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Updated: October 31, 2012 14:03 IST

Roots of inequality

Divya Trivedi
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Work pays less: Forest jobs need gender-sensitive monitoring. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar
The Hindu Work pays less: Forest jobs need gender-sensitive monitoring. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar

In forestry jobs equal pay is still a distant dream for women

Women are preferred by the forestry staff and contractors for certain forestry operations, like nursery work, transplanting and tendu leaf collection.

The work is either contracted on a daily wage-rate or a piece-rate basis. However, women often get lower wages than men for similar work, are not paid regularly and are subjected to harassment if they complain. In a UN Women report, National Advisory Council member NC Saxena says that better gender-sensitive monitoring can help in improving their wages so as to be at par with men.

In a meeting of several 1000 women before the elections in 2000 the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh asked them to raise their hands if any of them did not receive the same wages as men. Almost all the women raised their hands much to the embarrassment of government officials who had assured him that equal wages were being paid to women in all government programmes.

Firm estimates of women employed in forestry are hard to come by. An ILO study (1988) of the Social Forestry Programme of Orissa observed that nowhere in the Appraised Project Document was there any mention of the working conditions of women, they got no benefit of labour laws, no safety or health measures were being undertaken, whereas work was being performed outdoors under exposure to changing weather, required heavy physical effort, sometimes in difficult terrain, and away from their homes. The Village Forest Committee was generally not involved in payment of wages, which in any case were lower than the minimum prescribed. Wages as stated by the Forest Department were higher than what women actually got.

In addition, hardly any rules exist for regulating the working hours of women, safety precautions for them, provision of latrines, job recruitment, leave and other benefits, training policies, productivity linked bonus, compulsory insurance against accidents, shelters, civic amenities, crèche, arrangements for the care of children and infants and medical care. The same is true of forestry work undertaken under MGNREGA.

Half of the block plantation by farmers under the farm forestry programme has been on previously cropped lands. A similar conclusion was reached by an ILO study which estimated that 50 per cent of the land covered under the farm forestry component was good agriculture land. This mattered as by planting trees on land previously used for agriculture crops, female labour tends to get displaced. A study of eucalyptus plantation in Tamil Nadu under the farm forestry programme on lands which were previously being used for groundnut cultivation has found that instead of women’s employment which groundnut cultivation generated, eucalyptus required digging pits and clearing felling trees, both of which are done by men. Averaged over a rotation cycle of 10 years, total employment per ha per year dropped from 112 to 45. Female employment dropped from 100 days to nil, while male employment rose, but only from 12 to 45.

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