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Struggle within the Struggle: Voices of women garment workers


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Struggle within the Struggle: Voices of women garment workers

Sexual harassment at the workplace is by now well understood as a form of gender discrimination at work, and a violation of the basic principles of equality and dignity ensured by our Constitution. On 23 April 2013, sixteen years after the landmark Vishaka judgment of 1997, the Parliament of India enacted The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, which was subsequently notified by the Ministry of Women and Child Development on 9 December 2013. In recent years, sexual harassment at the workplace has increasingly come to be recognised as a cause of concern, as it violates basic principles of gender equality and labour rights in the framework of these being inalienable human rights of all workers alike.
Though not yet covered by any specific international instrument, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Committee of Experts considers ‘sexual harassment’ to fall within the scope of the ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No.111), and the Committee on the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has also qualified it as a form of discrimination on the basis of sex, and as a form of violence against women.

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Struggle within the Struggle: Voices of women garment workers

  1. 1. Struggle within the Struggle Voices of women garment workers Report by: Society for Labour and Development
  2. 2. This report is envisaged to understand the on-ground- situation with regard to workplace sexual harassment of women workers in the garment industry of Gurgaon. It tries to offer insights on the everyday reproduction of inequality on the garment factory shop-floor, and examines questions of safe and secure workspaces for women. It is hoped that findings from the report will enable a process of dialogue between factory managements, global brands, trade unions and NGOs to creategender-sensitiveworkplaces. Since 2006, the Society for Labour and Development (SLD), based in New Delhi, has been focusing on different aspects of labour rights. It believes in equitable development through social and economic well- being of workers, especially of migrant workers with a human rights and gender perspective. Labour studies are one of our many activities that focus on persisting labour concernswhich needtobeaddressedurgently. Society for Labour and Development C-23 (Rear Entrance), First Floor, Hauz Khas. New Delhi-110016 Phone: +91.11.26525806 Telefax: +91.11.46179959
  3. 3. Struggle within the struggle Voices of women garment workers Report by: Society for Labour and Development
  4. 4. Struggle within the struggle Voices of women garment workers Report by: Society for Labour and Development
  5. 5. REVIEW AND EDITING Sunila Singh CO-EDITING Nasreen Faiyaz RESEARCH COORDINATION AND WRITING Eesha Kunduri RESEARCH TEAM Anushree Jairath Radhika Uppal FIELD SUPPORT Santosh Prajapati Meeta Sen Anita Yadav Elizabeth STUDY SUPPORTED BY Ford Foundation ORGANISATION ADDRESS Society for Labour and Development, C 23 First Floor, Rear Entrance, Hauz Khaz, New Delhi-110 016, Phone: +91.11.26525806 Telefax: +91.11.46179959 For private circulation only © Society for Labour and Development 2014 Cover Design and Layout by Project Team
  6. 6. CONTENTS Preface .................................................................................................................................. 1 Introduction .....................................................................................................................2-6 Women workers’ narratives of sexual harassment.................................................. 7-12 Resisting sexual harassment: ........................................................................................... 13 Struggles at the workplace and beyond .................................................................. 14-18 Concluding analysis and recommendations ........................................................... 19-21 Annexures ...................................................................................................................... 22-23 References.................................................................................................................... 24-25
  7. 7. List of Acronyms CEDAW Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women CPD Centre for Policy Dialogue CSR Corporate Social Responsibility FWF Fair Wear Foundation GATWU Garment and Textile Workers Union GAWU Garment and Allied Workers Union ILO International Labour Organization ISID Institute for Studies in Industrial Development NCR National Capital Region NGO Non Governmental Organization NTUI New Trade Union Initiative UNFPA United Nations Population Fund UNLV University of Nevada, Las Vegas USD United States Dollar WDP Women’s Development Programme WTO World Trade Organization
  8. 8. 1 PREFACE Arange of studies on women workers in export-oriented manufacturing, of which the garment industry is a classic case, have documented for a very long time now, a plethora of shop-floor level issues, such as low wages, precarious work conditions, lack of social security benefits, and verbal and physical abuse. However, these studies only briefly touch upon the subject of sexual harassment at work. This can be attributed, as several scholars, researchers and activists have argued, to the stigma attached to open discussions of sexuality, as also to worker priorities which place a higher emphasis on aspects like low wages and dismal working conditions. Yet, as is well-known, sexual harassment of working women is one of the means through which gender inequality at the workplace is produced and reproduced. In this context, this study broadly seeks to investigate the forms in which female garment workers experience sexual harassment on the shop-floor, with specific reference to the garment industry in Gurgaon. It tries to generate a set of insights on the everyday manifestations and complexities in the life of women workers in the garment industry and examines its implications with a ‘gender and human rights’ perspective. The study has been made possible by a grant from the Ford Foundation, to whom we are deeply indebted. Without this support, we could not have moved forward in our pursuit. I begin by thanking the women workers who participated in this study, who welcomed us into their homes and communities and gave so generously of their time. I am grateful to Eesha Kunduri, research team coordinator, for her understanding and commitment towards issues of gender and labour rights that enabled her to design the study and prepare the final report. My sincere thanks to Anushree Jairath and Radhika Uppal, who assisted with the fieldwork and meticulously transcribed the interview recordings. The data collection process was deeply enriched by the insightful field notes that they wrote. The fieldwork was made possible by the untiring energies of Santosh, Anita, Meeta and Elizabeth, of Nari Shakti Manch, Gurgaon, who networked and built contacts with the women in the communities where this research was carried out. Anannya Bhattacharjee, President of the Garment and Allied Workers Union (GAWU) has been instrumental in pioneering the cause of workplace sexual harassment in the Gurgaon region, and in asking some of the hard questions that this study seeks to unravel. We thank her for inspiring us to dig deeper into the micro-reality of women garment workers, the resilience that keeps them going and for giving us freedom and space to formulate the research design. Sunila Singh, Society for Labour and Development.
  9. 9. 2 INTRODUCTION Sexual harassment at the workplace is by now well understood as a form of gender discrimination at work, and a violation of the basic principles of equality and dignity ensured by our Constitution. On 23 April 2013, sixteen years after the landmark Vishaka judgment of 1997, the Parliament of India enacted The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, which was subsequently notified by the Ministry of Women and Child Development on 9 December 2013. In recent years, sexual harassment at the workplace has increasingly come to be recognised as a cause of concern, as it violates basic principles of gender equality and labour rights in the framework of these being inalienable human rights of all workers alike. Though not yet covered by any specific international instrument, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Committee of Experts considers ‘sexual harassment’ to fall within the scope of the ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No.111), and the Committee on the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has also qualified it as a form of discrimination on the basis of sex, and as a form of violence against women. The United Nations Framework on Business and Human Rights emphasizes the importance of ‘human rights due diligence’ – identifying and remedying possible human rights problems in supply chains, even if those problems are not immedi-ately obvious. However, key features of Business and Human Rights framework broadly indicate: i) Monitoring companies causing harm by directly abusing human rights, or by colluding with others who violate human rights. ii) Ensuring business to follow the global standards to address the ‘human rights responsibilities and obligations’ of both states and companies. As a minimum requirement, all companies should respect all human rights, regardless of the sector, region, context in which they operate. iii) Impart information to companies on human rights aspects to support ‘risk management’ at work. This growing national and international concern with workplace sexual harassment is even more pertinent in the backdrop of numerous debates over women’s labour force participation, and questions of safe and conducive working environments for them. However, there exist a limited number of studies that specifically address the phenomenon as a subject of critical inquiry. This study is a conscious attempt to fill this lacuna by seeking to unravel the question of sexual harassment at workplace, with specific reference to women workers in the garment industry of Gurgaon. The unorganised sector apparel (garment) market is estimated to grow to Rs.4000 billion by 2018 (Cheria, 2013). It is only legitimate to estimate that the number of women employees will increase in proportion to the
  10. 10. 3 overall growth of the industry. A ‘note’ on Indian textiles and clothing exports by the Union textile ministry dated March 26, 2012, pegged the turnover of the textile industry at USD 55 billion at current prices, with domestic demand accounting for 64 per cent. WTO data on international trade ranked India as the third largest global textile exporter, coming up behind China and the European Union (EU); and the world’s sixth largest clothing exporter after China, the EU, Hong Kong, Bangladesh and Turkey (Achanta, 2013). “Yet, the people toiling to achieve these figures get minimal benefits” (ibid.), not to speak of the workplace hazards that women employees particularly face, sexual harassment being one of these. Sexual harassment and the law The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, defines sexual harassment as “includ[ing] any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behaviour (whether directly or by implication) namely: (i) physical contact and advances; or (ii) a demand or request for sexual favours; or (iii) making sexually coloured remarks; or (iv) showing pornography; or (v) any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.” The Act requires each employer of a workplace to constitute an ‘Internal Complaints Committee’ to investigate complaints of sexual harassment, and in cases where the Internal Complaints Committee cannot be constituted, on account of the establishment having less than 10 employees or if the complaint is against the employer, mandates appropriate authorities at the district level to constitute a ‘Local Complaints Committee’, to probe complaints of sexual harassment. The Act caters to the needs of both the organized and unorganized sectors of the economy, and the definition of a workplace is broad-ranging, and is applicable to government bodies, private and public sector organisations, non-governmental organisations, organisations carrying on commercial, vocational, educational, entertainment related, industrial, financial activities, hospitals and nursing homes, educational institutes, sports institutions and stadiums used for training individuals, and a dwelling or a home (in case of domestic workers). A workplace also covers within its scope places visited by employees during the course of employment or for reasons arising out of employment - including transportation provided by the employer for the purpose of commuting to and from the place of employment. The underlying principles of the Act come from the Vishaka guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court of India in 1997. The landmark judgement arose on account of a writ petition filed under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India, brought as a class action by a group of activists and NGOs. The context of the writ petition was the incident of the brutal gang rape of Bhanwari Devi, a saathin (grassroots social worker) with the Women’s Development Programme (WDP) of the government of
  11. 11. 4 Rajasthan, by a group of upper caste men when she attempted to prevent a child marriage in that particular upper caste community.1 The judgment noted that “the incident reveals the hazards to which a working woman may be exposed and the depravity to which sexual harassment can degenerate; and the urgency for safeguards by an alternative mechanism in the absence of legislative measures.” The judgement, which has been hailed as path breaking and progressive, drew upon the Indian Constitution and the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which was ratified by India on June 25, 1993, to argue that sexual harassment undermined ‘gender equality’, and ‘right to life and liberty’ (Vishaka and others V. State of Rajasthan and others, 1997). Thus, the guidelines marked significant departure from the earlier discourse on sexual harassment in India, by invoking the language of constitutional rights and equality. As Naina Kapur (2013), has observed, “Women’s experience of un-welcome sexual conduct was no longer a patronising moral transgression of her “modesty”, it was sexual harassment – a violation of her constitutional equality” (p. 28). Research context and background analysis This research is a pointed endeavour to contribute to the discourse on sexual harassment at workplace, through the lived experiences of women workers in the garment factories of Gurgaon. Situated in the National Capital Region of Delhi (NCR), Gurgaon has emerged since mid-1980s as a major site for the production and export of readymade garments. At present, garment units are concentrated around Udyog Vihar Phase I to VI in Gurgaon, and at Manesar. Industrial work is driven by a pool of migrant workers, hailing largely from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar (Roy, 2009). Official estimates suggest that the industry employs about 94,158 workers (see Annexure three). While data on the proportion of women in total garment manufacturing in the region is not available, studies suggest that women constitute barely 3 per cent of the workforce in the garment industry in the NCR (Barrientos, Mathur & Sood, 2010). The lack of official data notwithstanding, the field engagement of the Society for Labour and Development in the Gurgaon region appears to suggest the presence of a fairly significant number of women workers employed in the garment factories, who are not necessarily visible when we take into account estimates or shares of the workforce. In India, 70 per cent of the 7 million workers in garment factories are women. In Bangladesh 80 per cent of the 3.6 million garment factory workers are women. Approximately 60 per cent of the factory workers have experienced some type of harassment at work, ver-bal abuse or physical abuse. (Fair Wear Foundation, 2013.) It is the very lives of these women workers, and their specific experiences and challenges as women workers on the shop-floor, especially with regard to the phenomenon of workplace sexual harassment that this study seeks to unpack. This study is exploratory in 1 For a detailed account of the case, see Sinha (2003).
  12. 12. 5 nature and our intention is not to arrive at statistical correlations or generalisations, but rather to be able to generate a set of insights to understand the ‘everyday’ reality of women’s working conditions in garment manufacturing. Research Design This study draws upon what Naila Kabeer (2000) calls ‘testimony-based hypothesis testing’. (p. 405). In her study, Kabeer (2000) seeks to understand factors pertaining to Bangladeshi women’s labour market decisions in two different geographical settings of the global garment industry- factory workers in Dhaka and home-based Bangladeshi women workers in London. Through paying close attention to the narratives of women workers, she tries to unpack the complexity of factors that drive Bangladeshi women’s employment decisions in these two varied forms and contexts of work, across distinct geographical and cultural contexts. On her methodology, she writes: …rather than relying on statistical correlations to support or reject the hypothesis about women’s labour market behavior thrown up by the social science literature, I focused on asking women for their own accounts of how their labour market decisions were made and the impact it had on their lives. (Kabeer, 2000, p. 405) In our study, the adaption of such a methodology has been particularly relevant to interrogate a phenomenon around which there is much stigma and silence. As Ruth Pearson and Gill Seyfang (2002) note, “Sexual harassment is less widely reported and notoriously difficult to research” (p. 47). In a study on the sexual harassment of women workers in the garments and electronics industry of Bangladesh, Dina M. Siddiqi (2003) observes the difficulty of researching the phenomenon, as women workers are reluctant to speak on the subject, on account of “the stigma attached to open discussions of sexuality, and the potential loss of honor involved” (p. 2). Needless to say, as researchers, we were confronted with these challenges right from the start of fieldwork for the study. As the objective of this study is not to make statistical generalisations about the prevalence or magnitude of sexual harassment of women workers in the garment industry of Gurgaon, but rather to unpack the complexity of the phenomenon as it emerges in the everyday lives of the women workers, a testimony centered approach seemed most appropriate. For this reason, early on in the study, we decided to conduct in-depth interviews with a small, yet purposively selected sample of women workers, who could give us insights into the varied forms in which sexual harassment manifests on the shop floor. Fieldwork for the study was carried out between October 2013 and January 2014, with the assistance of Nari Shakti Manch (Women’s Empowerment Platform), a grassroots initiative of the Society for Labour and Development that has been working to organise migrant women working in the informal sector in Gurgaon, Haryana. Over the course of approximately four months, the research team interacted with forty women workers living in the areas of
  13. 13. 6 Kapashera, Surya Vihar, and Dundahera, most of whom are engaged primarily in informal wage work in the nearby garment factories of Gurgaon2 . In the initial stages, we met workers in the settlements where they reside through Nari Shakti Manch’s field workers, and mostly interacted with women in groups of five to seven, and held discussions with them, which were largely of a conversational nature. We introduced ourselves as researchers whose objective was to study about the lives of women working in the garment factories of Gurgaon, and the specific challenges encountered by them. Quite naturally, the first concerns shared by most women were concerned with low wages, long working hours, physically taxing work conditions, harsh living conditions, and the dual burden of managing household responsibilities. As women opened up about their life/work histories, migration histories and experiences in the city, the research team went on to ask them more specific questions about the number of male-female workers in the factories where they worked, how they saw their own position vis-à-vis male workers, their perceptions of garment factory work and of the shop-floor milieu in particular. These conversations drew mixed reactions and varied responses from the women we interacted with. Some workers spoke very articulately about experiences of shop-floor level sexual harassment, while others hesitated and responded somewhat bleakly, and few others maintained silence while giving us understanding nods. In this study, we have attempted to read the silences as much as the vociferous accounts, for both have their own relevance towards understanding the larger questions being raised in this study. On basis of these interactions, we specifically drew a purposively selected sample of ten garment workers, and one domestic worker (formerly a garment worker), whom we met subsequently for in-depth interviewing, and whose testimonies comprise the major body of data for this study. All the interviews were voice-recorded with the knowledge of those being interviewed and subsequently transcribed. It was possible only to meet workers on Sundays or late evenings during weekdays briefly. In most cases, workers were interviewed more than once, based on the notes and transcripts from the first interview, to probe in more depth themes arising out of the previous interaction. In certain cases, the specific issue of sexual harassment was raised only during the second round of interviewing, where in the informants were more comfortable and familiar with the members of the research team. In addition to the testimonies presented herein, we have drawn upon insights generated from three focus group discussions and a meeting with members of the Garment and Allied Workers Union (GAWU), an independent trade union based in Gurgaon, Haryana, wherein some of the specific issues pertaining to harassment at the workplace were discussed.. 2 While the focus of this study was specifically on women workers in the Gurgaon garment industry, we also interacted with few home-based workers, and those with past experience of work in garment factories (and currently working in some other sector such as domestic work, or briefly unemployed) as their narratives offered insights into how women perceive and understand garment work, and the sexualised nature of certain workspaces, the export-oriented garment factories in this case.
  14. 14. 7 WOMEN WORKERS’ NARRATIVES OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT This chapter highlights the forms in which sexual harassment manifests against female garment workers on the shop floor. It examines how workers articulate and explain factory level harassment, drawing upon both from the present study’s narratives of sexual harassment and findings from other studies on the garment industry. The chapter discusses the two major forms in which sexual harassment occurs- as forms of verbal and physical abuse, and as quid pro quo harassment. Verbal and physical abuse Verbal abuse is the most common and widespread form of harassment experienced by women garment workers on an almost every day basis. It is also a mode of labour discipline that is routinely employed by supervisors and floor in-charges, who hurl abuses at workers literally to whip them to meet production targets. Despite its widespread prevalence, verbal abuse was one of the most challenging aspects of this study, since most women did not readily seem to recognize it as a form of harassment, arguing instead that it was common practice in the garment industry3 . While verbal harassment may not appear to be threatening in the first instance, and may be seen by workers as an altogether subtle or less significant form of harassment, it has implications for the production and reproduction of the sexualised nature of the factory space. As Dina M. Siddiqi (2003) notes in a study of the sexual harassment endured by Bangladeshi women workers in the garment and electronics industry, “the highly sexualized vocabulary and body language that supervisors, line chiefs, production managers and others use to discipline female workers creates a hostile, intimidating and sexually charged environment” (p. 34). This reinforces the precept that ‘verbal abuse’ is often used as a tool to dehumanize and denude the dignity of women at large, much more of those women who work under unequal power equations as can be seen in the garment industry. The verbal abuse that workers encounter on a daily basis within the factory space is articulated very powerfully by Anusha4 , who has been working as a tailor in the production department of a garment factory for the last five years. Anusha shares how everyone from co-workers to supervisors, line and floor in-charges appropriate factory-level symbols and terminology to pass sexually coloured remarks and make unwelcome advances at women workers. This is brought forth in the following excerpt of a conversation with Anusha, and her co-worker Mamta: Anusha: The work at the garment factories is such that every word has two meanings. The behavior of men in the factories becomes inappropriate through words only. They will say, “maal bohot accha hai, kya quality hai! (the material is very good, what quality!). We know where this is headed, and what this means. Supervisor, master, in-charge, all 3 This is not to say however, that workers perceive verbal abuse as acceptable 4 Names of all workers cited herein have been changed to protect their identity.
  15. 15. 8 of them resort to such type of loaded lines with double meanings. They will say, “dhaaga ched mein nahi jaa raha hai? Daal nahi paa rahe hain? Hum daal de? Ched nahi dikh raha hai?” (“are you unable to put the thread through the hole? Should we do it for you? Are you unable to see the hole?”) Mamta: If a new girl comes to the company, they will say, “maal dekho kitna badiya hai” (“look at the material, it is so good”). Anusha: The workers in the nearby line will say, “Master ji, the maal (material) is going over there, call that (her) in our line, no? If this girl does not know how to work, so what, we will teach her, we shall take care of her production”. If that girl does not come to work, they will say, “aaj kal maal nahi aa raha yaar” (“the material is not coming these days mate”). The above testimony by Anusha and Mamta indicates the sexualised atmosphere that pervades as a matter of routine and everydayness, so much so that most workers normalize it and pass it off as hasi-mazaak (jokes). The testimony reveals how work-related symbols such as the dhaaga (thread) or the use of the term maal 5 (material) are invoked so as to make remarks of a sexually explicit nature, while attempting to hide under the guise of these very terms. However, as Anusha rightly points out, women can sense where the conversation is headed, implying clearly that no benefit of doubt can be extended. The use of sexual expletives at the workplace is not uncommon, and a range of studies have documented the rampant use of abusive and sexually charged language in the garment industry (Siddiqi, 2003; Fair Wear Foundation, 2013; Lyimo, 2010). That this phenomenon cannot be overlooked or by-passed as mere words has been vociferously argued by feminist legal scholar MacKinnon (1996): Construing these events as “speech”-in terms of their form as expression and their content as ideas apparently looks like what it is: a transparent ploy to continue the bigoted abuse and avoid liability…The harm done by this behavior is importantly contextual, certainly, but it is implicitly recognized that social life occurs only in social context, and this is a social harm. That these experiences differ for harasser and harassed is not denied either; this difference seems only to support the fact of their unequal positions in a single shared system of social meaning, further supporting the act as one of inequality. (pp. 47-48). Narratives of verbal abuse ”They hurl abuses at workers’ families, at their mothers and sisters, if the work is not completed.” ”We have such huge boards outside our company stating that abusing is not allowed, that it is an offence and punishable by law, but the floor in-charge himself hurls abuses all the time. If the in-charge himself hurls abuses, then to whom do we complain about the master and supervisor?” “One needs to take the jokes of the seniors in the right spirit, if anyone answers back, they would be thrown out of the company”.” 5 In Hindi, the term ‘maal’ is slang for a beautiful girl.
  16. 16. 9 The other day I was feeling very cold, so I wore two sweaters, and tied a dupatta (scarf) over my head. One guy, much younger to me, exclaimed, “now at least take your sweater off, it has turned hot”. Apart from the forms of verbal abuse described, it is also pertinent to take cognizance of the forms of verbal harassment that are not sexually explicit in nature, but are inherently gendered, since they convey ideas nonetheless, and undermine equality (ibid.). The following remarks by Mandira and Uma bring this out: Hasi-mazak toh hota hi rehta hai (Joking is common). If one has to feed the stomach out of compulsion, then one needs to tolerate all kinds of jokes. Male co-workers will say, “tum aisi ho ki tum ghar se nikalti ho (you are the type of women who have ventured out of your homes!). Our wives don’t leave their homes? Your daughter also works here?” According to them, working outside home is wrong. Mandira and Uma have been working in the stitching unit of particular garment factory for the past ten and six years respectively. We met them on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the winter of 2013 on the terrace of the settlement where they lived, and spoke with them at length. It is worthwhile to note that throughout the conversation, they expressed a certain reluctance to share or reveal experiences of a sexually explicit nature, yet remarkably responded to most of our questions6 with a matter-of-fact understanding, implying that they silently knew what we were trying to uncover. Reluctant to open up, they initially stressed how the factory that they work in had a very conducive work environment, and that they seldom faced problems. Towards a later part of the conversation, however, when we briefly touched upon the question of jokes, they remarked on the normalcy of the phenomenon, and argued that if one had to survive, one needed to tolerate all kinds of jokes. The category ‘all kinds of jokes’, to us, points towards the lewd and sexually explicit remarks and comments that women workers seem to have internalized as part of the routine happenings on the shop floor, some of which has been pointed above, and which Mandira and Uma seem to be hesitant in stating explicitly. It is interesting to note how in the same vein, they also point to comments by male co-workers which are not explicitly sexual, and which on the surface, are interpreted by these women as implying gender-based valuation of work, as they note that their male co-workers perceive working outside as inherently bad. At a deeper level, however, these remarks convey notions, ideas and value judgments about where women ought not to be (‘outside’- the factory in this context), and where they ought to be (the home- the reference to their own wives not stepping outside the boundary of their houses). We suggest that through the medium of these remarks, male co-workers remind their female counterparts that they 6 During the course of the interview, most of our questions revolved around asking women workers what kind of issues and hassles they faced while at work, male to female ratio in the factory, to begin with, and it is only towards a much later part of the conversation, that we used the term hasi-mazaak to see if it holds any meaning for the workers’ conceptualization of factory-level harassment.
  17. 17. 10 have no legitimate business outside of their home, and in doing so, reproduce the factory as a ‘space of respect’ only for the male gender. Further, we suggest that such remarks are also rooted in socially constructed notions about women who work in the garment industry as inherently sexual beings, a phenomenon that we discuss in the next chapter. Closely connected with incidences of verbal abuse are experiences of physical abuse. According to Anusha, the incidences of verbal abuse are further compounded with cases of supervisors and co-workers touching them in inappropriate places, such as hitting them in the chest and walking away, and then behaving as if they have accidently walked into them. In-charge or manager asks us to work quickly by patting us on our thighs and waist (enacts this out to the interviewer by patting herself). In the export line, we so often notice that when a women worker is deeply engrossed in her work, the in-charge comes to speak with her and (as if) in an attempt to draw her attention, he makes bold to touch her in inappropriate places (Anusha, tailor). In one of the focus group discussions, as the women narrated forms of verbal and physical abuses encountered in the factories, one of the women got up, and leaned over another women’s shoulder, and began enacting how a line supervisor would ‘teach’ a young woman the ‘proper’ way of stitching a piece. Through her enactment, she tried pointing out how line supervisors or in-charges touch young women inappropriately, on the pretext of teaching or training them, and stressed that such incidences are likely to happen more with young women and girls. While the relationship between workers’ age and their vulnerability to sexual harassment has not been investigated in this study, such anecdotal evidence, nevertheless, offers us insights into the forms in which supervisors and in-charges use their power and position in the hierarchy of the shop-floor to engage in unwelcome sexual conduct. The phenomenon of male supervisors physically abusing women workers by slapping them, pulling their hair, and hitting and touching them inappropriately has also been documented in other studies on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the garment industry (Siddiqi, 2003; Lyimo, 2010; Fair Wear Foundation 2013). Along with the narratives of verbal abuse, the physical abuse experienced by women garment workers points to the prevalence of highly sexualised modes of labour control and discipline. Quid Pro Quo Harassment Whenever they (contractors/master/in-charge) hire a woman, they make it a point to tell her that she will have to obey everything they ask her to do, otherwise she cannot work in the factory. They take advantage of poor girls. Masters, in-charges, and contractors think that this young girl from the village is naïve and innocent, so she will listen to them with no questions asked. Many a times these men take her down the wrong road, and many of them even go along and go astray. You understand right what I am saying? (Sarita line in-charge) Very often it happens that the contractor tells a (woman) worker, “Alright madam, we shall certainly hire you, but you will have to do some extra work, so leave early from work tomorrow, take leave by 6 o’ clock, and come along with me.” (Garment worker at a focus group discussion)
  18. 18. 11 Sarita migrated to Gurgaon about fifteen years ago and has since then worked in different garment factories as a piece-rated worker, stitching garments. She was promoted as a line supervisor in April 2013 and currently supervises around thirty-five people. In her narrative of the shop-floor, she makes a distinction between the line which she supervises, and the line which is supervised by a male in-charge, and argues that the latter is a sexually charged environment- “usme toh saare aise lafangey log hai” (that line is full of rogue people). She points out that the supervisors and masters set very high targets for workers and pressurise them through means of sexually explicit language and behavior, as also sexual intimidation and coercion. Young women workers coming from a rural background, who are freshly recruited into industrial work, are seen as naïve and innocent, and become soft targets of the supervisors, masters and line in-charges. According to Sarita, the hiring of these women itself has an inbuilt sexual implication- that workers must agree to listen to the demands of the contractor, supervisor or master tailor, else they would not be able to keep their jobs. She explains, “These masters oppress (women) workers. If one is willing to roam around and socialise with them, go to their room and have fun with them, only then can one work in the factory, otherwise not”. The distinction Sarita tries to draw between the line supervised by her, and the line supervised by a male should not be mistakenly read to imply that it is only male supervisors who sexually coerce and intimidate female workers. In one of the focus groups, women noted that female supervisors, in many cases, also coerce women workers into engaging in sexual activity with a male supervisor or contractor, either in return for economic gains, or in order to safeguard their own supervisory position in the factory. The distinction made by Sarita, thus, must be read in the specific context of the factory where she works, and her own narrative. In this study, Sarita’s testimony and her acceptance of the prevalence of quid pro quo sexual harassment is significant, since given her own position as a supervisor, she could have also possibly denied it. That she brings forth her own experience as a worker, as a supervisor and as a member of the Garment and Allied Workers Union (GAWU) into the narrative is what, in our view, sets her apart, and lends credence to the narrative. It is pertinent to further mention here that in one of the focus groups, from which an excerpt is cited in the beginning of this section, Sarita was one of the most forthcoming and vociferous participants, and it was her participation that steered the group discussion forward. Nevertheless, the claim that female supervisors also coerce workers into sexual liaison with contractors and supervisors merits further investigation and qualification. The idea that young rural women who are newly recruited are able to work in the garment industry and sustain their jobs only if they make themselves sexually available to the contractor, supervisor or line in- charge was stated by other workers in this study as well, both during the interviews and through the course of
  19. 19. 12 the focus group discussions. That the hiring of these young women is itself premised on an exchange of sexual favours is clearly implied in the testimonies cited above7 . Such instances seem to abound in the garment industry, and as the narratives suggest, sexual favours to contractors and supervisors are closely linked to finding jobs and sustaining them. Workers have little or no recourse to resist such sexual advances, as in most cases, those who raise their voice end up losing their jobs. The following testimony by Neeta, a garment worker, who has been working in the industry since 2007, about why she left her previous workplace brings this out: There was a woman named Maya, her contractor told her that if she to agreed to a sexual liaison with him, then he would pay her a thousand rupees extra. She then told me that, “didi (elder sister), the contractor is saying such a thing to me”. I asked her why she did not take out her slippers and hit him back. Before the matter escalated, I myself went up to the contractor and told him that, “none of us will tolerate such things, this is absolutely wrong, how could you imagine that because her husband is not here, so she will agree to do such an unthinkable act?”. He replied that he never made such remarks, and that Maya was spreading false rumours. Soon after he took out an opportunity and fired her. If she would have agreed to his demands, then he would have paid her a thousand rupees extra and got her under his control. It is because of this reason, that both of us left work from that factory. Neeta’s account highlights how women who resist sexual advances by those who hold power over them (in this case the contractor) have very few avenues for redressal, despite legislations being in place. While the co- worker with whom Neeta stood by was clearly fired by the contractor, it appears that Neeta too must have lost her job on account of raising her voice, though to us, she claimed she quit as a mark of protest. When we asked her if she knew about the recent Act, or about the prevalence of any anti-sexual harassment committee in her factory, she replied in the negative. As Neeta’s narrative highlights, the woman who alleged the contractor of making sexual advances was not only fired, but her account of the harassment was completely dismissed as a lie. Other workers in the study similarly observed that those who raised their voices against any form of harassment (verbal, physical, or quid pro quo) were shunned, dismissed and in most cases, fired. 7 It is worth mentioning here a conversation that two members of the research team, Anushree and Eesha, had as a matter of chance with a woman while travelling back in the Delhi metro from fieldwork on a Sunday. As the two were discussing the day’s fieldwork and thematically writing up field notes en route, a woman sitting next enquired, “Are you not from Delhi?” We stated that we had both grown up and lived in Delhi, although Anushree was pursuing her studies from Bangalore. She then asked what we were trying to study, and as we explained briefly about our research, she remarked, “You people don’t seem to know anything. This is common practice. Sexual favours to the contractor is the very condition on the basis of which these migrant women are hired. I know about all these inside stories since my family used to run a garment factory some years ago”. Her tone was matter-of-factly, and she seemed to not approve of our ‘ignorance’ on the subject. She was reluctant to divulge any further details about herself or her family background. To us, however, the short conversation provided a significant insight, and reinforced from another angle what the narratives in our study had pointed out to.
  20. 20. 13 Anju’s struggle and resistance against sexual harassment Anju began work as a tailor in a particular garment factory in February 2013 when the quality checker started pressurising her for sexual favours. Anju resisted his advances and continued to work. Then, one day, as she was going to the washroom, she oversaw the quality checker hand over 500 rupees to the line in-charge, and tell him, “Anju ki izzat par haath lagao nahi toh usko gate se bahar karo” (Either you violate Anju’s honour or else throw her out of the factory gate). Anju confronted both the men verbally, and since then, both the quality checker and supervisor imposed high production targets on her, repeatedly pointed out mistakes in her work, and threatened to terminate her. After several months of harassment, one day as she was entering the factory premises, the duo passed lewd remarks. Unable to control her anger, Anju started beating up both men with her slippers. As a consequence, her employment was terminated and she was paid a final settlement as compensation. Even as she looked for work elsewhere, the word spread quickly about this incident and employers were wary of giving her work, factories in the vicinity refused to hire her. “The seniors got together and fired me. For a couple of days, I found work somewhere else, but soon the word spread around, and someone remarked that this woman has been physically violent, so throw her out (yeh lady maar peet karke aayi hai, isko nikal do).” Anju continued to face physical and sexual assault outside of the factory and in the locality where she lives. The harassment case has disturbed her mentally, emotionally and financially. The Garment and Allied Workers Union (GAWU) intervened in the matter and filed a case in the labour department. In the initial hearing, the management verbally accepted before the labour authorities that incidents of sexual harassment indeed took place in the factory premises. However, they refused to nullify Anju’s termination, and demonstrated lack of will to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee as per law. GAWU pursued the case, and after much pressure, the matter was taken up with the District Level - Local Complaints Committee. At the time of fieldwork for the study, the matter was pending with the Local Complaints Committee.
  21. 21. 14 RESISTING SEXUAL HARASSMENT: STRUGGLES AT THE WORKPLACE AND BEYOND The previous chapter noted that women who raise their voices against incidents of sexual harassment and abuse faced ridicule and the threat of termination. This chapter investigates this further, by analyzing workers’ testimonies of negotiation and resistance against incidents of sexual harassment in the backdrop of the The Sexual Harasssment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. This chapter argues that the forms of sexual harassment that workers have to negotiate with go far beyond the workplace, have implications for their safety in public spaces, and lead to social stigma and construed notions of ‘impure’ and morally wrong women. Of resistance, job termination and grievance redressal Lalita is a garment worker who is well into her forties, and has been working in the industry for the past six years. She narrates an incident wherein a man followed her into the washroom, mistaking her to be some other young woman. When she opened the door of the washroom and he saw her, he ran away. She complained about this incident to the management, arguing that the person concerned had worked in the company for long enough to know the location of the women’s washroom, and that such behavior was unacceptable. The company instead fired her. The management told me that you are maligning someone’s image, and therefore, please take all your dues and leave. If anything happens, then it is always the woman who is blamed (Lalita, tailor). Prerna is a garment worker who has been doing tailoring work in Gurgaon since the past four years. Prior to working as a tailor, she had worked in the sampling department of a garment factory in West Delhi. She has undertaken different kinds of work in the garment industry, from working as a guard worker in a garment factory to being a supervisor of thread-cutting, and checking. She is extremely vocal about the incidences of sexual harassment in garment industries, and narrates to us the following account from one of her former workplace: There was an in-charge in the factory, who would say to everyone, old or young, that I have fallen in love with you. Once he said that to me as well. I said, Sir, what is the meaning of sir? Sir is used to address a senior, I respect you. Magar ek haath se taali nahi bajti hai (But it is not possible to clap with one hand). If I don’t fall in love with you, then there is no meaning in you falling in love with me. Then he asked me to think over this matter. After some time, he said something else which I could not tolerate, so I answered him back firmly. If I am new to a place, I would keep quiet, but gradually, as I become older, I cannot keep quiet. Then one day the same senior said to me, “I am giving you a break, come back after a week”. I thought to myself, never in my life will I return to work in your company, and so never returned to this factory again. In the above account, we suggest that the in- charge asking Prerna to think about what he said to her, and to return after a week’s break, is a form of implicit job termination. While
  22. 22. 15 she was not fired per se, she was asked to return after a week, on the understanding that she would think about the in-charge’s advances (and presumably submit to them). What is clearly implied in the above mentioned incident between Prerna and her in-charge is that to survive in the factory, the former needs to agree to the demands of the latter, failing which she may leave the job. The in- charge, while not asking her to leave directly, inherently signaled this through the medium of the ‘break’. That Prerna never chose to return after the break serves to further strengthen the premise that the in-charge was being sexually coercive and gave no choice to the woman worker. She needs to follow his dictat or else find another job elsewhere. When we asked women workers if they were aware about the enactment of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, and that every workplace is required to constitute an internal complaints committee under this law, all of them responded in the negative. Workers, however, did mention about speaking to the management, in particular, the human resource department, about sexual harassment issues, but to no avail. The following responses by Anusha and Sarita highlight the state of the law in practice. Dekho niyam toh saare bante hain, par vahan tak koi pohonch nahi pata. (See, the rules are all formulated, but these don’t reach the people.). If we complain, then they will comment “only you seem to have a problem, the rest of the women don’t, why don’t you leave? That man (referring to the culprit) has been working here for so many years, no one before you has complained against him”. At other times if a complaint is made, then the in-charge will accuse the women worker by saying, “this woman does not know how to work, she is no good”. The person against whom we raise a complaint will thereafter be hounding us with vengeance and he won’t let us work peacefully. (Anusha, tailor) Once few women raised this issue in a meeting that the in-charge is oppressing young girls and troubles them, so they (the management) got rid of the women (who complained). If one complains to the management, then they will call the male worker concerned, threaten him somewhat, and then shift him to another line so that there can be no further communication. They suppress and cover up complaints so that the factory does not get a bad reputation. (Sarita, line in-charge) The above statements highlight that women who speak up and voice their complaint against incidents of sexual harassment are victimized further and face ridicule and the threat of termination of job. An air of suppression around speaking up on these issues prevails, and even though legal avenues might exist, in practice, as Anusha argues, it is very difficult for women to make use of the law, as their voices of protest are drowned out, and instead questions on the credibility of the woman are raised. Further, as Anju’s case tells us, women who resist sexual harassment not only have to deal with job loss and social stigma, the incidences of sexual assault and intimidation continue even outside the workplace. Anju’s testimony corroborates what Siddiqi (2003) has argued on the relationship between workplace harassment and harassment in public spaces: The fear of retaliation outside the workplace also constrains women’s responses. There is a straightforward relationship between sexual
  23. 23. 16 intimidation or annoyance in the workplace and the general insecurity of women in the public sphere. Women who are harassed by co workers inside the factory must think twice about taking their complaints to the management because of threats of physical and social retaliation outside the workplace. For them, the only option may be to submit silently or find alternative employment. (p. 46) From the testimonies in our study, it appears therefore that the sexual harassment of female workers in the garment factories is widespread and rampant, and those subjected to harassment have very few avenues to resist and complain. Does this then imply that the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, and its provisions of an Internal Complaints Committee at every workplace, is defunct in garment factories in Gurgaon?8 A team of law students from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) William S. Boyd School of Law, along with students of Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jindal Global Law School researched into implementation of the Sexual Harassment at Work place Act, and as part of their field research, had the opportunity to interview managements of five garment factories in Gurgaon. Their findings are documented in Annexure One. It is interesting to note how four of the five factories interviewed claimed that an internal complaints committee existed, and one of them even provided relevant documentation of the committee’s functioning to the research team. Further, it also appears that these committees were formed as per the Vishaka guidelines, since they seem to be existing well before the enactment of the Act. However, the details of the composition of the committee lead us to ask whether there is an informed understanding on part of the factory managements, since none of the committees seem to have a third party or NGO representative, as mandated both by the Vishaka guidelines and the recently formulated legislation. Doubts can certainly be cast over the credibility and functional accountability of these committees and as a government official from the Labour department claimed to the researchers, “What can we really do? I can go check, but they show me everything on paper.” (Medina, Short, & Winkler, 2014) What is disturbing further is that in factories where Internal Complaints Committees do exist, incidents of sexual harassment continue to go unreported. Incidents of verbal abuse and vulgar writing on the washroom walls, wherein they have been reported, have been passed off as ‘minor’ complaints by the management, indicating a complete lack of sensitivity and understanding on the matter. The findings serve to reinforce the normalization of sexual jokes and verbal abuse on the shop floor, a phenomenon that we discussed in the previous chapter, even on part of factory managements, and corroborate what the testimonies of workers in our study reveal. 8 Though not investigated in depth in this study, the interviews with workers also point to the high possibility that the vulnerability of women workers with regard to sexual harassment is exacerbated by the nature of their employment which is of an informal character. Most workers were employed as piece-rated workers through labour contractors.
  24. 24. 17 Social stigma and notions surrounding women garment workers Writing about the employment of young rural women in export-oriented manufacturing, as early as 1981, Elson and Pearson observed: Although one form of gender subordination, the subordination of daughters to their fathers, may visibly crumble, another form of gender subordination, that of women employees to male factory bosses, just as visibly is built up. Work in world market factories is organized through a formal hierarchy with ordinary operators at the bottom controlled by varying levels of supervisors and managers. In study after study the same pattern is revealed: the young female employees are almost exclusively at the bottom of this hierarchy; the upper levels of the hierarchy are almost invariably male. Only among the lowest level of supervisors is it at all common to find women. The relationship of female employees to male bosses is qualitatively different from the relationship of male employees to male bosses. One important feature is that the sexual element in the relation between female employee and male boss is not contained and shaped by kin relations. This is one of the reasons why factory girls are often regarded as not quite ‘respectable’. (Elson & Pearson, 1981, p. 100). This explanation by the authors continues to hold relevance today, and especially in the context of our study, as notions of ‘honour and respectability’ resurfaced time and again. A common theme pervading the interviews and focus group discussions was the notion that the garment industry (referred to as export line by the workers) has a bad reputation in general, and female workers therein are seen through a negative lens. Sonal, who has been working as a tailor in a garment factory for the past five years, shares with us that she feels ashamed to tell people about her occupation as a garment worker, and hides it most of the time. My father also does not like this work; he says that the export line is not good. I don’t know why, but everyone says that women who work in the export line are immoral. I hesitate in telling anyone that I work in this sector. I undertake two different kinds of work- I work in the garment factory, but I am also an SBI agent. If I am at some social gathering, then I never tell people about my garment work, as everyone will look at me negatively. No matter how good someone is, they will still look at them in a negative way. The fear that people would cast doubts over the sexuality of the women who work in the garment industry is also voiced by Lakshmi, who notes: We get to hear often and many people do remark that those who have entered the export line are no longer pavitr (pure). If we tell anyone that we work in an export factory, then they tend not to think well about us, as if we are women of some strange disrepute. The narratives above tell us that female garment workers not only have to struggle with the sexualization of their workplaces, but also have to deal with social stigma and prevailing notions of women in the garment factories as morally of questionable status, sexually loose, and impure etc. These notions also possibly drive the kind of gendered comments that
  25. 25. 18 women workers have to endure from their male co-workers, as was noted at the beginning of this chapter. An air of sexualization, thus appears to surround the lives of women garment workers, both within and outside of their workplaces. Another aspect that starkly came out in an interview with Charu, a former garment worker, who explains her decision to give preference to being a domestic worker rather than work in a garment factory, arguing that the roti (bread) she eats through means of working in people’s houses is at least ‘honourable’. She explains: I thought that it is not possible to survive by working in five houses, since I have four girls to take care of. I therefore started working in a company where a female relative used to work. I worked there properly for a few days, thereafter the supervisor asked me to work during the night shift. I refused to go to work during the night shift. I said that I have young kids, who will look after them? So he asked me to leave the work if I could not come during the night. See, you (addressing the interviewer) too are a girl, since you asked me these questions, I am telling you, here in these companies, only those women can survive who will listen to seniors. That is why I work in the houses, I eat half a roti (bread) less, but at least, I eat it with honour. Charu’s testimony highlights firstly, what Siddiqi (2003) terms as ‘the dangers of the night shift’; a phenomenon also noted by Sarita, as she narrates to us an account of a factory wherein women are forcefully made to undertake the night shift, and the gates of the company are shut. Secondly, what is reinforced rather vividly is the fact that notions of sexuality are intrinsically connected to undertaking work in the garment industry, and hence, in distinguishing herself from this sexualised atmosphere, Charu not only tries to break away from the social stigma, but also articulates an altogether different meaning of ‘honour’. This confirms what Siddiqi argues that, “for women workers, the dignity of labor to which they aspire cannot be disentangled very easily from their perceptions of modesty or honor” (p. 49). Women garment workers, we argue, have to negotiate with the social constructions of their work identity, and of their sexuality, and this multiplies the degree of sexual harassment that they have to endure, apart from the shop-floor level harassment. The sexual harassment of garment workers goes far beyond the workplace, and hinders their mobility and respectability in the public sphere. As the narratives reveal, the social stigma that surrounds the lives of female garment workers can have implications for their self perceptions and dignity, and must be taken account of, alongside the more visible/ tangible forms of harassment.
  26. 26. 19 CONCLUDING ANALYSIS AND RECOMMENDATIONS The narratives in this study offer us several insights into the forms of harassment which women garment workers have to face as part of their daily working lives. The forms of harassment, which range from verbal and physical abuse to sexual coercion and intimidation, have implications not only for the well-being and safety of workers at the level of the shop-floor but extend beyond it. It seeps into the spaces where they reside, as women workers struggle against retaliation in the streets and in the community, when they raise their voices against factory-level harassment. It is a part and parcel of the daily negotiations of their identity as workers, as they deal with the stigma surrounding women garment workers as ‘women’ who are not pure (pavitra) and have gone astray. The voices of women workers in this study, while heart-wrenching in numerous ways, bring forth the remarkable courage that women garment workers hold in their fight against highly sexualised and gendered forms of workplace conduct by seniors and co- workers. It reaffirms a faith in the inherent power of resistance, which can constitute one of the most significant drivers in the struggle against violence and harassment. Though the analysis presented in this study is exploratory in nature and by no means exhaustive, it highlights “the importance of hearing the ‘voices’ of those who are often mute within academic research and policy debates” (Kabeer, 2000, p. 410). What emerges then is that any effort at combating sexual harassment needs concerted efforts both at the level of the workplace and the community. At the outset, it is imperative to advocate and ensure that as per the Sexual Harassment Act, the internal complaints committees are established and i) compulsorily have an external NGO member on it, and ii) are also widely publicised on the shop floor of the factory, and all workers are made aware of its existence. This is however, by no means an easy task. As Medina, Short, and Winkler’s (2014) fieldwork findings suggest, paperwork and documentation on the existence of these committees is most likely to be in place, workers are unaware of the legal provisions, and incidents of sexual harassment and abuse go unreported. Not only is the scenario grim at the local/ national level, as Pearson & Seyfang (2002) contend, sexual harassment continues to be a sidelined issue in most codes of conduct, “Whilst women all over the world report dissatisfaction at the patterns of coercion, abuse and exploitation they face on the factory floors, it is not clear that the management and investors for whom they work have an equal stake in extending universal patterns of workers rights or of recognizing women’s particular priorities and issues. Whilst trade union organizations would support women’s demands for protection from physical and sexual harassment, it remains the case that these are not the issues which are prioritized in most negotiations over the content of codes of conduct” ( p. 56).
  27. 27. 20 How then does one ensure compliance on part of factory owners and managers? On this, while there can be no definitive answer, we suggest that given the garment industry’s incorporation into global value chains/ production networks, the question of harassment can be addressed more strongly and effectively with active brand participation and a conscious approach towards gender- responsive codes of conduct. As the pilot experience of establishing anti-harassment committees by Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) (2013)9 in garment factories in India and Bangladesh reveals, “No clothing brand wants sexual harassment or abuse against workers in their supply chains. No factory owner wants to be known as allowing abuse to take place in his or her factory” (p. 14). McGregor Fashion Group, Dutch FWF member since 2007, notes that, “Due to the fact that most workers in garment factories are women, and that the harassment rates against women in the garment industry must be taken seriously, we truly believe that our participation in this project is part of our corporate social responsibility (CSR)” (p. 15). While criticisms may further be leveled once these committees are in place, and inconsistencies might arise, what the FWF experience reveals is in part, that some degree of political commitment on part of factory owners and global brands to ensure compliance can be instrumental in changing situations on the ground. It is crucial therefore that pressure for compliance with local laws be built via global brands, which themselves need to reorient their codes of conduct to the particular causes of women workers. Strong social auditing is required to ensure compliance on ground. Trade unions, labour organisations and NGOs have a vital role to play in this regard, and in streamlining gender issues at the negotiating table. Ensuring this compliance, in principle and in practice, would require inclusion of sustained efforts like gender- sensitive trainings for the various actors and stakeholders involved in the process of implementing the law and relevant codes of conduct. It is of paramount importance that women need to be able to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and report it without any fear. As the narratives in our study reveal, workers are not passive victims of harassment, and in fact have spoken out strongly against incidents of harassment and abuse, at times even risking their job security. However, as Siddiqi (2003) observes, “psychological scars do not necessarily disappear once the offender has been brought to book. Counseling services for those who have been subjected to harassment should also be made available” 9 Fair Wear Foundation (FWF), Amsterdam is an independent, multi stakeholder NGO that works with European clothing brands and the factories which supply them, to improve labour conditions for garment work-ers. FWF has strong relationships with trade unions. FWF is active in 15 production countries in Asia, Europe and Africa. FWF’s 85 member companies represent over 120 brands, and are based in eight Euro-pean countries. Members commit to implementing the FWF Code of Labour Practices, which is based on ILO and UN principles. FWF publishes annual reports on the progress of members towards implemen-tation of the Code.
  28. 28. 21 (p. 57.) Anju’s testimony in our study serves as a case in point. The fundamental push for change, however, both within and outside the workplaces needs to come from the women workers themselves. As we have noted earlier, the narratives of resistance offer a beacon of hope in this regard. Trade unions, labour organizations and NGO activists need to explicitly bring zero sexual harassment on the forefront as a part of good practices of any workplace and integrate these as an overall organizational strategy, especially in those workplaces where women employees are in large numbers. Given that sexual harassment of workers is not merely a workplace issue, such strategies need to engage at the level of the community. The efficacy of ‘place-based’ organizing strategies has been noted by Meenu Tewari (2010) in a critical appraisal of efforts to organise women workers in Bengaluru by the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) and Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU). Building ‘institutional capacity’ and the ‘leadership’ of women workers within the community first, enables “the already organized cadre of women who had emerged as leaders to spearhead the organizing drive within the factories” (p. 159). In the context of the sensitivity of the issue of sexual harassment, we posit that a community-based approach to organizing, is likely to yield far more receptivity and acceptance among women. However, the challenges of silence will continue to prevail and the difficulty of locating and speaking with women garment workers will therefore require more vigour in approach. Further, it is only through such an approach that the retaliation and threat faced by women workers speaking up against harassment can be addressed. Last but not the least, as the findings of this study suggest, the sexual harassment of female garment workers is embedded in social attitudes and notions that stigmatize garment work, and construct images of morally wrong women. Gender- sensitive training, thus, needs to engage with breaking down these stereotypes both at the level of the workplace and the community. In this regard, we argue that building and creating viable leadership of women in the communities, through a process that involves struggle and contestation, challenges gendered structures and norms, which has the potential to alter the balance of power at the level of the household, the workplace and the community Traditional forms of community- level organization need to go hand- in-hand with non-traditional means such as use of creative media (photography, puppetry and radio shows), participatory action research, and cultural modes of expression such as music and dance for women workers to articulate their identities, and reclaim workplaces and community spaces with respect and dignity. A holistic community-level organizing combining traditional and non-traditional forms of organization can help raise awareness and build solidarity in novel ways.
  29. 29. 22 Annexure One Table A.1.1 Status of Internal Complaints Committees: Data from select factories in Gurgaon Factory Factory A Factory B Factory C Factory D Factory E Internal Complaints Committee Exists. The Committee is headed by a woman manager, and the rest of the members are elected from amongst the female workers in the factory (who constitute only about five percent of the factory’s workforce). Exists since 2008. The committee consists of eight women workers and one member of management, who meet once a month, and are elected. Does not exist. The researchers note how the factory management assumed that they had a committee in line with the Act, only to later admit that they did not. Exists since the past eight years. The committee is efficient and active and has regular meetings. Formed in 2004. The committee consists of five female members, four workers and one management representative. The committee, at present, meets every four months. Meetings are held on Saturdays during business hours. Other details The company provides suggestion boxes for women to register their complaint. The committee, so far, has never received any complaint. The committee has only received ‘minor’ complaints so far. Till date, no serious complaint has been received. The management stressed that they have never had received a sexual harassment complaint because of the company’s zero tolerance policy, about which the workers are informed at the time of hiring. The factory provides suggestion boxes for employees to register their complaints. The committee has never received a serious complaint, and only ‘minor’ complaints of women reporting verbal abuse and vulgar language in the washrooms have been reported. The factory keeps a well- documented ledger, including pictures and names of all attendees, and minutes of the meeting. Source: Medina, Short, & Winkler (2014)
  30. 30. 23 Annexure Two Table A.3.1. Estimated workers employed in working factories in textile and garment industry of Gurgaon (district) (as on 31st December, 2011) Table A.3.2. Industrial Production in select industries in Gurgaon (district) for the year 2011-12 (provisional figures) Industry code1 Industry Employment estimate Under section 2m (i)2 13 Mfg. of Textiles 17,340 14 Wearing apparel, Dressing and Dyeing of fur 76,772 Under Section 85 13 Mfg. of Textiles 46 Total employment 94158 Source: Adapted from Statistical Abstract, Haryana, 2011-12 (published 2013) 10 As per the National Industrial Classification 2008 11 Under section 2 m (i), 2 m (ii) and 85 of the Factories Act, 1948, Under Section 2 m, factories means any premises including the precincts thereof; 2 m (i) Wherein ten or more workers are working or were working on any day of the preceding twelve months and in any part of which a manufacturing process is being carried on with the aid of power, or is ordinarily so carried on; 2 m (ii) Wherein twenty or more workers are working or were working on any day of the preceding twelve months and in any part of which a manufacturing process is being carried on without the aid of power or is ordinarily so carried on and does not include a mine subject to the operations of the Indian Mines Act, 1923, or a railway running school; Under Section 85 of the factories act, 1948, the State Government is empowered to notify any factory not covered under the above two sections. Industry Production (Lakh Rs.) Textiles (Cotton) 60 Hosiery 80,800 Woolen Textiles 1,250 Power loom Weaving 1,500 Total Production 83,610 Source: Adapted from Statistical Abstract, Haryana, 2011-12 (published 2013)
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