Page 2 of 2 Women's natural role overlooked in India
By Abhismita Sen
Women are concentrated in the primary sector and in unskilled and marginal work. Ninety-five percent of women, as against 89% men, are engaged in un-organized sectors, and most are found in rural areas. According to the 2001 census, there are 90 million women in the workforce. 
Industries that employ more women than men include domestic services, beedi (traditional cigarette) manufacturing, and spinning and weaving. Women also constitute a majority of the workforce employed as nurses, ayahs (domestic servants), paramedics and technical workers. Their contribution goes unnoticed as most of the times they are involved as unpaid or home-based workers, who often get counted as non-working housewives.
In her paper on land laws and gender equity, Professor Bina
Aggarwal points out that women are much more dependent on agricultural livelihoods. Over the years, while the male workers have been moving to non-agricultural arenas, women have remained where they were, owing to their lower mobility, lower education and fewer assets.
She notes, "Firstly there is systematic bias against the women and female children's sharing of benefits from the male controlled resources - women without independent resources are highly vulnerable to poverty and destitution in case of divorce or widowhood. They often need titles to avail credit facilities." 
Eco-feminist movements have been formed in India with a view to creating a social movement where women contributed towards protecting the environment. The Chipko movement in the Himalayas in the 1970s, in which village women hugged the trees to protect them from being felled, gave a new meaning and momentum to environmental activism in the country. In other parts of the world too, women have taken an inspiring lead in protecting the environment, such as Wangari Maathai in Kenya, Rigoberta Menchu in Guatemala and Marina Silva in Brazil, to name just a few.
Sadly, while Chipko received wide media attention at the time, the so-called eco-feminist movement slowly but surely died away.
Women and the environment are mankind's greatest assets.It is time we worked towards the well being of both. The state of the environment impacts everyone. However, initiatives take on a different connotation if aimed at women in urban India as opposed to rural Indian women. To be successful, programs must be sensitive to varied cultural, complex, physical, and sociological differences.
Women, in order to be effective managers, must have secure rights to land and other natural resources and access to credit and training. There must be full integration in the selection and development of technologies applied to communities, full participation in the design and implementation of training and involvement in businesses that promote sustainable production. Research must be conducted on macro effects on micro conditions for women.
Institutions must involve women at national and grassroots levels. If urbanization is the world's future, we must design urban environments and services in ways that will give women greater security, and educate and involve citizens in this cause. A Commonwealth initiative bringing together our great cities to collaborate on this issue would be timely. Under the UNDP, Self Help Groups (SHGs) have been constituted.
Efforts must be made to generate awareness about renewable resources. Government ministries can do a lot if the people of a certain area contact their local representatives and together work out a solution. The political process can create momentum if the SHGs establish links with local-self government bodies.
In fact, 10,000 SHG members were elected to the local bodies in 1997 elections.  An increase in awareness levels about society led to laying roads, planting trees, conserving environment, construction of water harvesting structures, donations to the victims of natural calamities, campaign against eradication of social evils like forced marriages. All we can hope for in the present context is a better future for womenfolk across the globe and an increased sense of awareness at all levels.
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Abhismita Sen is a post-graduate student of the Jadavpur University-Department of International Relations. Abhismita is in the process of starting a student oriented online policy magazine, the Global Strategic Digest. You can learn more about it at [email protected] or by logging in here.