SOUTH ASIA GENDER PLATFORM Meeting Minutes
Minutes of the First Meeting of the Core Committee of the South Asia Gender Platform held on 31st August 2021 via Zoom Webinar
Present : Laxman Basnet, SARTUC
Harbhajan Singh Siddhu, HMS
Ashique ul Alam, WRC, Bangladesh
Deepa Dawadi, JTUCC, Nepal
Arooma Shahzaad, PWF, Pakistan
Navya DSouza, HomeNet South Asia
Prabhu Rajendran, FNV Consultant
Nishi Kapahi, Coordinator
Absent : Sri Lanka representatives could not attend this meeting. They will be kept in the loop with the minutes.
On behalf of the South Asia Gender Platform, Nishi Kapahi welcomed all the members of the Core Committee and briefed them about the South Asia Gender Platform, the formal launch and the progress made so far. She made a brief presentation to bring all the members up to date with the activities to be conducted in the two year phase of the project.
Sis Arooma Shahzaad expressed her concerns about the involvement of the informal workers in Pakistan, particularly domestic workers and cotton (collector) workers due to their lack of knowledge about gender, violence and harassment at workplace, ILO C190 and other issues. She had reservations about their participation and suggested that there is a need to strategise basic activities – by selecting one sector at a time to focus on the group and to take forward the programme.
Bro Laxman Basnet welcomed the extension of the Platform supported by FNV and assured complete support on behalf of SARTUC. Expressing his concerns about the issues of women he said Informal workers particularly women need to be paid special attention. There is a need to analyse the laws and ensure their implementation process in each country. We need strong civil society as in New York whose Governor was impeached and removed on charges of sexual harassment. We need to change the mindsets and ensure that the attitudes towards women are changed. What is happening with the women is heart breaking. We need to raise the our voice for better governance and implementation and take a very serious steps on these situation so that we can come out with positive solution. We can do this by collaborating with SAGP. He promised to support the actions of SAGP on behalf of SARTUC.Since he had another meeting at the same time, he left the meeting.
Bro Harbhajan Singh Siddhu appreciated the support being provided by the FNV to the Gender Platform. He explained the importance of eliminating violence and harassment in the world of work and explained the role of HMS in taking this issue forward. He mentioned about having included the issue of ratification of C190 in the memorandum handed over to the newly appointed Minister of Labour Bhupendra Yadav in the previous week. He said that the Government of India and the Employers were not in favour of the ratifying C190, since there already are laws in place with a good amount of awareness at least in the organised sector, and are of the opinion that the Convention will be misused if ratified. However, he will still continue to put pressure on them and HMS would support the SAGP in all possible ways.
Sis Arooma Shahzaad informed the committee that Pakistan Workers Federation has conducted a comparative study of the existing laws in Pakistan viz a viz the C190 and R206. She suggested that it would be good if the recommendations are included in the existing labour laws so that they are more acceptable and easier to implement. This way the employers too would be obliged to commit themselves to complying with the C190 requirements. According to her, violence and harassment has become so normal in Pakistan that even the women have accepted it as an integral part of their lives. This is a tragic and heart breaking development and we need to use the Platform to challenge such norms. Nishi Kapahi asked Arooma to share the comparative study so that we can bring all the comparatives together and share with each other.
Chowdhury Ashiq-ul-Alam informed everyone about the number of activities held in Bangladesh before the adoption of the C190. Currently, there is a lot of work going on around the ratification process but government and employers are not really interested as women and their issues are not considered a priority in society and in their culture. He pointed out that whenever any Convention is ratified, the government is obliged to send reports to ILO each year and they are not really interested in this process. But, we need to highlight the harassment, gender and violence issue through advocacy. All three, the government, employers and Trade Unions need to be made aware as even the leaders don’t have much idea about these issues. We will require awareness campaigns for all workers. They have discussed this in the Coordinating Committees of various fora. He explained about the WRC of which he is the current Chair. WRC is the new model in Bangladesh the National Trade Union Committee is a part of it along with 11 other trade unions and it has been recognised by the government. It is even a tripartite body with Government and Employers also a party. Ashiq will be able to contribute about the Platform in various fora.
Sis Navya DSouza said that C190 holds special weightage for home based workers. She informed the Committee that HomeNet South Asia worked a lot and played a key role at the time of discussions at the ILC and pushed all the associate organisations to support the adoption and passing of this convention. It is also important because it looks at the interests of the home based workers. They are the last mile workers and at the absolute bottom of the pyramid – it is said that if the home based workers get their rights, it’s a triumph for all workers. C190 is an important convention for homebased workers since it expands the scope of the workplace – their homes or transports used for commuting etc. If it is ratified it will become an achievement for all the workers in general also because Domestic Violence for them is a significant issue since their home is also their workplace and we need to look at ways to prevent the violence. We believe that we need to :
1. Strengthen the voices on the ground – unfortunately, workers should not have to fight for themselves or have to raise their voices to be heard in the corridors of the labour ministers of our countries. But we live in these times and political systems, where workers have to come together for demanding their rights and raise their collective voices to be heard. The governments think they already have laws enacted so why do they need the ratifications for creating new laws.
2. Hope that one day the convention is ratified and national laws are expanded, which will be implemented and will reach out to the last mile workers. These laws will then be made accessible and available to the home based workers for them to benefit.
She hoped that the Platform would address these issues for the larger interest of the workers.
Sis Deepa Dawadi shared her happiness and pride as being a part of the core committee and hoped that SAGP will play a key role in taking effective measures to address the issues of gender based violence, harassment, discrimination, exploitation, safe working environment in these post Covid difficult times for all workers including men, women and LGBTQ. The Platform she said has come at the right time and JTUCC will be happy to collaborate and extend support as there is a need to strengthen the structures of the trade unions and their voice to ratify the C190.
All the countries of South Asia are facing similar issues and joint actions need to be planned and voices raised to overcome these issues. In Nepal, JTUCC has been focusing on the gender issues and lobbying with the government and has even submitted a memorandum to the Parliament seeking ratification of C190. The President of the JTUCC Women’s Committee raised the issue of ratification of C190 in the Upper House of the Parliament. Also JTUCC has been reviewing the gender policies of their affiliated organisations and is planning to conduct gender audits in JTUCC as well as in the 10 other affiliated trade unions soon.
These are very good activities for all the participating countries. We need to support actions of each other and jointly take positive actions. Whatever activities will be suggested by SAGP, JTUCC will be happy to support them.
Bro Prabhu Rajendran thanked the members of the Core Committee for being part of this important meeting. He said efforts were being made to try and get this platform up and running for a long time, not only from the project perspective but also because we did not have any platform representing the workers voice and focussing on gender in this part of the world. Gender usually gets pushed down. When we were preparing for the C190 every union and organisation was talking about gender and it was on top of everyone’s agenda. But now as the times have changed and other things have popped up, gender has been pushed right back to the bottom and is no more on the priority .
We should not lose this opportunity of having an international framework in form of C190 and need to focus on how we can lobby the social partners at national level for the ratification process and what can be done in future.
He explained that the Core Committee will be the apex body for the SAGP and all the political mandates will be drawn from this Committee. Just doing activities will not suffice and will not produce the desired results. There is a need to build momentum and as Sis Navya said, we need to bring the voices from bottom to the top otherwise we will be only 6-7 of us committee members talking. We need to plan and need push the platform to reach out to the level of the workers so build momentum we intended to build is achieved.
He further explained that this Platform should not be looked at only as a project but we need to look at it in the long term and try to bring more voices in support of the workers and women in general. Core Committee will provide directions to move ahead in future years.
So we need to look broadly and open our horizons so that we do something concrete.
Bro. Harbhajan Singh said that though this is a good initiative, but during the pandemic we in India are facing lots of problems with labour laws as government has withdrawn 40 labour laws in order to provide ‘ease of doing business’. He wanted other labour related issues to also be included in the platform activities to give a much needed push to the challenges being faced by the trade unions and the workers. He said with the workers facing harassment from the government, we should fight for “ease of living” instead of ‘ease of doing business’ for which need to put pressure on the PM.
NK listed out the event to be organised in the current quarter to bring in the members from the unions of the participating countries to benefit from the activities of the platform. She also pointed out the need for conducting gender audits in at least 5 unions (one per country) during this year and 5 in the next year. The Core Committee also discussed and approved the plans submitted for activities to be conducted under the project during the quarter. A list of the activities to be conducted is attached. NK suggested the nomination of substitute members in case the core committee members are busy, so that there would be continuity. However, the members were of the opinion that they would take time out to attend the meetings of the Core Committee and if need be, a substitute would be nominated at that time.
There being no other issue to discuss, the meeting ended with thanks to all the members.