|HER WORLD||Sunday, November 16, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
Battle of the sexes
Poor wages for sweat and toil
The understanding of words like ‘ageing’, ‘older’, elderly’ vary differently with different individuals and societies around the world and usually negative connotations are attached to these. A feeling of ‘loneliness’, ‘helplessness’, ‘uselessness’ and ‘need to be looked after’ is experienced by the senior citizen himself or perceived by the others staying around him. Very often, the elderly are looked upon as belonging to the disadvantaged group in society. Indian ageing women undertake responsibilities to take care of their sick spouse, children and grand children and very often they do not receive any appreciation. These tasks that fall on her can result in serious problems affecting her own physical and psychological health.
Ageing in women can be understood more when she comes closer to or approaches mid-life, and life thereafter. The process of ageing can be described by hormonal changes within the woman, due to which there is a change with her menstrual cycle and later on when it ceases, she experiences menopause. This generally occurs between 50-55 years of age but can even be as early as early 40s. Estrogens are the hormones involved in the women’s cycle. The number of ovules that mature in the ovary decrease as the woman gets older and the estrogen level also decreases—resulting in menopause. After the onset of menopause, a series of physiological changes and psychological upheavals can be experienced, and these can continue as age progresses.
Other factors that can contribute towards feeling low during these years is the woman’s own negative perception and attitude to ageing itself. Decreased physical activity can lead to a low metabolic rate. This, in return, can affect her body weight which can create a negative body image within her.
Physical activity is associated with emotional well-being amongst older women. Studies have supported the need for age-appropriate activity and it has been found that physical exercise does make women emotionally stable.
Coming to the women’s life expectancy, according to the Government of India’s National Human Development Report (2001), the average life expectancy of women in India is 61.4 years. In rural areas it is 59.8 and in the urban areas it is 67.6 years. In Punjab, the average life expectancy is 68.6 years, with it being 71.5 years in urban areas and 67.5 in the rural areas. It is important for women to understand their rights to healthy living, change their attitudes and values with proper knowledge, so that they can cope with the changing physiological and social issues faced by them during these years of ageing.
Women need to be educated about the importance and effect of lifestyle, i.e. as to how she has lived since birth her diet and nutrition the level of physical activity, body weight and how healthily she has dealt with her emotional and physical stress all the growing years. All these life course factors recognise that an older women’s health can be largely dependent on her lifestyle and behaviour pattern.
There is a need to start giving social protection and security to ageing women, such as health insurances.
There is the possibility of a decline in general health due to heart disease, diabetes, nutritional problems such as anaemia or obesity.
Another factor to be watched for is reduced mobility due to arthritis or osteoporosis. Sensory impairments (poor vision and cataracts, hearing loss) can be extremely difficult to come to terms with. Communicable diseases like tuberculosis and pneumonia and chronic ill health can lead to poor management and reliance on others. Sexual decline, vaginal dryness, wrinkling and sagging of skin can give rise to feelings of inadequacy.
Psychological and social factors
The effects of ageing impact a woman psychologically as well. The f ear of pain and disability, anxiety, depression, irritability, loneliness, alienation can make life tough. Added to these difficulties is a poor self-image and self-esteem, a poor body image and tension about declining physical health. Sleeping difficulties compound problems.
Changing family atmosphere and living
arrangements can require coping strategies. The lack of mobility, role loss at
home or role change along with poor economic resources can make matters worse.
Poor social support, increased dependency on others, leading to guilt feelings
is another factor. Decreased attention and concentration and poor memory which
can lead to progressive illness, followed by intellectual and cognitive
impairment that impacts life.
Battle of the sexes
It’s the universal question on many women’s lips. "What could he be thinking?" she shrieks, or sighs or sulks at her husband, boyfriend or son.
What is it with men and cars? Why doesn’t he notice how much housework needs to be done? Why does he need to keep a grip on the remote control? And the most bewildering one of all—why won’t he just talk to me?
The answers, says social philosopher and author Michael Gurian, lie not in laziness, sexism or sheer pigheadedness but in profound differences between the male and female brain and scientists now have technology to prove it.
What Could He Be Thinking? How a Man’s Mind Really Works, combines two decades of neurobiological research with anecdotes from everyday life and Gurian’s experience as a family therapist to present a new vision of the male psyche.
It’s a vision that Gurian hopes will help promote a better understanding of men and reverse what he sees as the dangerous assumption born of the past 40 years of radical feminism that men have simply become redundant. "As a culture, we’ve made profound mistakes in the last few decades by assuming that men were unnecessary. Many people have even gone so far as to negate or dismiss what is at the core of a man," Gurian writes.
Gurian, author of the 1996 groundbreaking The Wonder of Boys and its follow-up The Wonder of Girls, is no anti-feminist. He is married with two daughters, and his book mines the field of brain science to help improve relations between couples.
Culture plays a part, but Gurian argues that biology matters much more than previously realised. "The science has been crucial. Wherever I go, I start by showing PET scans and people can see for themselves the differences between male and female brain., I think that alters lives and marriages", according to Gurian.Such are the advances in technology and understanding that PET radioactive-imaging and MRI magnetic-imaging scans can now show whether a man and a woman are truly in love by measuring the amount of activity in the cingulate gyrus, an emotion centre in the brain, Gurian says.
Like a guide through a secret forest, his book leads the non-scientist through the complex world of brain science and relates it to some of the most frustrating source of conflict between men and women.
The male brain secretes less of the powerful primary bonding chemical oxytocin and less of the calming chemical serotonin than the female brain.
So, while women find emotional conversations a good way to chill out at the end of the day, the tired male brain needs to zone out all the touchy-feely chatter in order to relax—which is why he wants the remote control to zap through mindless sport or action movies.
His brain takes in less sensory detail than a woman’s, so he doesn’t see or even feel the dust and household mess in the same way. Anyhow, the male brain attaches less personal identity to the inside of a home and more to the workplace or the garden—which is why he doesn’t get worked up about housework.
Male hormones such as testosterone and vasopressin set the male brain up to seek competitive, hierarchical groups in its constant quest to prove self-worth and identity. That is why men, paradoxically (from a hormonally altered new mother’s point of view), become even more workaholic once they have kids, to whom they must prove their worth.
Gurian says his book is aimed mostly at women. "Men get this already. They are living this brain but they don’t have the conscious language to explain it. Women are not living it. If they are relating to a man, I hope they will be touched, informed and entertained and will have a new vision of the way they can make their relationship work. I beg people to go back to nature, to look at the PET scans, look at the brain differences and see if it makes sense."
If it does, the consequences are profound for a
generation of "liberated" women brought up to believe it is men who
have to change, and men must respond to a female way of relating in order for
marriage to succeed. Gurian says men can learn new skills and alter their
behaviour but they will not be able to meet all of women’s expectations.
Popular culture focuses so much on trying to get people closer. Most people
believe that marriages break up because men and women are not close enough. But
what I am learning about the brain leads to the idea of intimate separateness,
in which the brain seeks less intimacy at times," says Gurian. If we can
learn who we might be—not what IS he thinking, but what is in the brain,
honey, not the heart—If your husband isn’t talking to you, look up this new
research into man’s mind. — Reuters
Poor wages for sweat and toil
In the globalised economy, invisible contractors are hiring most workers on contract. This has made the already fragile existence of women workers even shakier, says Katherine Johnson
In the last decade and a half, liberalisation and globalisation has led to the growth of industry dedicated to the production of consumer goods for both foreign and the domestic markets. In India, as elsewhere in the developing world, this growth has also seen the inclusion of a larger number of women workers. But women appear to be paying a high social and economic cost for being part of the global labour force.
Verit`E9, an NGO that monitors labour conditions internationally (with a focus on women labourers), recently stated that of the 50 factories they surveyed in India, 43 per cent violated the minimum wage legislation and discriminated against women.
Take the working conditions of women workers in the garment factories of South India. A 2000 report on the top 10 garment factories in Tirupur, Tamil Nadu - by Social Awareness and Voluntary Education (SAVE), an NGO - speaks of the discrimination faced by Indian women in the sector. Research has revealed that in nine factories, all workers (largely women) toil for 10 hours a day without being paid overtime. While men are allowed to refuse to work overtime, women cannot do so. The male workers receive higher wages than women do for the same work; and most supervisory positions are also held by men.
Most women workers complained they didn't get maternity leave and when they got pregnant, they lost their jobs. Tirupur is toxic, dusty and filthy. The workers get no health benefits. All workers have to pay for their medical bills and take sick leave at their own cost, states the report.
"Women are exploited with low wages and overburdened with work despite their being sincere and loyal workers," claims the report. Most workers refrained from making any adverse comments on their working conditions out of fear and insecurity about their job. This fear was greater among women than men. The report said labourers who work more than 14 hours a day (usually women) don't have time to think about their living and working conditions. Their thinking and mindset is limited, mechanical and accustomed to day-to-day suffering.
This mindset is what the authors of the report describe as the "Third World women industrial workers mindset". A mindset that is programmed not to question. The report added that such women were prone to mental illness from stress and exhaustion at work.
Indeed, it is not only the garment industry that typifies such dangerous working conditions. In the Union Territory of Pondicherry, South India, seven young women died in 2002 from silicosis. The women, all workers at the Ballarpur Industries Limited (BILT) Glass Containers factory, died from a condition induced by exposure to silica, a product used in the glass-making industry. When the factory opened in 1992, a lot of publicity was given to the project that claimed to bring permanent employment to local people. But the factory's 1,500 workers are mostly on contract with wages ranging from Rs 14 to Rs 24, for 8-12 hours of work.
Most workers are from neighbouring towns and villages. The men are given the work of loading and unloading the raw materials, and women are employed in the hazardous job of sifting silica in the sand plant. Consequently, most women at the factory continue to suffer from cough, chronic chest pain, breathlessness and appetite loss. Silicosis is well documented, and avoidable, if appropriate safety measures are adopted in the workplace. But women workers face long periods of hospitalisation, and often their symptoms are misdiagnosed as tuberculosis, leading to large and inappropriate medical expenses.
A survey conducted in 2002 by NGO Volunteers for Social Justice in the football-producing areas of Jalandhar and Batala, Punjab, revealed an equally dismal picture for women and girl workers. According to the survey, the women (mostly from the lower caste) who stitch get Rs 5 less than men do, per football. The wage gap widens further during peak seasons.
The demand for Indian garments and other goods abroad has forced factory owners to go for large-scale production, without investing in workers' safety and financial security. While factory owners and shop-owners continue to earn huge profits, the women workers who contribute to their profits earn barely enough for two meals a day.
There are legal mechanisms in force to ensure the safety and equality of wages for women in the workplace in India. The Equal Remuneration Act of 1976 provides for the same wages to be given to men and women for the same work, and for equal recruitment and service conditions (unless the employment of women in that sector is restricted or prohibited by law).
The Maternity Benefit Act entitles women to 90 days of paid leave for delivery or miscarriage. But most manufacturing units don't offer either or both entitlements.
Take the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) which have emerged in seven areas of India— in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. These zones have been set up to attract investment from multi-nationals, and they often provide tax relief and exemption from domestic legislation. Typically, there is no minimum wage or unionisation in these zones, but there is forced overtime, child labour, hazardous working conditions and minimum job security.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), child labour and forced labour, restrictions on the trade union rights of workers in EPZs and gender discrimination in employment continue to be areas where India needs to show more commitment. Several activists, meanwhile, continue to suggest unionisation of women in factories as the only way to ensure better health, safety, remuneration and job security.
Dita Sari, an activist from Indonesia, has demonstrated the potential of union activity to ameliorate the working lives of women. She successfully led a strike of 5,000 workers, who produced shoes for Reebok and Adidas, demanding wage increase and maternity leave.
In India too, there are examples like the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA), through which highly impoverished women have been organised into workers' groups and collectives involved in a diverse range of economic activities, from carrying loads on their heads in the market to embroidering clothes.
But in the globalised economy, invisible contractors are hiring most workers on contract. This had made the already fragile existence of women workers even shakier.