By Molly M. Ginty
Monday, April 12, 2010
For decades, the Indian state of Kerala has been approving pro-women measures. Last year 10 percent of the state's budget went to programs for girls and women. A tea picker says her daughter benefits.
Kerala says it boasts India's top-ranked literacy rate for women (88 percent); its highest sex ratio (1,058 women to every 1,000 men); and its longest average female lifespan (76 years, versus 65 years in the rest of the country).
The maternal mortality rate in the country is 301 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the Indian government, though the World Health Organization's estimate is 450. Government statistics put Kerala's maternal mortality rate at 262 per 100,000 live births--significantly lower than the national average.
Tea pickers in Munnar earn $734 per year, which Selin Mary, a spokesperson for Kalaiselvi's employer, says is high for agricultural workers and on par with what male workers earn.
"Part of the reason these women's pay is so good," she said, "is that the firm running this plantation--the Kanan Devan Hills Plantations Company--employs many women, is 70 percent employee-owned and has a woman heading its workers' collective. Also important is the fact that our tea pickers live and work in Kerala."
T.N. Seema, a member of the Gender Board and president of the All India Democratic Women's Association, a New Delhi-based organization that promotes women's rights, still sees plenty of room for improvement though.
"Kerala's women are better off than many, but they are still concentrated in low-wage-earning sectors like tea picking," Seema said. "Women should have better job training and should be equipped to work in professions other than those traditionally earmarked for females."
During a break from her work in the fields of Munnar, Kalaiselvi said she agrees.
"Our daughters and granddaughters can get an education, medical treatment and government benefits that older generations never enjoyed," she said. "Even so, we hope they will also have the opportunity to have professional careers, whether they choose to leave the green hills of Munnar or whether they choose to stay."
Molly M. Ginty (http://mollymaureenginty.wordpress.com) is a freelance writer based in New York City.
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