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Kerala’s First Women’s Trade Union

The Asanghaditha Mekhala Thozhilali Union (AMTU), Kerala, a women’s trade union, applied for registration on 18 January 2016 and received it on 30 January 2016. Even though Kerala has a long history of trade union movements this is the first time that a women’s trade union has been recognised in the state. The continued neglect by the mainstream and male-dominated trade unions towards the issues faced by women workers in the unorganised sector is one of the major reasons behind the union’s formation.

“Asanghaditha Mekhala Thozhilali Union” literally means “Unorganised Sector Workers Union.” It has evolved from a women’s collective known as Penkoottu. Penkoottu consists of women workers employed in different enterprises situated in the Sweet Meat Street (popularly known as SM Street) in Kozhikode and includes sweepers, tailors and saleswomen. They came together to demand their rights in 2009 under the leadership of P Viji, a tailor in SM Street. The “right to pee” was the first campaign taken up by the movement targeting the lack of toilet facilities for women employees in shops and establishments.

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