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What Does Intersectionality Have To Do With Female Workforce Participation?

While the customary role of women was limited to the domestic front, 21st-century Indian women have made significant strides in the workplace. Today, almost 25% of Indian women are employed. As per the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, India has ranked 140 among 156 countries.

The hardship of women in every stage of life is difficult to categorise, but the 21st-century working woman isn’t treated equally as men. Unfortunately, unequal pay, gender bias, mental and sexual harassment are some of the issues haunting working-class women and holding them back from participating in the workforce.

With the growing concern around discrimination against women in the workplace, it is important to understand the nexus between class and gender inequality in India. More importantly, what are intersectionality and identity politics themes and how do they concern working-class women?

What Is Intersectionality And Identity Politics?

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In the last two decades, women have organised against the routine violence that shapes their lives. Drawing from the leverage of shared experiences, women have recognised the collective political demands that resonate more than isolated voices. This politicisation has structured the way we understand inequality against women.

For example, rape in the workplace was once seen as a private matter, but now, it is largely recognised as a part of a broad-scale system of domination that affects women as a class. This process of recognising “personal” matters as a systematic violation of human rights has led to the birth of intersectionality and identity politics.

Coined by social theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw, Intersectionality is a foundation for profiling a group of people as affected by a myriad of discriminations. It takes into account the overlapping identities and experiences of people to understand the intricacy of biases they face. Identity politics explains a wide variety of political activity grounded in the shared experiences of bigotry of members of certain social groups.

The intersectionality and identity politics theory asserts that people are discriminated against on multiple sources like race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, etc. Black feminists like Patricia Hill Collins have supported this view.

Therefore, when we argue about the nexus of class and gender inequality encountered by working women in India, it is an argument founded on the pretext of intersectionality.

Challenges Faced By Working Women In India

The financial demands on middle-class Indian families are increasing every day. The cost of living and related expenses are sky-rocketing. This has forced every family to look for alternate means of increasing their household income. As a result, middle-class women who were once homemakers have to step out of the house and take up jobs.

women work on computer
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Positively, women have become a conspicuous part of India’s economic progress. However, that doesn’t stop gender bias in the workplace. In light of prejudices, qualified women do not have the same opportunities as men. In some cases, even when a qualified woman is available for a job, the preference is given to a male candidate.

According to a LinkedIn Opportunity Index, as many as 85% of women miss out on a raise or a promotion because of their gender. Even in historically female-dominated fields, one can find that men earn higher pay and occupy more prestigious designations. Around 37% of Indian women get paid less than men in the same placement. This results in working-class women being socially and economically deprived.

This kind of gender bias also persists in the unorganised sector. Women labourers don’t get paid the same wages for the same nature of work as men. They are forced to work in miserable conditions and are exploited.

Women are sexually harassed in the workplace almost daily. About 85% of women aged 24–40 years have experienced some kind of unwanted sexual attention in the workplace.

Citing a popular incident, in 1992, Bhanwari Devi, a government social worker from Rajasthan, was gang-raped by higher-caste men annoyed by her efforts to prevent child marriage in her village. However, justice eluded Bhanwari Devi as her employer denied responsibility claiming she had been attacked in her field.

This case initiated the Supreme Court to introduce the Vishakha Guidelines in 1997 that mandate employers to protect women from sexual harassment in the workplace. According to the Vishakha Guidelines, “Gender equality includes protection from sexual harassment and right to work with dignity, which is a universally recognised basic human right.” 

workplace harassment
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In 2013, India ratified the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act to protect employers in organised and unorganised sectors. Both these acts were a ground-breaking legislative step for India to protect its female workers, but this only exists in writing.

Women in the workplace (especially those in the unorganised sector) don’t even recognise that they have been sexually assaulted. Sexual harassment in the workplace has become so normalised that women simply accept it and don’t bother to file a complaint.

What Does Intersectionality Have To Do With Female Workforce Participation?

As evident, the nexus between class and gender inequality is built into the DNA of the Indian workforce. Working-class women in India face gender discrimination at the workplace just by virtue of them being females. Besides, gender discrimination has become so rampant that no one bats an eye.

So, what can the authorities do to enact reforms that protect women in the workplace? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Provide training and conduct public programmes to increase awareness about an inclusive workplace environment.
  2. Sensitise police officers, judicial officials, and implement accountability mechanisms regarding the proper handling of sexual harassment reports.
  3.  Support the creation of free-functioning women worker’s organisations, including trade unions.
  4. Publish data on an annual basis on reports of sexual harassment cases filed and resolved.
  5. Set up local committees in every district and allocate budgets to promote equality policies in the workplace.
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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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