Shweta started by reminding us that in today’s world scenario, it would be challenging to achieve gender equality without quality public services.
“It is fundamental to create gender-responsive quality public services, especially around essential services such as health, care, water, electricity, sanitation and of course education. When countries offer poor basic facilities women and girls are the most impacted, especially in developing countries.“
It is unfortunate to see that when world is fighting this epidemic, these [community health] workers who work day and night putting their life at risk for society and for the welfare of the world, have no worker rights themselves.
Gender-responsiveness cannot be ensured without properly addressing and formulating neutral, structural, and non-patriarchal discrimination rules and policies at the workplace and in the unions that can transform human life, especially for women and youth.
The major barrier hindering gender-responsiveness of public services is to confront fiscal deficit by embracing austerity measures. This does not actually give any hope to citizens and provokes a situation of crisis. Tax avoidance is another major issue, when corporations do not pay their fair taxes there is less money to invest in public services, sustainable infrastructure and social protection which are the key drivers of gender equality.
Shweta continues: “whenever privatization get their hands on basic public services and infrastructure, like water, sanitation, health and education facilities, it will always result in a deterioration in quality, especially for the most vulnerable.”
Calling for budget cuts, which in practice have a direct impact on public services, is not only the bedrock of populism, authoritarianism, or social unrest, it is also a frontal attack on women’s rights. Because women tend to be more dependent on public social services, which have the capacity to shift the unpaid care burden that falls disproportionately on their shoulders. Cleaning, cooking and looking after dependent family members – children, elderly people and people with disabilities – are still “women’s affairs”.
Across South Asia women do more unpaid care and domestic work than men: 10 times as much in Pakistan; almost 7 times more in India; and nearly 3 times more in Bangladesh. This vast disproportionate situation means that even now, in the 21st century, women have fewer opportunities for education, training and work, making their economic empowerment very difficult. Even when women manage to work, they are often trapped in low-paid, poor-quality jobs, sexual harassment, and physical threats, not recognised as workers. Many of them lack social labour protection and decent working conditions, with consequences for current and future income (less rights to pensions etc.).
Across South Asia women do several times more unpaid care and domestic work than men
10 times more
7 times more
3 times more
This scenario of discrimination is best understood through the public health system in the current Covid-19 pandemic situation, she says.
Today, the backbone of the public health system, i.e. community health workers and childcare workers, are seen as volunteer workers and are devoid of any worker rights such as minimum wages, employment benefits such as maternity leave, paid leave, social security etc. All these are denied, as they are volunteers and not workers. It is unfortunate to see that when world is fighting this epidemic, these workers who work day and night putting their life at risk for society and for the welfare of the world, have no worker rights themselves.
We need to understand and start acting on the fact that private sector profit on public services is not ethical if we believe that public services are the way to materialise human rights; especially women’s human rights.
We need to put health over wealth; we need to put care over profit.
It is also important to protect, value and recognise healthcare workers who are majority group of women as fundamental public services workers.
In conclusion, on behalf of PSI I want to urge all of you to renew our commitment and especially the mindset towards gender equality and human rights through our negotiation interventions at state level. That should come with clear gender-responsiveness in recruitment and policy formulations with clear equity and inclusiveness recommendations and implementation strategies to strengthen quality public services for all. Along with empowering women towards their rights and encouraging them to take up leadership positions, not only at workplace but also in the trade union movement.
In this new normal life, women will struggle more to remain in the labour market and secure social protection entitlements through employment if we, as unionists and social representatives do not act with full force, dedication and commitment towards women human rights.
Universal, rights-based quality public services are a feminist issue. Surely our solidarity action will secure women’s rights in quality public services in this new era of normal life.
In this third and last webinar of the series organised by Global Unions addressing women workers in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond, Shweta Tripathi of the Indian Women Association spoke on behalf of PSI.