A call to establish grievances cells by the Construction Workers Welfare Board in all districts to redress complaints of sexual harassment from women construction labourers was made by speakers at the State level consultative workshop on sexual harassment of women construction labourers and remedial measures, held in the city on Thursday.
Speakers were also unanimous in acknowledging that the major challenge was to bring together women labourers in the unorganised sector.
The workshop was jointly organised by the Women's Studies Centre, Holy Cross College and WE (Women Empowerment) Trust.
R.Geetha, All India Additional Secretary, Construction Labourers Panchayat Association, said in the absence of a support system, women labourers and their children were vulnerable to sexual abuse.
Most women labourers were unaware of the existence of the welfare board or the entitled benefits.
Implementation of various provisions such as regulation of wages, employment opportunities, skill training, maternity benefits, child care, education aid and contingency fund for registered board members was essential. There was also a need for a national protective legislation to fight against atrocities meted out to labourers in the construction industry.
Women in the construction sector were denied progression in work and were treated as ‘unskilled labourers' unlike their male counterparts.
Though training in painting, welding and masonry could bring women on an equal footing, creation of employment opportunities was essential, Ms.Geetha maintained.
G.Tamizhselvi, Executive Trustee, WE Trust, threw light on the dire circumstances responsible for women entering the construction sector.
Most women labourers were destitute with dependents to provide for.
They had no job security and were often forced to tolerate sexual advances, thus falling prey to sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS, she said.
Sr.Isabella, Director of the Women Studies Centre, pledged the centre's support for countering injustices meted out to the women labourers.
Sr. Sarguna, Principal, Holy Cross College, and R.Saraswati, Co-ordinator, Women's Studies Centre also spoke. R.Gayathri, Research scholar, Department of Women's Studies, Bharathidasan University said academic institutions can prove supportive to such campaigns by collecting empirical evidence.
In subsequent sessions, V.Maheshwaran, State Joint Secretary, Unorganised labourers Federation, discussed various social security schemes available to women labourers.
Noting that ample employment opportunities were available in the construction sector, he urged women to function independently and not tolerate harassment.
S.Ayyankalai, spoke on health and hygiene conditions of women construction labourers. Sr.Selwyn, Director, Udhayam, dwelt on remedial measures for redressing sexual harassment. M.Anthony Stephen, Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work of the college facilitated the interaction section where construction labourers shared their experiences on sites, relating instances of harassment.