GST: A Gendered Lens

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Curated by Priya Prabhakar

With the adoption of Goods and Services Tax (GST) by the Indian government that came in effect on July 1st, 2017, it is important to look through a feminist lens to determine the material impacts of the tax, as it has come with a fair share of critique. A gendered analyses of GST renders the taxation unfair on the basis of menstrual products, mostly affecting cis-women, along with traditionally “feminine” products, such as cosmetics, skin care, and domestic appliances. Other gendered implications include the nationalist implication of a “one tax”, which falls in pattern with the “political construction of the Hindu rashtra”, which disproportionately oppresses working-class women. This has manifested through the mass strikes of women garment workers in the unorganized sector. We’ve compiled a list of resources that seeks to analyze the feminist/anti-feminist consequences of the GST. Feel free to leave other resources in the comment section of this post.

 

“What we want to ask is this. If puja items can be made tax-free, why not menstrual products? And if this question isn’t about gender, then why do bindis and sindoor get the treatment that sanitary napkins don’t? Is the idea of an unmarried woman really that scary?”

“Currently, a tax of 22% including excise duty and other taxes are levied on products such as toothpaste, hair oil and soap but after GST a tax of 18% will be imposed. Skin care products and shampoo have been put in 28% tax category while Vermilion, Bindi and mascara have been left out. As far as sanitation is considered, a tax of 12% will be levied despite the demand of making it tax-free.”

“What is the logic behind making condoms tax-free while taxing sanitary napkins, tampons and other items of female reproductive hygiene at a steep 12 per cent? Plain and simple, it’s patriarchy in action, and the deep-seated taboo about menstruation being associated with uncleanliness, and menstrual blood being polluted.”

“The application of technology for domestic use has been a major help and stimulus for women’s emancipation, initially in the West, later in the expanding middle class of developing countries like India, easing her labour and freeing her time considerably from domestic duties, thus allowing her to work outside the home, enabling her financial empowerment. Increasing tax on domestic appliances is regressive from the gender perspective. In contrast, the government put items like sindoor, alta, bindi and bangles, items essentially associated with a married Hindu woman, into the exempt category. Through its tax priorities, the government appears to reflect, reinforce and incentivise deep-rooted societal stereotypes that typecast women into their traditional roles of wife and mother. Women would be far happier with a tax structure that enables and incentivises her to become financially independent so that she can buy sindoor and bindis even with enhanced taxes.”

“The economic discourse on GST tends to miss out on an essential aspect of the reform, namely its contribution to the political construction of the Hindu rashtra. GST helps in homo­genising India, a la “one nation, one market, one tax,” which indeed was the BJP’s slogan for GST…Yet, the remaining clauses are indicative of not only a confluence of Hindutva and neo-liberalism, but also reminiscent of Hitler’s “ein volk, ein reich, ein führer” (one people, one nation, one leader), much adored by the Sangh Parivar. The GST in its current form, irrespective of its fate—Modi is capable of making even his worst failure seem a grand success as in demonetisation—is a leap towards the Hindu rashtra.”

“A huge cottage industry as developed around the main textile industry that involves women who do the stitch art work and embroidery etc on the finished fabric. They are part of the unorganised sector and form a very important part of textile industry. But the government did not care to consider them while slapping GST,” said Usmani. These women from the unorganised sector are likely to join the protest in large numbers from July 11, said a core member of the GST Sangharsh Samiti.”

Please leave links of any other relevant in the comments section and we will add them.

Priya Prabhakar has been a Prajnya Intern over the summer in 2016 and 2017 and is studying at Scripps College. 

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Mother’s Day 2017: Is woman the only care-giver? by Neeraja Hariharan

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flowersIs woman the only care-giver?

A traditional “Housewife’s” first duty is to look towards the happiness of her husband and his family. The next step is to look after her children and the happiness of her children. In between she has to balance family society to create social happiness. In this entire life-long journey not many stop and ask her what she wants. If you ask a housewife how many times her family has praised her publicly or privately for her work and not just cooking, She would be able to count it on her fingers.

Incredible pressure to juggle work and family responsibilities: Indian parents-in-laws aren’t known to be particularly supportive. A typical Indian mother’s day begins two hours before everyone else, cooking, packing lunch, making breakfast, sending kids off to school and only then does she get a chance to get ready for her day at work

Unequal partnerships at home–Husband’s “Hands-off” approach: In several Indian homes, there is “unequal partnership”. After a long tiring day (even when the working mother works hard/sometimes even harder than her husband). Once she returns home, she is still expected to cook, clean and take care of the other demands of husband/children and maintain the house.

Mothers quit job to take care of her baby: Still in India the mother is expected to take care of her baby. It’s only the duty of the mother to take care of the baby, as if it is not the duty of father. Why it is only the duty of mother? Why can’t the father take the responsibility of the baby? He is also the parent. Isn’t it important for him to take care of his baby?

After giving birth to a baby, the mother is given two options. Either taking care of the baby fulltime or go to work and as well as take care of the baby. It is not an easy task to go to work and also taking care of the baby without the help of her in-laws and her husband. Ultimately she won’t get help from her husband and the in-laws will be too old to take care of the baby. She has to quit her job. And take care of her baby her herself.

When it comes to raising a child, mother is expected to quit her job. Why can’t the father quit his job to take care of his child? Why it is always the mother who quits the job?

Mother’s Day 2017: Life of a Mother, by Shrivaiyshnavi.N

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flowers

LIFE OF A MOTHER

For the lady who came out of her family just because of traditions and customs,

Who starves just because she has to eat after her husband eats,

Who kept us safe inside her womb for ten months,

Who breast fed us in spite of all her pain,

Who sacrificed her sleep just to pamper and take care of us.

For the lady who works all day at home no matter how sick she is.

Who cooks food for the choice of others,

Who washes clothes, and restrooms which stink,

Who bares all those Period Cramps

Who still manages to do the gender roles assigned to her by the society.

For the lady who does all these things, but gets no recognition.

What she really gets is a title saying “SHE IS JUST A HOUSEWIFE”

Whose sacrifices are not seen, or noticed.

Oh! Yes, Its Mother’s Day Today, and what we do is just post Facebook Status about our beloved mother for this day alone.

For the lady who did all those things without expectations,

Why can’t you spend quality time with her?

Why can’t you treat her everyday like the way you treat her on mother’s day?

Why can’t you get to know about her and her favourites?

Why can’t you take her out for her favourite movie?

For the lady who protected you for your low grades from your daddy,

How well do you know her?

Do you try to get to know her favourite food?

Do you try to get to know her favourite book?

Do you try to get to know her favourite actor?

Do you try to get to know her favourite place to go out?

For the lady who MAKES the house a HOME,

Let us make her feel special everyday,

Let every day remain MOTHER’S DAY.

by Shrivaiyshnavi.N  

#GENDEREQUALITYELECTIONWATCH: Uttarakhand

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Again, this is getting written on election day in Uttarakhand. What that means is that it will largely end up being an account of numbers–how many women and how many mentions in a manifesto. The lack of consistent, everyday monitoring means that we do not get to track campaign speeches for misogyny. This election watch project has also missed out on checking out criminal charges of candidates. Notwithstanding these shortcomings, I would say it is worth finishing what we started so here is a gender analysis of the election in Uttarakhand.

How many women? 

Last update: Feb 15, 2017
Assembly size: 70
Source: elections.in
Seats contested Women nominees
Samajwadi Party 51 NA
Uttarakhand Kranti Dal 70 NA
BJP 70 5
Congress 70 9
BSP 24 1
Rashtriya Lok Dal 3 0

What is left to say about the low percentage of women nominees?

Gender in the manifestos

As hard as it is to find gender sensitivity in party manifestos, it is hard to find the manifestos themselves. What is the point of a manifesto that cannot be easily found in the public domain? It must be to minimises traces of promises made and the opportunity cost of accountability.

Based on a news report, the Congress manifesto promises 33% reservation for women in government jobs. The other promise with gender transformational potential is to set up five aapda mitra (in every village?) or disaster relief workers. If 2-3 of them were women, that would alter the face of disaster mitigation, relief and rehabilitation in Uttarakhand. However, we have no way of knowing more.

The BJP manifesto, also culled from a newsreport, includes a cash gift to girls: “Rs. 5,000 for every girl child born in poor families” and a removal of the age bar for widow pensions at Rs 1000. Very interestingly, it promises that, “The opinion of all women on triple talaq will be taken and placed in front of Supreme Court.”

For the other parties, there did not even seem to be reports on the manifesto release. Did they not bother?

#GenderEqualityElectionWatch: Goa

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It’s voting day today in Punjab and Goa. The one-person team doing this election watch exercise has proven inadequate to the task of genuinely monitoring the election season.

Nevertheless, here is a post on the Goa election season.

Last update: Feb 4, 2017
Assembly size: 40
Source: http://www.elections.in/goa/
Seats contested Women nominees
INC 27 3
BJP 29 1
NCP 5 1
AAP 36 4
Shiv Sena 4 0

Manifestos for Goa were released rather late, going by press reports. Is that because they were considered irrelevant to the outcome? That would also account for how hard it has been to locate them (full-text) online. If manifestos don’t matter, why draft them? Finding the full-text version is important to a gender equality audit because gender provisions and promises are usually platitudes and do not merit mention in press releases and reports.

The BJP’s Goa manifesto could not be located online after a careful search that included the Goa BJP website and Twitter account. The search for the Congress manifesto yielded this tweet, the first explicit reference to safety I have seen. Nothing shows up for the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party.

The Aam Aadmi Party had begun announcing its candidates as early as August and they have the only easily-located manifesto of the lot. It looks like the manifesto is the product of a dialogue process (the cover says “Contributed by 350+ Goa Dialogues”).

The AAP Goa manifesto opens with a listing of four social welfare schemes to benefit women–Saksham Asturi, Rs. 2500 a month for skill development; Ladli Laxmi, 2 lakhs for young women; Mamta Scheme, 50,000 for girl children; and Grih Aaadhaar for families. Each of these is described in greater detail in the text.

The AAP manifesto specifically calls out misogynistic speech by Goa politicians and for this, receives full marks from this Gender Equality Election Watch: “Women in Goa are known for their entrepreneurial spirit which the past Governments have absolutely overlooked. It is high time that women here are provided the right environment to flourish financially and socially. Their resolve and vigour is almost unparalleled across the country but instead politicians have not left a stone unturned to verbally and physically insult women [emphasis added].

Check out their other promises which show breadth in their thinking: Women are workers, need access to health and justice  at all life-stages and social safety nets. They are not imagined just as mothers or as economic actors.

aapss

Goa is voting as I write this post. Let’s see what happens.

#GenderEqualityElectionWatch: Election Eve Punjab Report Card

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Women candidate tally

Last update: Feb 2, 2017
Assembly size: 117
Source: http://www.elections.in/punjab
Seats contested Women nominees
S. Akali Dal 94 4
INC 117 11
BJP 23 3
BSP 18 0
AAP 117 9
CPI-ML (Liberation) 8 0
Trinamool Cong 15 2
Punjab Front 15 0
Apna Punjab Party 86 4

Manifestos

We’ve already discussed the Congress manifesto here.

The Shiromani Akali Dal manifesto mentions the enhancement of two existing schemes, the Shagun scheme where the government gifts a poor family a sum of money upon the wedding of a daughter and the Babe Nanake Ladli Beti scheme where families receive a sum upon the birth of a daughter. In addition, under the header ‘Women’ they promise free ‘swing’ machines to all girls/women who pass Class 10, bicycles to graduates and 33% reservation in rural and urban local government institutions including Panchayati Raj and Municipal Bodies. Finally, the highlights list sports training and stadia in every district under the header ‘women’ and promise government jobs to sports medal-winners.

The Aam Aadmi Party has released several manifestos in Punjab, for youth, for farmers and for Dalits, and all three are gender-blind except for a Shagun scheme of their own, mentioned in the farmers’ manifesto. Its final comprehensive manifesto contains a section on ‘women’ which fares better than the other parties’ attempts:

  • “33% reservation for women in jobs. Women employees will preferably be posted in their home district.
  • Salaries of Anganwadi workers/helpers, Asha workers and Mid day meal helpers salaries will be doubled. Women hostels in every district.
  • Special Police wing to crack down on menace of ‘Holiday brides’ and domestic abuse.
  • Suraksha button on every mobile phone with emergency connectivity with Punjab Police via Wi-Fi.
  • Special Fund for women and children of victims of domestic violence and abuse.
  • Money to be adjusted against maintenance granted by courts and will be recovered from husbands or those responsible for paying.
  • 100,000 (one lakh) toilets for women in public spaces. 
  • Swift and effective justice in Crimes Against Women. Fast track courts to be built and made functional.
  • Women employees will be given child care leave and provided crèche facilities at the work place.”

It wasn’t possible to locate a full-text version of the BJP manifesto but the press release everyone carried stated, “On the education front, the manifesto assures making free the studies of girls till Ph.D. level.”

Overall grade

It is impossible to endorse any Punjab political party as being singularly committed to gender equality, but a cursory glance suggests that in terms of nominating women, Congress and AAP lead but AAP’s manifesto indicates that there are more people in AAP thinking about meaningful inclusion than there are in other parties.