Gendered labour process and flexibility : a study of jewellery production in India
This study focuses on the production of handmade and machinemade jewellery in three sites in India: Noida Export Processing Zone (NEPZ), Delhi and Medinipur. It draws from and contributes to two strands of literature and extends them. One is the gendered literature on export processing zones (EPZs) and export oriented industries (EOIs). The other is the literature on globalisation, feminisation and flexibility. The thesis poses two major research questions. First, how are jobs in jewellery production constituted as masculine or feminine? Second, how do masculinised and feminised jobs relate to flexibility? The evidence I use to answer these questions is based on materials collected in the course of two field trips to India, of nine months and two months duration between 1996-1998. A questionnaire survey, non-participant observation and semi-structured interviews were used as methods of data collection. Contrary to much of the literature on EPZs, machinemade jewellery production in NEPZ is predominantly male with 25% female work participation, and handmade jewellery production in NEPZ is entirely male with no female work participation. Handmade jewellery in Delhi has a marginal representation of women as family workers. Only in handmade chain production in the villages of Medinipur is the female labour predominant, in the form of hidden women homeworkers, constituting 64% of the labour time. My study shows that the gender division of labour is not a fixed or given entity but a product of discursive and material practices, which are reproduced through discourses into which different actors invest, and which feed into the gendered subjective identities of these actors. The study breaks down the assumption of a formal labour market in EPZs. There is a wide prevalence of male child labour and subcontracting in all three sites of handmade jewellery production. Contrary to the literature on EPZs and EOIs which show that it is the feminised jobs that are flexible, in machinemade jewellery production in NEPZ there is a slight feminisation of flexibility but it is not very significant. In the handmade jewellery sector in NEPZ and Delhi, labour market flexibility is occurring with a largely masculinised labour force. In Medinipur all labour is flexible and since there is greater representation of women in the labour time, there is some feminisation of flexibility. So no clear linkage can be drawn between the feminisation of jobs and flexible labour within the jewellery industry in India thus complicating the debates on feminisation and flexibility. The study underlines the importance of localised industry studies which are not bounded by a particular space.