WCW Blog

The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

My Visit to MarketPlace: Handwork of India

marketplaceindia groupI have been a fan of MarketPlace: Handwork of India for decades, not simply because it is a Fair Trade organization but also because I love their clothing. I am the happy owner of many of their shirts (long and short sleeved), dresses (winter and summer), jackets, and wraps. Some of my clothes are bordering on 30 years old, faded and sadly, no longer available -- not even on the clearance site.

Generally, I make my purchases from the catalog, not from their website. I would wait until the catalog arrived to make my choices and over time, I began to notice that the catalog held more than just items to purchase. Indeed, it had stories and photographs of the women -- their lives at work, at their homes, their children, their recipes, their excursions, their wishes, their struggles, and accomplishments. I was intrigued and wanted to know more. This was not your usual catalog.

Since my Wellesley colleague Emmy Howe and I were traveling to Delhi for the Sex/Ed Conference in November 2017, we decided to schedule some visits in the Mumbai area. Among those we wanted to visit was the office of MarketPlace, located in the suburbs of Mumbai. After some negotiations with the CEO Pushpika Freitas and with input from the local director/supervisor, Linda Machado, we arranged to visit their office in the Santacruz East area of Mumbai.

IndiaMarketplaceWith our cell phones actively participating in locating the office, along with the skills of our car service driver, we arrived after lunch on November 14, 2017. About 12 women artisans were gathered together along with some staff -- they greeted us with a special handmade mandala on the floor, and after a candle lighting ceremony, they sang us a song that they had written.

Our conversation got off to a lively start as we shared with them a song, albeit on YouTube, “Bread and Roses” sung by Joan Baez, and told them about the history and lives of women workers in the garment industry in the U.S.

With translation provided by some of the social workers from the NGO part of MarketPlace, called SHARE, which is responsible for the social development and empowerment of the women, along with our host Linda Machado and with some of the artisans who spoke English, we discussed the MarketPlace clothing that I wore and how I had spread the word among my colleagues. In addition, and more substantively, we discussed some of the unique features that MarketPlace offered them -- help with the education of their children, literacy programs, health improvements, the kids programs (148 kids between ages 4-25 years old); and how some of them had been promoted from within from artisan to supervisor. As they were promoted within the organization, they were provided with additional training in accounting and bookkeeping. Throughout our time together, we detected their obvious pride in their work and in their organization. One of the women said, “If not given this opportunity, we’d be washing dishes or doing housework in someone else’s house.”

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Another special experience awaited us after some of the women artisans left with their bags of garments, which needed their embroidery; we climbed the stairs to the workshop. There we met additional artisans who worked on sewing machines, creating some of the prototypes for new clothing. Best of all, we watched a weekly discussion group -- an article of interest from the newspaper was selected and a group of women, ranging in age from 20-70 years old, sat in a circle expressing their opinions. This week’s topic was on dowry, which provided for a heated conversation. Even though we could not follow the conversation in Hindi, we noticed the animation that it produced. I asked Linda privately if all of the women were literate and she told me that some were not but the articles were read aloud so all participants were able to be involved.

The visit with the artisans in Santacruz East was so meaningful and vivid, and I know that I speak for both Emmy and myself when I say that we treasured our time there and the photos that we have of it. I will buy their clothing with new meaning attached to each and every item. And a big thank you.

Nan Stein, Ed.D., is a senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She has conducted research on sexual harassment/gender violence in K-12 schools and teen dating violence for more than 30 years and co-led the Shifting Boundaries, school-based dating violence prevention program.

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In India, Action to End Child Marriage Has a Long Way to Go

india schoolgirl blog crop2The Supreme Court of India ruled last week that sex with one’s wife under 18 years of age will be deemed as rape for which the husband can face up to 10 years of imprisonment. This judgement, being hailed as “landmark” by Indian media, irons out a major discrepancy in the Indian law: while the age of consent for women in India is 18, an exception in the Indian penal code allowed men to have sex with their wives between 15-18 years of age regardless of their consent (Indian law does not acknowledge marital rape).

While it is indeed a laudable step on part of the Indian judiciary that called out the “artificial distinction” between a married girl child and an unmarried girl child to be “arbitrary and discriminatory”, the judgement puts the spotlight on the issue of child marriage itself. A recent study conducted by IndiaSpend -- a journalism non-profit -- found that nearly 12 million Indian children are married before the age of 10, a mind-boggling figure that shows that child marriage continues to be a real and persistent threat in the country. We also know that early marriage can be disastrous for a girl’s sexual and reproductive health. According to Girls Not Brides, complication in pregnancy and childbirth is the leading cause of death in girls aged 15-19 globally. Considering that, this indeed is a landmark judgement which will now present a barrier to men wanting to consummate their marriages with their underage brides. However, the moment one begins to think about the wider socio-cultural context that child marriages take place in, the judgement sounds wildly optimistic and impracticable.

india childmarriage quoteIt is common knowledge that there is a link between lower levels of education and early marriage. The IndiaSpend research also found that as many as 5.4 million married under the age of 10 were illiterate, and 80 percent of them were female. Given that we are talking of a largely illiterate female population that is subjected to child marriage, what are the chances of them seeking legal recourse when faced with the prospect of forced consummation of marriage? Child marriage is also very often a discreet affair, one that is deeply entrenched in patriarchal values and traditions, and wary of the State machinery. Given how little agency a girl child has in a marriage, it is highly unlikely that she will report her husband for having sex with her. What, then, is the way forward? The obvious answer is education. It has always been known that educating girls and boys is one of the most effective ways of eradicating child marriage. Even the government of India acknowledged it when it said that child marriage is a reality in India due to economic and educational inequalities. However, what our government really meant was that given that child marriage is a reality, we might as well allow the consummation of marriage before the legal age of consent because “the institution of marriage must be protected”.

The government’s paranoia regarding the institution of marriage, as if it were more endangered than the Bengal tiger, is preposterous. And I don’t mean to be facetious about this. The government’s delusion is both amusing and scary; it has used this defence not only to argue for lower age of consent in child marriages but also against criminalizing marital rape which is an ongoing battle in the courts. In fact, in defence of not criminalizing marital rape, the government said that India could not follow the lead of western countries as “India has its own unique problems due to uneven literacy, economic and social diversity." Granted that India is an extremely complex terrain for the implementation of any such law, it cannot be used as an excuse for maintaining the status quo. Besides, it is not the government’s job to uphold the institution of marriage and what they call the Indian family system, based on the assumption that sexual consent is implicit in marriage and a nod to women’s autonomy will destabilize the institution. This is important because unless the government gets its priorities right, it will not be able to focus on levelling the “uneven” playing field that it acknowledges as the cause of social problems, also required for the effective implementation of women-friendly laws.

Nandita headshotNandita Dutta is deputy manager at the Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality (CSGS) at Ashoka University in India. CSGS is a partner of the Wellesley Centers for Women.

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