We spent two and a half days at the V.V. Giri Labour Institute in Noida, a suburb of Delhi. Our thanks to Dr. Ellina Samantroy, Associate Fellow at the Institute, who did an amazing job of organizing the conference and inviting the participants. The Institute staff were wonderful and generous. We stayed in the hostel and the accommodations were perfect.
San Francisco Apprentice Electrician Noreen Buckley describes her experience at the conference.
The level of hospitality and openness that the Indian people have
shown us has humbled me. In this two-day conference, various voices
presented the many layers surrounding women construction workers in
India. The US delegation heard from members of the government and the
ways in which they are establishing policy and creating programs to
support the Indian construction workers as a whole.
The Indian labor organizers and union representatives shared
the work they are doing to gain rights for construction workers around
pay, safety standards on the job site, and pension after retirement as
well as spreading that information to the workers, informing them that
this option is available to them. The unions admittedly have tried to
ignore the issue of women in construction only to now acknowledge that
it is not going away. We sat on panels with activists who have been
fighting for the basic needs of construction workers, specifically
women construction workers. And we listened to academics that have
studied and researched women construction workers, identifying the
many hurdles they face in the field and their daily lives.
With just such a short time together, the Indian members did
a great job in painting the picture of Indian cultural, governmental,
economic, and social ways of life and how they all factor in to the
struggle that women construction workers face in their country. Before
arriving in India, it was hard for me to see how the US and India
could share best practices and benefit each other when our countries
are on two different socio-economic levels. We talk about a fair wage
for US union constructions workers being between $60-90/hour (for both
genders) while 300 rupees a day ($4.50 US) is the norm for Indian
female construction workers. But, the core issues that we as US
Tradeswomen face are the same as Indian tradeswomen.
Access to childcare:
- India – the women who “chose” to work outside the home are still
responsible for all household duties and looking after the children.
- US – the struggle women have to set up childcare (that is not family)
when a job starts at 6:00 am. The acceptance and allowing of missing
work to tend to a sick child as part of the cultural (as it is with
more traditional female professions)
Equal pay for equal work:
- India – women construction workers often work as a family, side by
side with their male counterpart. The women always receive less pay
then the man and often do not actually receive the money rather her
pay is given to the husband, father, male that she is with.
- US – as a country, women still make ¾ of every $1.00 that men earn.
Making Policy versus Implementing Policy:
- India – many of the Indian panelists acknowledged, and at times joked,
that Indians are great at making laws and bad at enforcing them. The
Indian government has taken steps, on paper only, to address some of
the hurdles of women and construction workers
- US – In 1978, Carter signed a law that 6.9% of the federally funded
construction work hours has to be done by women. To date, nationally we are
roughly a little under 3% and we were slightly above 2% when the law
Cultural perceptions of what women can and cannot do:
- India – women are not strong enough, women are not smart enough, women
will not be respected, women cannot lead…
- US– women are not strong enough, women are not smart enough, women
will not be respected, women cannot lead…
Harassment and Sexual harassment:
- India – As a response to harassment of women, this country has
established separate ladies cars on trains, designated ladies only
seats on buses and just yesterday, I read that Air India (a local
Indian airline) is debating if fights should have ladies only seating
- US – I would go out on a limb and say that ever member of this
delegation could share a story of workplace harassment and majority of
the US female population could as well.
I have barely touched on the richness of this conference; the people,
the discussion, the stories. We, as a delegation, are moving on with
more questions than answers regarding the growth of tradeswomen in
India and the United States.
— Noreen Buckley, Electrician
V.V. Giri presented all the delegates with beautiful commemorative plaques.
Construction worker Priya joined us and we had the chance to present her with some construction health and safety posters that we had made in India.
Sounds wonderful, Susan, all you hoped for and more. Reminds me of the Mocambique project I worked on, which Don Kossick called a “linkage project”. It wasn’t about us “teaching” folks what we knew; it was about our common concerns and different experiences, and what we could learn from one another.
Thank you Noreen. Your description of the conference really makes the connection between tradeswomen in India & the US in both the obstacles we face, and organizing being done to combat those obstacles.