With #PledgeforParity making headway this International Women’s Day, there is still a wide gap between what women do and the status they are accorded. This is most apparent right at our doorsteps. Bearing in mind that every working woman, whether wage labourer, cleaner or cook, is a contributor driving the social, economic, cultural and political wheels of society, City Express takes a look at four such women...
Staff at Amma Canteen, Mylapore
Amid the clutter of utensils and the sound of a pressure cooker, this mother of two takes a quick break to talk about everything from feminism and women’s rights groups to finding a job in Chennai. “Women’s Day?” she wonders aloud before smiling, “I think it’s a great way to tell everyone we exist, and deserve equal opportunities. Amma Canteen hired a 50-year-old woman, who lost suddenly lost her husband. Such opportunities should be available to women everywhere.” She adds that women-dominated workplaces give the women working there a sense of power. “It also fosters a sense of sisterhood, which is necessary for people from low income families like ours. There should be more government establishments run entirely by women. We would do it better than men,” she grins.
R Sasikala (52) | Anganwadi Teacher, Kottivakkam
Working in a government establishment is not easy, says this teacher at the Kottivakkam Anganwadi, as 30 children sleep in the middle of the afternoon. She had just finished taking a lesson on fruits and vegetables, and the kids were tired. For Sasikala, who has been doing this for 26 years, work has its own challenges. “Only this week we got a new building and clean toilets, but I managed to get by even when when we didn’t have them,” she says. “I have taught kids who grew up, got married and have sent their kids here to the Anganwadi. It’s not about the money. As women, there are certain things we are more skilled at; teaching being one of the foremost,” she says.
Kauvery | Domestic Worker, Mogappair
Provident fund and ESI are words she did not understand growing up. But now, making `3,000 a month mopping, cleaning, dusting and washing two large homes, she knows the importance of these words. “Some women I know do hemming for a small unit. If I knew a skill like that I would not do this job,” she says. From school fees, to rent, and uniforms, each expense is daunting to Kauvery. “I’ve been working in a house for the last eight years for `1,800 a month. That’s why this talk of women empowerment is a joke! There are thousands like me, and yet no government thinks what we do is even a job. There is such a condescending attitude and we hear words like ‘you’re just a servant maid’ thrown around a lot. So I will celebrate Women’s Day the day I’m respected for my job and get a salary I deserve,” she says.
G Koteeswari (40)
Corporation Worker with Sanitation Department, Neelankarai
All Koteeswari wants is to give her children the life she couldn’t get. But after pulling a 9-hour day, cleaningthe city, she says the exhaustion can wear on her hope. The woman who has been twice awardedon the Chief Minister’s birthday for excellence in her work, lives in a shanty that leaks, breaks in seams and has almost no space for even three to sit. “No single woman in the neighbourhood is sitting at home, but there are plenty of idle men,” she says and points out to an empty rum bottle in a ditch nearby. “In our area, we women stick together, pool in contributions and try to help whoever is sick or has problems in their family,” she adds.