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What Companies Must Do To Promote Young Working Mothers Like Pooja

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By Lavanya Garg and Snigdha Shahi: 

The oldest of four sisters, Pooja Mishra was 17 when she got married. Being young and unaware, she didn’t question her parents’ decision and followed her husband to Delhi within a year of being married. What led her to look for a job in the garment industry was one, her inherent interest in stitching clothes, a hobby she had pursued as a young girl; and two, seeing self-confident women around her working in the nation’s capital. While it was self-drive that led her to participate in the workforce, it was the presence of favorable work place policies at Shahi Exports that helped retain her in it.

In 2009, when her first son was born, she wasn’t sure if she could continue working. Gendered household norms dictate women to give up their jobs to take care of children –  Indian men, on an average spend 51.8 minutes per day doing unpaid work, as opposed to Indian women who spend 351.9 minutes per day on the same. In fact, in many workplaces, a woman is assumed to be “less serious” about her job from the minute she decides to get married, a presumption never made about men.

In Pooja’s case, the hesitance soon disappeared because she had access to a crèche. She said, “The main plus point of my company is that there is a crèche here, which helped me continue working.” Moreover, her supervisor understood the need for her to balance work and child-care, especially during the first year of having her son. She was assigned easier tasks for a year so that she could make frequent visits to the crèche. In an industry which is heavily production-oriented, it was surprising but heartening to hear that she visited her son as frequently as every two hours to breastfeed him.

All factories with more than 30 employees are mandated by section 48 of the Factories Act, 1948 to provide a crèche. The same has been reiterated for all establishments with 50 or more employees by the newly amended Maternity Benefit Bill (2016). Needless to say, this is not the norm, especially for small organizations and those in the unorganized sector.

Vanita, who has undergone Nursing Teacher Training, and has been managing the crèche at one of Shahi’s Faridabad factory for twelve years, remarks how she has seen women resigning after their child turns six. Section 48 of the Factories Act, 1948 only requires a crèche to be set up for children till the age of six. For her elder son who is eight now, Pooja pays Rs.3000 every month to leave him with a baby sitter outside. Apart from the fact that the crèche at her workplace is available free of cost, with various amenities and adequate staff, she is also constantly worried about his safety outside.

In addition to having a safe place for her children and being near them during the crucial years of early development, another policy that helped Pooja maintain a work-life balance was the option of coming to work early. She starts her day at 8 am, which allows her to leave work by 4:30 pm. By preponing her work shift by an hour, she can reach home soon after her elder son comes back from school. This is a classic case of how flexibility in working hours, can help retain more women in the workforce, as they often have competing demands on their time.

Such stories motivate us, at The Good Business Lab (GBL), to design and implement experimental interventions in factories that can improve job quality for workers. Frontier economic research on interventions that build comfortable and supportive work environments, can establish the social and business case for such interventions beyond doubt. For example, in one study, GBL estimated that adoption of LED lights in place of fluorescent lighting not only reduced energy consumption by roughly 85% but also dissipated 1/7th of the heat, reducing average indoor temperature by roughly 2.40 C. This ‘anti-sweat shop’ study has become an example of how a simple intervention, can have very tangible impacts on the physical working conditions, coupling worker welfare with greater retention and productivity.

At the Lab, we believe that improving job quality goes beyond improving only the physical working conditions. It involves providing facilities such as the crèche and adopting innovative methods like flexible working hours to influence macroeconomic trends such as female labour force participation. The latter will only happen if many more self-motivated, smart and young women like Pooja don’t just continue working after child birth, but have ambitions of moving up the management ladder in their company, encouraged by favourable workplace policies.

This article is part of a three-part series that aims to highlight the Good Business Lab’s three focus areas – freeing up female labor force, improving job quality and skilling the workforce – by bringing to life the voice of young female garment workers, on the occasion of International Youth Day. By sharing the hardships, triumphs and everyday lives of young women in the garments sector, we wish to build a dialogue on #WorkerWelfareIsGoodBusiness

The other two articles can be read here and here.

These pieces have been written and compiled by Lavanya Garg (Research and Communications Manager at GBL) and Snigdha Shahi (Research and Communications Associate at GBL).

You can find more stories like these on Good Business Lab’s annual magazine here

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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