This study is the outcome of the experience of the Shramajivi Mahila Samity, an independent, non-party mass organisation of mainly rural working women in West Bengal. Shramajivi Mahila Samity works on gender discrimination and rights of women. It does not run any direct income generating programmes. However, in the 28 years of our work in rural Bengal, we have seen women contributing in myriad ways to the economies of their families. They are an irreplaceable element in the survival of their families, often making the difference between starvation and subsistence. We have always been surprised by the official statistics which show West Bengal as having one of the lowest female labour participation rates in the country. It has led us to believe that there is a gross misunderstanding about women’s work and the importance of unpaid work in the economy of a poor household. In the past few decades, we have seen more and more women in rural Bengal joining paid work. We have seen that men are migrating and the agricultural labour force in many areas consists now almost entirely of women. We were therefore surprised to read about a debate on falling female labour particpation rate at the national level. It did not match our own work experiences. It has led us to the present study, which we hope will be able to shed some light on what is actually happening to women from the rural working class in West Bengal.
- Anuradha Talwar