PUNE: While problems related to women have always found a mention in different political party manifestos before a major election, women rights’ activists say that little gets done to improve their condition in reality.
Women from different sectors including Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers, Anganwadi workers, commercial sex workers told Sakal Times their expectations from the political parties vying for their votes in the forthcoming Maharashtra Assembly elections this month.
The Women Commission Cell was formed in 2014 but has failed to intervene in several issues, stated the city-based women activists.
“The Women Commission has a very large role to play from framing policies to ensuring implementations. It has certainly campaigned about awareness on sexual harassment at the workplace but has it rarely intervened in budgetary allocations and reviewed them,” said General Secretary of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) Kiran Moghe.
“On cases like hysterectomy case in Beed district and abortions in Sangli - the commission was silent. It can do a lot considering the powers bestowed on it. We also need a minister for Women Welfare Department who is serious about the issues related to women,” said Moghe, adding that the minister doesn’t have to be a woman - that it is wrong to assume that a woman will do this job better.
“Our present one has not been very sensitive towards several issues of Anganwadi workers or ASHA workers,” she added.
Promises never implemented
Over 70,000 ASHA workers and 3,000 supervisors protested last month to highlight their dire condition. ASHA workers work in rural and remote areas to provide health assistance but are paid a pittance.
“For years, we demanding one of the two - either give us a fixed salary or recognise as government employees which will bring us under payroll and health benefits,” said ASHA supervisor Vidya Kamble. She pointed out the irony of how ASHA workers, who themselves provide health services in remote villages, but when they seek treatment in hospitals, they do not get any benefits from the State government.
Their honorariums differ according to the services i.e. to assist a leprosy patient, they receive Rs 200, while they get Rs 150 for a family planning or operation patient. She lamented how promises made during election season are never kept. “It has been 10 years now. Even this time, several parties have approached us stating our demands will be fulfilled, let’s see,”
Anganwadi sevikas are sailing in the same boat of apathy. After repeated protests, their pay was hiked by Rs 1,500 this year but they are still waiting for the arrears.
In June, they were given smartphones with GPS to track live attendance at work.
Hirabai Ghonge, an Anganwadi sevika in Pune, said the ‘low quality’ phones did not work in remote areas where there was no phone network. “Many villages do not even have proper power supply. Under such conditions, how do you expect the workers to upload their activities online? Nevertheless, the government has stated that we will receive honorarium according to the data provided through this phone,” she added.
“The existing welfare body for domestic workers has also collapsed. None of the domestic workers have got welfare scheme benefits so far. We have been demanding the need for minimum wage notification, that a domestic worker should be on board of welfare body, better budgetary allocations for them and many more. Nothing seems to have happened so far,” Moghe told Sakal Times.
Plight of sex workers
The welfare of sex workers has failed to make space in political agendas of any political party.
They are the most neglected section of the society, according to social activist Meena Seshu. “There are no defined government welfare schemes. Their children are left out of the benefits of schemes for underprivileged. They can’t even procure caste validity certificate to ensure quality education for their kids,” said Seshu.