#timefor8: SDG 8 is a matter for working women too

On International Women’s Day, 8 March, INTUC and working women in the state of Telangana discussed the role of SDG 8 in advancing gender equality.

On International Women’s Day, the Telangana state branch of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) held a special event dedicated to the prevention and elimination of sexual harassment of women workers, the protection of their labour rights, and the promotion of safe and secure working environments for all women workers, including migrant women workers.

The event, which received financial support from the ILO, included the participation of representatives of the Telangana state ministries of labour and of rural development. Both officials praised the long-lasting investment of trade unions in organising and skilling women in the rural and agricultural sector. They appreciated very much the beneficial spill-over effects in the communities that this work is producing, both in terms of the empowerment of working women, empowerment of girls and defence of labour rights, particularly of the workers in the cotton fields, which is a big industry in Telangana.

The more than 700 women who participated in the event were introduced to the legislative framework that exists in India to protect women workers and ensure them a safe and secure workplace. They also learned about the related international conventions, treaties and laws that India has committed to apply. In this frame, INTUC trainers moved on to show the connection of this theme with the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, particularly how SDG 8 contributes to defending working women’s rights and advancing gender equality.

“Before joining the INTUC, I was just an insecure, poor worker. I was unaware of my rights and felt like if I could not change my life. Now, thanks to the union, I have learned that things can change and how to do it. I have grown as a person, I have become the president of my union district and I now can help other sisters who feel like I felt back then,” said sister Bhagya Mandal, president of INTUC Shyampet of the Warangal rural district in Telangana.

Protecting labour rights and promoting safe and secure workplaces

Goal 8.8 calls for protecting “labour rights and promoting safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment.” In Telangana state, some 6.5 million women are working – formally and informally – in the rural and agricultural sector. Many of them are victims of physical abuse, sexual harassment and illegal retention of their wages. Figures from 2015 showed that up to 10 per cent of them faced some type of abuse yearly.

“Since 2015, when we started to work more intensively with raising the women’s awareness of their rights and the added value of organising themselves, the situation has been improving gradually. As more women are joining the INTUC, they learn about their rights, and they create networks of support to defend themselves.

In addition, in everyone of the 31 districts of Telangana, the INTUC has a team that provides financial and legal support to fight back against the abusers,” explained Chandra Sekhar, the general secretary of the Telangana State branch of the INTUC.

This improvement has also contributed indirectly to a substantial drop in child labour in the fields. As women join the union, they receive organisational health and safety training and become aware of the health risk that children are exposed to in the fields, where large amounts of pesticides and chemical fertilisers are utilised.

“When they realise the terrible harm to children’s health that these products cause, they immediately stop sending the kids to work. They don’t want to spoil their children’s health,” said Sekhar.

This event was part of a larger activity programme that Telangana INTUC is running across the state. Every week the union organises district meetings and events to continue empowering more and more women.

For more information, contact
Chandra Sekhar, general secretary, INTUC Telangana State, at [email protected]