no safety norms being followed on the work sites, creches are non-existent, toilet facilities are negligible and there is no shelter, either from the sun or the rain. Not surprisingly, many women workers wonder whether leaving their villages was really worth the effort.

* "They pay us once a week, but only half of what is due to us. If we are to be paid Rs 770, they will pay us Rs 330. They will always hold back some cash."


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Global:Women & Economic Power
Kolkata Women Find A Little Bit of IT Goes A Long Way
By Ranjita Biswas

Joka in southern Kolkata is home to the premier Indian Institute of Management (IIM-C). But outside the huge complex where future corporate honchos are being trained, lies a world where middle- and lower middle-class families are pulling together scant resources to give an education to their children so that they can get a foothold in the job market. Often they fail miserably. But at the Jeevika Development Society, an NGO in Joka, young women are out to prove that with the right expertise they can secure any job they want. Equipping these women with modern work skills like a basic knowledge of computers and spoken English is Anudip Foundation for Social Welfare, which collaborates with community-based NGOs to create improved livelihoods for the unemployed poor.

* An employee at Anudip's BPO at the Kolkata office, Asma Khatun's rise in IT related work is an example of how aspiration combined with hard work can yield impressive results.


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India:Women & Political Power
Battle For The Women's Bill: Bring In The Umbrellas
By Pamela Philipose

It was raining signatures in the monsoon season, as support for the Women's Reservation Bill poured in from every corner of India. Outside the Indian parliament, thousands of women - and many supportive men - holding placards and umbrellas with slogans emblazoned on them, gathered with just one demand: Pass The 33 per cent Reservations Bill Now! Fourteen years ago, when this Bill was first mooted, there was none of this colour, vibrancy and crowds. The voices have grown louder and more insistent; the campaign for the Bill has gained a new momentum. The message to the country's parliamentarians is clear: Stop the antics to keep the Bill out. Your political careers are at stake if you continue to stymie this Bill.

* 'This Bill is critical if we have to have a politics and policy-making that represents all sections of society. You have to talk with women. Not down to them.'


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India:Women & Economic Power
Women Behind the Made In India Label
By Papiya Bhattacharya

What is common between the moderately-priced apparel available at Walmart in the US and merchandise in the expensive Gap clothing stores? India. Or more specifically the 'Made in India' tag. International clothing giants such as Tommy Hilfiger, Marks & Spencer and Gap, among others, employ Karnataka's largest unorganised workforce - around 40,000 workers, a majority of whom are women - to bulk produce their designs. India - the fourth leading exporter of readymade garments in the world - owes a lot of its export earnings to women workers who power this booming sector. But while there are advantages galore for the manufacturers, what about the women who toil away in these units?

* There are two faces to this industry: On the one hand it helps semi-rural women earn a livelihood and takes care of their two square meals a day; on the other hand, it exploits labour and gives them minimum wages."


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India:Women & Economic Power
In Their Union Lies Their Strength:Bengal's Women Show The Way
By Aditi Bhaduri

Amidst the changing Kolkata skyline one building has remained reassuringly unchanged. Shuruchi began a trend of sorts by being the first Bengali cuisine restaurant manned by an all-women staff. Over the years, several thousands have tucked into authentic food at rock-bottom prices here. But hidden behind this modest building is a huge welfare enterprise - the All Bengal Women's Union (ABWU) founded by some progressive women way back in 1932. Today, besides Shuruchi - it's most successful venture - the ABWU runs a sari production unit, welfare homes and a primary school for young girls. This union has empowered generations of women victims of atrocities and trafficking to battle on for a better life.

* 'We are an organisation where women are for women... our greatest achievements are when we see a smile on the faces of many girls and women who have made their way here for a more dignified life.'


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India:Women & Economic Power
Women Climb Gurgaon's Corporate Ladder
By Smitha Sadanandan

Imagine a life filled with music and holidays, a loving family, good friends and a rewarding career with an understanding boss as a welcome bonus. This is what every working woman's dreams are made of. For some lucky ones in Gurgaon, Haryana's boom city and a key off-shore and outsourcing hub in India, this ideal situation is a reality. These women are punctual, natural team players, true professionals, and are able to deliver the goods on the work front. Of course, they are thankful for all the support they get to stay on top - from understanding in-laws to companies that are now open to providing flexi-work hours.

* Women who shoulder heavy responsibilities at home aren't asking for fewer work hours but just a bit of flexibility in choosing their hours. Luckily for Reddy, her manager understands this.


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India:Women & Political Power
Reservation Express's Final Stop: The Indian Parliament
By Amrita Nandy

All these women want is to ensure the Women's Reservation Bill - that gives women 33 per cent reservation in Parliament and state assemblies - is passed in the Lok Sabha. And so they mounted a nationwide campaign that took them to 60 towns and cities across India. Meet the members of the Reservation Express, a first-of-its-kind attempt conceived by Delhi-based NGO, ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy), which brought together internally displaced women and victims from the Gujarat carnage, girls from a remote village in Kashmir, activists from states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, among others. Interactive public meetings were organised at various stops, with audiences displaying a lively interest in the Bill.

* "Our political arena is packed with 'elite' male politicians. Such vehement questioning about their elite status was not done when they came to power. Why does this become such a huge issue when women have to enter politics?"


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India:Women & Political Power
Karnataka's Women Councillors Take Charge
By Taru Bahl

Ravi Shetty had been struggling for three years to get his ration card allotted in Ramnagaram, near Bangalore, Karnataka. That was until he contacted his area councillor, Sneha, who finally got the 'tehsildar' to issue it within a week. When a destitute woman A.H. Kaveri, 70, approached her area woman councillor for help, she not only got Kaveri's pension reinstated but also decided to make a case for a policy change in pension matters so that woman like her would not have to suffer. Women councillors have proved that they can successfully address issues related to poverty, employment, education and development at the local level. But their job is not easy, especially when they are financially dependent and their movement restricted. There is also a lack of guidance from those higher up in the government.

* 'Being women, we are not confrontationist. Also being part of the system means we know how to get around it. Using this to better the interests of the disadvantaged has to be our mandate. It is not a favour, it's a duty.'


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India:Women & Economic Power
Karnataka Women Make It Their Business To Be Successful
By Roshin Varghese

Vijaya Biradar has a thriving sari business, Vasumathi Bhaskar has built-up a multi-food industry from scratch, and Anitha Jain's passion for bikes and cycles has led her to run a successful cycle mart. These three women are among the 2.5 million, who have benefited from being part of the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Karnataka (AWAKE) that has provided thousands of first-generation women entrepreneurs the inspiration and technical support to start their own ventures - from small-scale papad-making to high-tech biotechnology.

* Vijaya Biradar has reared goats and chickens in her backyard, but today she runs her own sari business. She feels a woman "needs only common sense and determination and training" to set up a small-scale business.


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India:Women & Political Power
Sarpanch Uma: Village Sinha's Star Manager
By Neeta Lal

Despite deep fractiousness over the Women's Reservation Bill, there are shining examples of how such quotas are transforming India's gender-unequal political landscape and the lives of ordinary people. Take Uma Sav, the 'sarpanch' of village Sinha in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh. In a state known more for Naxal insurgency than anything else, this home maker - whose only concern was caring for her farmer husband and their four children - is changing the face of her village. Uma's daily agenda is now packed with crucial concerns like ensuring provision of drinking water, sanitation services, education and construction of roads. Thanks to Uma's effective managerial skills, village Sinha today has pucca roads, street lights, toilets, tubewells, water tanks and taps in homes.

* 'A woman's focus is not on embezzlement but on using money judiciously. We are used to doing so at home and manage well with limited resources. We employ the same skill while managing the village...


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India:Women & Economic Power
From Fields to A BPO In Just Six Months
By Hemlata Aithani

Six months ago, Pooja, 18, and Vimla, 35, spent each day cooking meals, tending to their cattle and working in the field - the usual existence of village women in Haryana. Today, they work at computers and draw their own monthly salary of Rs 2000 as trained employees of the first-of-its-kind women's-only Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) unit to open in the rural region. The brainchild of a business graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, the BPO has 200 women armed with basic literacy who have picked up computer skills with tremendous confidence.

* 'City women think rural women are illiterate and uncultured. We have proven them wrong. All we need is an opportunity. I am so proud of myself.'


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India:Women & Political Power
Think Pink: Rural Women Fight For The Women's Bill
By Alka Pande

An illiterate woman, who initiated a fight for rights in the parched Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh (UP), with only a bamboo stick in her hand, is now educating rural women about the importance of the historic Women's Bill seeking to reserve 33 per cent seats in Parliament and the state assemblies for women. Meet Sampat Pal, the fifty-something member of the Gulabi (Pink) Gang, a women's rights movement that has over 1,50,000 members in India's biggest state. Armed with the slogan, "Baandh lo kamaria me sari ki aai ab bahinan ki baari" (tie the saris on to your waists, as it's now the turn of women), the rustic crusader is propagating the controversial Bill in her own unique style.

* "Lalu and Mulayam are opposing the Bill because they feel women are weak. I want to ask them if women can run their houses, take care of their children's education, manage food and the household budget, why can't they run the home and finance ministries at the government level?"


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India:Women & Political Power
This Village Headwoman Rides Horses
By Renu Rakesh

She runs an equestrian academy and hotel, drives an SUV, is armed with an MBA, has worked as a corporate executive and is now a village headwoman. Meet Chhavi Rajawat, the jeans-clad elected representative who balances urban options with her rural mission as Sarpanch Bai-Sa in the Rajasthani village of Soda.

* She already has a clear agenda that lays emphasis on attending to the immediate concerns - providing water, electricity and the building of proper roads in Soda.


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India:Women & Political Power
Women's Reservation Bill: India's Game Changer
By Pamela Philipose

Amidst parliamentary hijinks this Bill - that had raised the hackles of many male Parliamentarians over the last 14 years - was passed in the Upper House. If the Lok Sabha, or Lower House, passes the Bill, it could prove a turning point in Indian politics. Not only will politicians be forced to speak a new political language, they would have to create fresh political constituencies for themselves. This should, in turn, bring gender concerns that have been sidelined for so long, into the mainstream political space.

* 'In many ways the move is a gamble. But it is a gamble that is eminently worth taking...'


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