When hard economic realities drive choice

Preeti Mehra | Updated on March 15, 2011

Women play a hundred different roles in the world's economy. While some head corporations, many others dothe severest of jobs in the factories or on the fields. They are yet others who live by selling or renting their bodies — the spectrum is unbelievably vast. But so is women's resilience and ability to deal with circumstances and challenges — qualities aptly captured by two films at the 7th IAWRT Asian Women's Film Festival in Delhi screened for International Women's Day.

Titled ‘ The Zone', the40-minute documentary takes you to the free trade zones in Turkey where women work long hours in inhospitable conditions. Seven women workers from free trade zones in four Turkish cities reflect on their jobs, the work environment, the attitude to fellow workers and the compulsions that make them continue their daily grind.

Tough environment

In a documentary style, directors Mr Guliz Saglam and Mr Feryal Saygiligil bring home to the viewers the high walls and wired fencing at free trade zones where looking around or talking to your neighbour during production hours is not allowed in several factories. In some factories, employees are fined for spending a few minutes more in the washroom and in some others, amenities are scarce with almost 500 people sharing two tiny toilets. Above all, as in most sweat shops, here too it is sacrilege to join a union - the woman who did it was out in the cold.

Poignant conversations with the women pepper the film, bringing to the fore the compulsions that lead them to exercise the choice to work in such environments. One such factory has just a handful of women among an army of men. Women speak of the jeers, penetrating glances, macho attitudes and yet, the pay packet keeps them going.

Closer home

The second film was closer home – about India. While India's role in medical tourism and providing surrogacy services to the West are known, the film, ‘Made in India' documents the story of an American couple and a Mumbai slumdweller who chooses to be the surrogate mother to their offspring.

Seven years of infertility drives Lisa and Brian Switzer to sell their home and risk their savings on a medical tourism company that promises them a surrogate mother. The film then cuts to Mumbai where chawl dweller, Aasia Khan, agrees to the arrangement, puts on a burka to hide her identity from neighbours as she enters a fertility clinic to be implanted with the couple's embryos. And that too, without the knowledge of her husband. Extremely absorbing, the film deals head on with the reproductive tourism business valued at over $450 million. Infertile couples who have to cough up a whopping $100,000 in the US for such services prefer to come here where their dream can be fulfilled for roughly $25,000, including clinic charges, lawyer's bills, travel and lodging, and the surrogate's fee. While the surrogacy trade is growing in India, it operates in a complete legal vacuum with no laws – only suggested guidelines.

The couple does not believe it is exploiting Asia. When faced with such accusations on screen, they say they would help the surrogate mother when she needs it. Defending her choice, Lisa stares into the camera and says, “Walk a mile in my shoes before you judge me'. Directed by Ms Rebecca Haimowitz and Ms Vaishali Sinha, the film does not judge, it only states and allows the viewer that prerogative.

Fear of judgement is also not what largely determines the choice of monetary activity by women in the fringes of society. Most often, it is spurred by economic compulsions. Both films, though so different, seem to converge on this reality.

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Published on March 15, 2011
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