Participation of Women in Trade Unions: A Study of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).

AuthorRashmi, Maini


According to Sue Ledwith (2012), the story of the persistence of women's subordinate position in trade unions is one that is continuously being told. This is true of most of the developing countries. In India also women participation in trade unions is not as per their proportions in labor force. In-spite of the efforts made by several central trade unions, women participation is very low. This paper unravels the status of women membership and participation in CITU (Centre of Indian Trade Unions), a central trade union organization and their efforts to increase their participation level.

Centre of Indian Trade Union(CITU) was established under the philosophy of Karl Marx and is affiliated to Communist Party of India (Marxist). It is one of the most important central trade union organizations, which put in significant efforts for involvement of women in unions. It was established in the year 1970 with no woman in their organization. Since then the percentage has increased from zero to 31.9 in the year 2011. The overall membership of CITU is 5796033 from 4487 unions and among them women membership is 1850892 in 201 lafter which no verification was done till date.

CITU's efforts are not only towards increasing their membership but to place them in leadership positions also. The structure of CITU consists of : (i) Affiliated unions, (ii) The delegates assembled at the triennial or special session of the CITU conference, (iii) The general council, (iv) The working committee and (v) The state conference, the state committee and the state council.

Approximately 40 years back CITU started work among working women. Since then it has been continuously pursuing its efforts to mainstream more and more women into the trade union movement including into the leadership positions. These efforts are today reflected in the increased participation of women in the trade union movement. Now women's 'wings', 'departments' or 'committees' exist in most of the central trade unions.

Significantly several middle class women employees are now not only active in their own trade unions but also playing active roles in CITU. In some states like Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, several women employees in banks, insurance, state and central governments are functioning as conveners and members of the district and state level coordination committees of working CITU women; some have been elected to the CITU district and state committees too. In some states like Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, etc they have been participating in the campaigns, rallies, processions etc taken up by the state coordination committees on issues like sexual harassment, equal wages etc and on the occasion of the International Women's Day. They have been the major subscribers to the CITU's monthly journal in English 'The Voice of the Working Woman'.

Though CITU's efforts for several years came to fruition now, there is still the need to look deeper in to the reasons of low participation of women in unions and strategize in more profound ways.

Review of Literature

Trade unions are an important component in a democratic society, but they did not serve women well. Trade unions in India should accept that large numbers of women have to work if they and their families are to survive. However, women are also expected to take responsibilities for running the home and raising the children. Participation in trade unions should not be seen as a burden rather it should be understood as a remedy for helping the women take on dual responsibilities properly by addressing and solving women's issues in an industrial setting. The unions should show the signs of tackling gender inequalities and should be seen as human rights advocates and real change agents for encouraging women's participation in Indian trade unions (Venkatratnam, 2002).

There are various reasons of low participation of women in unions. First and foremost is that the percentage of women joining the organized sector is very low and that the number joining the trade union is even worse. For more participation of women in trade unions, percentage of women joining the organized sector must be improved. One of the reasons for low participation of women in organized sector is dropout of the females after secondary school and before graduation. There are some industries with low career opportunities and low pay scales where females are more employed than the males (Jain & Ratnam, 2002).

Joshi (2007) points out that discrimination against women in the form of job segregation in workplaces is another factor contributing to lower participation of women in union activities. Research in India on the gendered division of labor and the relationship between production and reproduction has demonstrated the asymmetrical structural relationship between male and female workers. Fernandes (1998) observed, while gender inequalities are linked to hegemonic cultural norms, they are also structurally based identities that both are shaped and produced by socio economic processes, (Banerjee, 1991; Sangari, 1993)

In several programs organized by the ILO and international trade union organizations like ICFTU, WFTU, ITSs, usually the sponsors ask for gender equality in nominations, still very rarely, if ever, Indian trade unions are known to send women members/ leaders for participation in national events (Venkaratnam, 2002). And so it is extremely important to know reasons for low participation. According to Ledwith (2012), the enduring hegemonic masculine culture of trade unions continues to outweigh the extensive gender and diversity structural work developed in recent decades. Trade unions are no different from other organizations.

In spite of knowing about low participation of women in Indian trade unions, the contribution of a few women leaders cannot be ignored. Hind Majdoor Sabha, (HMS) which is not affiliated to any political party, was led by women: Kamla Sinha & Maniben Kara. Kamla Sinha became the first and the only woman to have become minister for external affairs in the union cabinet in the late 1990s. Martens and Mitter (1994) observed that India is pioneer in organizing the informal sector...

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