Gender Justice

Women and Discrimination Based on Work and Descent

Women from Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD) sit at the violent intersection of gender-based discrimination and discrimination based on work and descent.
Like others from their caste or social group, CDWD women experience forced and inhumane labor as well as segregation that denies them access to fundamental resources such as education, clean water and sanitation, and access to justice. In addition, they also experience gender and sexual violence from both those outside and within their social groups.
Thus, if Sustainable Development Goal 5 is to be achieved, it must be acknowledged that discrimination based on work and descent is one of the foundations of the patriarchy, and that gender equality cannot be achieved until Caste, Forced Labor, Modern Slavery, and the Cultural Practices they have produced are eradicated.


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Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD)

Women and Discrimination Based on Work and Descent

The pernicious nature of intersectional discrimination is such that the two forms of oppressive structures at play – in this case, patriarchy and discrimination based on work and descent – strengthen one another to form a uniquely brutal form of discrimination.

Intersectional discrimination is not additive; it is not two forms of discrimination operating separately. Rather, it is multiplicative. We see this clearly when considering the discrimination faced by women and girls from CDWD, who experience both a unique form of work and descent-based discrimination and a unique form of gender-based discrimination.

Discrimination based on work and descent does not impact men and women equally; women and girls experience it at far greater rates than men from their caste or social group and are often forced to perform forms of labor that are unique to their gender. They work as farmers in the fields and in the sewers as manual scavengers, but they also perform domestic work, childcare, and, very often, sexual labor. This can be seen statistically, as it is estimated that around 71 percent of victims of contemporary slavery are female, which is due partly to the fact that15 million people across the world have been sold into forced marriages, often at ages as young as 12 and 13. 1 Additionally, in South Asia, Dalit women make up 75 percent of manual scavengers, and female farm laborers produce 60-80 percent of South Asia’s food.

This statistical unbalance can be ascribed to the fact that CDWD women have fewer avenues by which to improve upon their own condition. While access to education is denied to both CDWD men and women, it is still far easier for a man to receive an education than a woman, partly due to the pressure women and girls face from their own families and communities to marry early and to the domestic work they are expected to do. In India, for example, women from Scheduled Castes have a literacy rate of 56 percent while men have a literacy rate of about 72 percent. 3 Similarly, CDWD men are more likely to be able to pursue additional work or business opportunities outside of their primary occupation due to the time constraints placed on women by their domestic duties. 4 For enslaved women, this phenomenon is even more pronounced.
Tied to the children they are often forced to have, it is far more difficult for women to escape from slavery than men.

Gender-based Violence and CDWD Women
Not only do CDWD women suffer more from the oppressive labor structures that characterize CDWD status than men are, they also bear the additional burden of extreme gender violence that is perpetrated against them due to their CDWD status. As the scholar Avinash Kumar has noted, for Dalit women the logic of untouchability ends when it comes to caste sanction rape, with reports of assaults against Dalit women widespread and increasing in recent years. 6 Additionally, Dalit women are the frequent victims of harassment and assault, with reports of Dalit women being killed for attempting to access village water wells or for defecating in public when denied access to proper sanitation facilities. 7 As the Human Rights Watch has argued, these attacks are a form of political violence meant to crush dissent within Dalit communities and maintain both the patriarchy and a caste-based society.

We see similar patterns emerge across the world. In Serbia, for example, up to 92 percent of Roma experience physical or sexual violence after turning 18, and in some Balkan nations nearly 20 percent of Roma women are married before the age of 15, and over half before the age of 18. 9 In Brazil, violence against Quilombo women – including femicide – is common. Frequently, it is female political leaders are murdered, demonstrating again the degree to which violence against CDWD is a political tool meant to suppress resistance.

Of course, it is victims of modern slavery who often suffer the most from gender-based violence. Enslaved women are raped with impunity by their master and their master’s family and friends. In countries with strict social customs, enslaved women who become pregnant as a result of sexual assault can even face criminal charges for having sex outside of a marriage, revealing the degree to which discrimination based on work and descent conspires with the patriarchy to control women’s bodily autonomy.

Perhaps no example more clearly reveals the link between patriarchal oppression and DWD more than that of the Haratin of Mauritania. The Haratin are a group enslaved based on matrilineal descent – someone born to an enslaved woman will themselves be enslaved. This demonstrates the nature of slavery in Mauritania; the maintenance of Mauritania’s system of slavery is dependent upon controlling women.
In all, it is clear that violence against CDWD women constitutes one of the most abhorrent abuses of human rights that occurs, and that if true progress is to be made towards achieving gender equality than caste and caste-like systems must be abolished and steps must be taken to ensure that CDWD women are protected and afforded the same opportunities owed to each member of society.