The Transgender Narratives of Decent Work
Ursula V A1, P.B. Shankar Narayan2
1. Ph.D. Scholar, Department of Social Work, Pondicherry University.
2. Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, Pondicherry University
Correspondence concerning this paper should be addressed to Ursula V A, PhD Scholar, Department of Social Work, Silver Jubilee Campus, Pondicherry University, Puducherry – 14, email: [email protected], contact no: +91 – 9488960240
In the midst of seventeen goals which envisioned a planet of prosperity by 2030, the 8th goal of SDGs emphasises the need for workers to have acceptable or adequate work and working condition. Work can be said as all forms of economic activity including self-employment, unpaid family work and wage employment in the informal and formal sectors. But there are some other categories of ‘work’ which cannot consider as productive economic activity but still generates income. Also, there are people who dG1 G2 epend or follows these activities as an employment or job or as a livelihood option. Transgender persons are one of that category of people who forced to be involved in such kind of unproductive, unaccepted and inadequate works for their livelihood due to a high level of stigma, discrimination and harassments.G3 This phenomenological study explains the dimensions of decent work through the perceptiveness of transgender persons in Puducherry. The experiences and views of transgender persons are obtained through the in-depth interviews and presented as narratives.G4 G5 G6 G7
Key Words: Decent Work, Transgender persons, Livelihood, Employment
The Transgender Narratives of Decent Work
Define oneself in their own terms such as gender is always troublesome in our society. The society always needs the people in the circle as the society defines. But the truth is that the individuals know themselves to be, and they are what they love. The transgender persons who define themselves opposing the gender assigned at birth, the roles attached to it and conflicting all the gender norms and rules defined by the society. This way the transgender persons became the outliers in the conventional gendered society. Everything, including home, relations, marriage, and job defined conventionally for the men and women in the society became something unapproachable for the transgender persons. They found themselves in another social system inside a larger society that made their life more susceptible. This paper is a narrative by these people regarding the conventional jobs as well as their current jobs as they experienced.
The concept of Decent Work is still something fictional for the transgender persons in India when ILO describes it as “opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity” (ILO, 1999). All these four conditions are vague for those who identified as transgender persons and who are doing unproductive works for earning to meet their daily needs. While going through some available statistics regarding the work or employment of the transgender persons in India anybody could understand how much they need to move further to reach the goal of decent work. A survey conducted by Social Justice Department of Kerala in 2015 on the issues of transgender persons revealed that 100 percent of the respondents had at least one experience of being denied job due to their gender identity. The discrimination, stigma and exclusion from the workplace may make them topt infamous activities as a source of income. Another empirical evidence was given by UNDP in 2016 from a study conducted in 5 states of India that G8 52% of the transgender respondents of the study begged for a living, making it the main form of livelihood for the community. This was followed by sex work (4%), giving blessings during traditional festivities or birth of a child (4%) and working in social development with community organisations (9%). About 31% of transgender engaged in both sex work and begging to make ends meet. Even there are achievers in terms of job, they are only in countable number among the 487,803 transgender persons in India. In the light of above-said facts, tG9 he present study talks about the transwomen’s experience of work life and their perspectives of the decent work. G10 G11
The transwomen who are living in the Pondicherry district of Puducherry Union Territory constitute the study participants. The participants were selected purposively with the help of Sahodaran Community Oriented Health Development Society (SCOHD), an organisation working for sexual minorities. Among 127 transwomen identified by SCOHD in Pondicherry, seven were participated in the study (Polkinghorne, 1989) and the age ranges from 21 to 30.
Human experience makes sense to those who live it and that human experience can be consciously expressed (Dukes, 1984). It is an attempt to approach the lived experience of transwomen on their work and working condition. Hence the study followed the transcendental phenomenological approach. The study gave less focus on the researchers’ interpretation and more on the description of the experience of the participantsG12 . The researchers set aside all the experiences as much as possible in order to get the fresh perspective towards the phenomenon examined (Moustakas, 1994).
The study describes the experience of transwomen in Pondicherry regarding their work in relation to the concept of decent work. G13 Interviews were conducted among the participants. The participants were asked two broad general questions (Moustakas, 1994). What have they experienced with respect to a job? And what context or situation inflG14 uence their experience? Rest of the questions were based on the participant’s response and were asked for the clarifications and elaboration on the experience. The interviews lasted between 30 to 50 minutes, were audio taped, transcribed and translated in verbatim. The researcher followed Moustakas (1994) to analyse the data. The data were analysed by reducing the information into significant statements and combine the statements into themes. A textual and structural description of the experiences and a combination of both were developed to get the essence of the participant’s experiences. The results were presented as narrative descriptions on what they have experienced and how they have experienced. G15 G16
The research followed proper ethics during the entire study. The participants were informed about the purpose of research. The consent was given in writinG17 g. Interviews were voluntary and the participants had the right to withdraw their interview at any point. G18 Participants name or any other data of personal identification did not use in anywhere of this study. Throughout the research work, all G19 participants were aware of the role of the researchers.G20
Opportunity for work
Opportunity for work can be said as the central element because decent work is not possible without work. When we talk about the opportunity to work, there should consider two aspects viz., availability of work and freely chosen work. The participants shared their experience that if they came out as transwomen, the G21 ‘work’ available are ‘collection and Dhanda’. Either they have to go for begging or for sex work or for both to earn for their lives. The available works are not acceptable by the society in the Indian context so also in Pondicherry. The other conventional forms of work are not available for the participantG22 s because of their gender identity and they are forced to opt either of one or both. No employer is ready to give any job to a transwoman only because of the gender identity.G23 G24
Freedom of choice of work
“Nothing will change for transwomen even if she studied or not studied, we have to beg for our earnings”. It is a statement by a participant who identified herself as transwomen and a 26 year old engineering graduate. The statement itself is self-explanatory on the freedom of choice of work for transwomen. They experienced their limited number options available for work when they came out as transwomen. When a man identified himself as a transwoman and came out as one, then she will have the experience of throwing out from the job that she was working or compelled to quit the job because of the extreme discrimination and bullying she had to face from the colleagues and the employers. The experienced transwomen explained that. ‘Sometimes we also feel disgrace upon our identity when we throw out from a place we were being’, a participant said. Even if they are qualified and competent enough for a job they are getting rejected due to their gender identity and restricting their choice of work to sex work and begging.G25 G26 G27 G28 G29
“…not doing it as we like and we wanted it. We had no other choice to meet our needs. We also need to eat, to stay …we need money. Nobody is ready to give a job, even in small shops. So we are forced to go to sex work or collection where we are accepted and gets money”.G30 G31 G32
All the participants shared their own experiences of rejection of jobs and also other community members’ experiences as they are witnessing it. One of the participants shared her hope to have a ‘decent work’ in future, “We heard that in Kerala community people are getting the job. We are also hoping that this trend of going for collection and sex work will end soon here and we also get jobs. At least those who come out as transwomen in future will not have to go for these kind jobs”.G33
The work now they are doing is highly unstable and insecure. A participant said, “at this age of health and vigour, and with the skills we have is not useful because we are transwomen and not accepted in the society. I am a graduate and there are others who are graduated and more who cannot go for a job because of our identity. Nothing we gain from the works that we are doing now than mere money. That also unstable and not enough to meet the needs sometimes”. They also said about their concern over their expense that they had to spend a considerable amount of money on their make up so that they look good and attractive enough for a customer to approach them. Some of the participants told about the self-employment training programs and workshops they have attended. The programs were organised by Government as well as voluntary organisations. But that did not work out for the participants because of the lack of money to invest and back up.
Equity in work
“Nobody is ready to give job to us. Even if they are giving a small job in shops they will not give money as they give to others. Transwomen are always considered as the second category.” Many of the participants’ experience agrees with this statement.G34 G35 G36 G37
“It is always difficult for us to get a home for rent because of the work we are doing and if we got one they will ask for the double amount of rent than they give it to other people. We are living by giving this double amount. So the salary they are offering will not enough to give the rent and electricity bills. We have other expenses also including our medical. Leaving behind all these expenses we tried going for these jobs and the harassment we had to face is unbearable. Nobody will stand with us. So we had to back to collection or sex work”.
A frustrated participant’s statement well explained how they are treated at work.
They are facing the problem of equity in sex work also. One participant laughed and said, “A customer, after coming to me, we started work…then suddenly he stopped, shouted angrily and said ‘duplicate’. Then he left.” The long pause after the laugh was conveyed many things.
Security at work
They are not given the jobs and if it is given also they are compelled to leave the job due to security reasons. For them feeling safe is not only the absence of obvious discriminations from the employer or colleagues but also they need safeguard from some hidden or invisible norms in the workplace. Many of the participants complained that they were considered as the sex objects by others in the workplace. G38 G39
“The transwomen always equated to sex work by other people. It is true that we go for that but because of no other choice. That does not mean that we are doing it all the time even if we have a job. We seek for a job and go for one because we wanted to leave away the sex work. But even in the workplace, the other workers see us as we are there for doing sex workG40 and behave in such a filthy manner. That forced us to leave the job and again back to sex work”.
One of the participants shared one experience that they got a job in a production company and they had left the job because the employer gave the condition that they have to take care of themselves and had to bear the burden if there anyone abuse or approach them sexually. She was telling that if the employer can tell that ‘we will be taken care of your security and safety if anyone one treats you badly’ we will be very happy and feel accepted. But no one is ready for that. There also we are considered responsible for others actions. No one considers the fact that the men are putting their hands on us, we are not the one who is going after them. G41 G42 G43 The piercing eyes which look them as predatory transwomen who catches men at the workplace are the most awful and intolerable thing than any discriminations.G44 G45 G46 G47
When talking about the security of work that they are doing now, that also a painful experience. Even if the sex work is not considered as a conventional job or profession, it comes under the definition of work since it is an economic activity done to make the ends meet. They are doing this highly vulnerable work for meeting their daily needs including food. The health risk is very high in this work and they are not much worried about that as the SCOHD conducts regular health G48 G49 check-ups and prevention measures for the sexually transmitted diseases in collaboration with Pondicherry AIDS Control Society. The menace from the customers of sex work is also reported as a security threat by the participants. The reported no risk in begging but the income earned will be low and difficult to meet the expenses only with the income from begging.G50
Dignity at work
“If we are going for a job like you people are going, the people over there will not consider us as human beings. They see us as predators and our dignity is questioned. G51 The work we are doing now does not have a dignity and recognition among the public. But we are doing it but with a half mind… Compare to the sex work collection have a recognition but the dignity is still a question”. G52 G53
The story of recognition of begging among the public was told by a participant. G54 There is a belief among the people in Pondicherry (also in Tamilnadu) that the money received from the transwomen will bring prosperity. So usually in the morning when the shops are opening they go for collection in shops, the shop owners give 10 rupees or whatever they wish. Then the transwoman gives back one rupee to the shop owner and they keep it with the belief that first amount received for the day from the transwoman will bring more money for the day. G55 G56 G57 They get a good amount of money if the shop is big and is the inaugural day.G58 G59
The first two dimensions of decent work, opportunities for work and freedom of choice of work narrated in the results are concerned with the availability of work and the acceptability of work. The rest four dimensions of decent work i.e., productive work, equity, security and dignity of work are concerned with the extent to which the work is decent, which also indicate the quality of employment. The experience of the participants regarding their work life and their perceptions on the dimensions of decent work is obviously stating the vulnerable status of the transwomen with respect to the employment or income.G60 The ILO study conducted in Argentina, Hungary, South Africa and Thailand on discrimination at work on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in 2013 results revealed that transgender workers appear to experience the most severe forms of workplace discrimination. The problems they encounter include the inability to obtain identity documents reflecting their new sex and name, the reluctance of employers to accept their new sex, and increased vulnerability to bullying and harassment by their colleagues. In many cases, transgender workers are completely excluded from formal employment and are highly vulnerable to HIV infection. G61 The situation is not different for the transwomen in Puducherry also. The exclusion from the formal or conventional employment forced them to go for highly vulnerable and unproductive ways for earning. Even these works, sex work and begging are not considered as an employment or profession, for the transwomen who are participated in the study it is economic for them to meet the daily requirements where the concept of decent work is fictional.G62 G63
The concerns of the participants when into the formal employment like nominal wages, harassment and bullying is still not addressed anywhere. These matters are always discussed in the purview of human rights, not as employee rights. There are a large number of legislations in India like Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, Minimum Wages Act, 1948, Shops and Establishment Acts for each State etc. which discuss about unfair labour practices and equity at work, the position of transgender persons under these Acts are still a question. It is a high time to include transwomen under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act.G64 G65
Quoting ILO Director-General in his 1999 Report to the International Labour Conference that, “G66 G67 The primary goal of the ILO today is to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity”, in which only men and women are mentioned. The time has changed and the gender identity became an element of a large spectrum. Including them in the primary goal, the 105G68 th session of the International Labour Conference in 2016 stated that “the International Labour Organization is committed to eliminating discrimination in the world of work, promoting workplace diversity and achieving decent work for all women and men, including people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity”. This inclusion is expected in all over the world irrespective of the culture and context.G69
Census of India. (2011). retrieved from: http://www.censusindia.gov.in/20-common/CensusDataSummary.html
Dukes, S. (1984). Phenomenological methodology in the human sciences. Journal of religion and health, 23 (3), 197 – 203
Equal Remuneration Act, 1976. retrieved from: http://nclcil.in/infobank/act/The%20Equal%20Remuneration%20Act,%201976.pdf
The government of Kerala. G70 (2015). State policy for transgenders in Kerala. Department of Social Justice, Government of Kerala. Retrieved from: http://www.kerala.gov.in. G71
ILO. (1999). Decent Work: Report of the Director-GeneralG72 , International Labour Organisation, Geneva. retrieved from: http://www.ilo.org/public/english/standards/relm/ilc/ilc87/rep-i.htm 1999a
ILO. (2013). Discrimination at work on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity: Results of pilot research, International Labour Organisation, Geneva. retrieved from: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/ed_norm/relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_221728.pdf
Industries dispute act, (1947). retrieved from: http://lawmin.nic.in/ld/P-ACT/1947/A1947-14.pdf
Minimum wages Act, (1948). retrieved from: http://www.ilo.org/dyn/travail/docs/623/Minimum%20Wages%20Act%201948.pdf
Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Polkinghorne, D.E. (1989). Phenomenological research methods. In R.S.Valle & S. Halling (eds.), Existential-phenomenological perspective in psychology (pp. 41-60) New York: Plenum press
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, (2013). retrieved from: http://www.iitbbs.ac.in/notice/sexual-harassment-of-women-act-and-rules-2013.pdfG73
UNDP (2016) Skilling for livelihood opportunities for transgenders in India. UNDP & NACO, India. retrieved from: http://in.undp.org
Inserted: The g