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Unsung heroines

Unsung heroines

By: SALMAN ALI

In Pakistan the situation of women is quite alarming and they have to deal with immense pressure and face seemingly insurmountable array of obstacles which are preventing them from becoming productive and empowered citizens within our society. But no doubt steps are being taken by the non- governmental NGO’s for improving their condition and credit goes to them. Same is the case with Home Based Workers who are working from their homes and earning for survival and ensure their households. But they are facing several problems like inadequate education, lack of skills, physical mobility, health and safety and limited access to productive resources.

We need to know what actually Home Based Workers means as it refers to the general category of workers, within the informal or unorganized sector, who carry out remunerative work within their homes or in the surrounding grounds. These Home-Based Workers (HBWs) usually belong to the poor, lower or lower middle income background and form various age groups and possess very little or no education at all.

It is estimated that there are over 100 million home-based workers in the world and more than half this number are in South Asia of whom around 80% are women. Pakistan is one of the Asian countries that have large number of women engaged in home-based work and this sector has expanded at a fast pace. This expansion can be linked to the globalization of industry and the search for efficient means of production through low cost labour.

These working women are working and contributing to national economy and export earning but they are denied any form of legal protection, including a minimum wage guarantee or social security benefits.

According to a World Bank study, over 10 million women in Pakistan are engaged in home-based work in sectors like garment, bangle-making, shoe-stitching, embroidery, carpet weaving etc. In spite of their contribution in economy being 60 percent, these women still do not have social and legal protection and are the most unprivileged among the society. Unlike other types of workers, Home Based Workers (HBWs) do not have any access to social security benefits and have long working hours with no Operational Safety and Health standards at their work area. Furthermore, labour laws of Pakistan do not include the HBWs. These workers are neither covered by the definition of ‘worker’.

Azra Shad Chairperson Women Workers Help Line (WWHL) a socio-political activist says, “There should be an immediate implementation of the International Labour Organization’s Article C-177 of the Home-Based Workers which deals with the rights of home-based workers. Secondly informal sector workers should be given rights similar to those granted to workers in the formal sector.

She said WWHL is working for the rights of Home Based workers and we believe that there is a need to identify the home based workers living in Pakistan as a workforce. Government should address the issues of home based workers and speed up the policy making process. For the first time we took this imitative that we made cooperatives of home based workers and by doing this middle man role is made lesser. Now these workers are approaching direct to market and dealing with market men without any hesitation and earning good amount.

I believe by approving this law C-177 which is already ratified by seven countries and if it approves in Pakistan it will allow the workers right to establish or join organization of their own choice and to participate in the activities of such organizations in protection against discrimination in employment and occupation. It will be a huge achievement if this law gets approved by this government for the civil.

If doing these steps indirectly it will increase the price of products made by home-based workers. However, competitiveness can be maintained by placing greater emphasis on quality of products home-based workers produce, in effect, encouraging improvement of their existing skill levels, while simultaneously ensuring that the households of these workers derive greater benefit from the fruits of their labour.

The writer is a freelance contributor, Lahore-based social and political activist.

The Nation

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