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Visible Work, Invisible Women

"Brickworkers"  from the exhibit, "Visible Work, Invisible Women"  (P. Sainath/

"Brickworkers" from the exhibit, "Visible Work, Invisible Women" (P. Sainath/

Until January 2001, the U.S. government was a key contributor to ensuring girls' and women's health in the subcontinent. Among other things, the U.S. helped to establish in the United Nations global agreements on women's and adolescents' health and rights which all governments in South Asia have endorsed. The U.S. has also for years been the largest donor to reproductive health services and to programs for women's rights in the subcontinent. But the Bush administration has de-funded the primary U.N. agency that provides technical and financial support for reproductive health in the countries of South Asia, the UNFPA. The U.S., the Bush administration, has frozen funds to the World Health Organization program on human reproduction which does both social and biomedical research essential for the health of women and girls in South Asia. The U.S. government is now threatening other agencies and programs that will provide comprehensive sexuality education and health services for adolescents, as well as legal education and support for women's rights-not only in the subcontinent but across the developing world. While India has the resources to withstand the Bush administration assault on these programs and services, the governments of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal do not. They are dependent on the finance and the policies of the U.S. government. So if you agree that the Bush administration's position is wrong, it is vitally important for you to say so, to inform others, and to engage them in protest against what the Bush administration is doing. The lives of billions of girls and women, to say nothing of boys and men, are at stake across Asia.


Well much of what I have to say is actually up on the panels. It is an exhibition with a lot of text. I will just give you a little lead-in to the exhibition and the kind of people you are seeing in it. I would like to say that all the pictures in this exhibit were taken with the consent of the women in those photographs. The exhibit has gone to the villages of those women and has been hosted by the women in their own villages, so it is also their property. This exhibition was made for the largest Indian women's organization, the All India Democratic Women's Association, and it was done for their national conference. Four of the landless agricultural laborers in those photographs inaugurated the exhibition with a song from the harvest fields. The women see the exhibition as their own and they have control over the sets that are touring India because they have the right to demand. It is a non-gallery set-up as you can see-it is meant to go to where people are. So it has been shown at college cafeterias; it has been shown at factory gates; it has been shown at school and college grounds. The last venue it which it was held in India was a railway station. At the point where it was inaugurated, 25,000 women of the class you will see in the photographs came out in a mass rally because they were having their own national conference for landless laborers. And these women then went through the exhibition themselves.

I would also like to say something about who these people are, and I would like to locate them in their special socio-economic context in other respects as well. I am saved a lot of that by the kind of input you have already heard from Smita and Adrienne. If you are looking at who are the Indian poor-who are they?-40% are landless agricultural laborers, 45% are small and marginal farmers (people who own two acres or less), 7.5% are rural artisans and all the others, whom economists glob in the column called "others" including the urban poor, make up the remaining 7.5%. So if you look at it, in that first 40%, the most vulnerable, the overwhelming number of them are women-the landless. And if you look more closely, you will see that those in the first two categories (85% of the poor in India) are in a problematic situation directly related to land, a lack of it or an insufficiency of it. Women in India are landless because, in practice, they have no land rights. And the caste dimension that Smita talked about is extremely important. 67% of all female agricultural laborers are indeed Dalits.

These are not the pictures of a professional photographer. These are the pictures of a reporter taken to tell his story. So please view them in that light…all of them are pictures that are trying to tell stories. Thank you.