November 22, 2018
“Peeing? No you can’t. Either drink less water or use tube.” This was the common response of majority of the textile owners in Kerala till a few years. But Viji Suresh, a tailor from Kerala, was the one who brought the issue into the mainstream and stood for the basic rights of sales staff in most of the textiles in the State.
Viji Suresh aka Viji Penkoottu, a normal tailor in SM Street in the heart of Kozhikode realised that most of the women workers were suffering from uterine diseases because of not urinating in regular intervals. This was leading to various ailments, calling for toilet facilities in workplaces. Most of the prominent textile retail chains had to face her bold protests.
She could bring together majority of the female staff in various textile shops and other informal sectors. Initially she started ‘Penkootu’ and later she founded the collective ‘Asangaditha Meghala Tozhilali Union (AMTU)’ Union of Workers in Informal Sectors.
Initially, textile owners neglected the protest. But they had to compromise and were forced to accept the basic demands. The intense and continuous struggle changed the situation, making owners agree to all the demands. A series of e-toilets were installed throughout the State as well as in buildings where woman worked.
Women workers in the informal sectors in Kerala now have the ‘right to sit’ and take breaks/leave. This victory came after women formed AMTU and fought the battle for around over a half decade.
Viji also fought for the right of sales girls who were not allowed to sit during their work hours in 2014.The struggle spread like an epidemic across the State, forcing the Government to amend the Kerala Shops and Commercial Establishments Workers’ Welfare Act to ensure the rights of women workers.
Viji got national and international acclaim which paved the way to be among the top 100 influential women from around the world 2018. She has secured 73rd position in the list for her relentless effort in achieving the ‘right to sit’ for workers in Kerala