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Women’s Issues

For the past few years, issues relating to women’s rights and their empowerment have been on the forefront with much fanfare. Be it the government, civil society or the NGO’s — all had been working together to highlight the issues of the urban and rural classes of women but it seems that in their effort to do so they have forgotten about the females coming from rural areas to big cities like Karachi to earn their livelihood.

These women usually working as housemaids faced several problems. Most of them were those who had already been exploited by their own family members and later mistreated by their employers. The employer usually decided the nature of the maid’s work — whether she’d be a nanny, a cook, or a cleaner; whether she’d work for five people or 10; whether her services would be lent to other households, her working hours and rest periods etc. And this attitude was commonly found in Pakistan as people here assumed that if you were paying someone, he or she became your property.

Majority of these women came from Interior Sindh and the Punjab. They had no specific work hours and in most cases they didn’t even get the opportunity to enjoy any public holiday. These women were brutally treated by their own families and were then married to men who were either ten times older than them or already had wives. Moreover, these men were usually jobless and forced their wives to work at the homes of the elite and established families. Later, they demanded a major portion of the earning and sometimes forcibly took all of it from their wives. Even after all this, they wanted their wives to work like animals in order to fill up their pockets.

Hassena, a housemaid in Gulistan-e-Jauhar said, “My parents married me to an old man who is not even able to work. I am his second wife and have four children. Now I have to work to earn a livelihood for my family. I work in four houses and earn about Rs1,500 monthly.” Complaining about her work conditions, Haseena said that they were highly exploited and badly treated by their employers. She continued, “I just want to request the government to provide us with proper employment facilities so that we can also lead a respectable life”.

However, this was no where near the end of their miseries — these females did not even have permanent residential facilities. They just lived from hand to mouth even after a long day of hard work. Their families were not supportive and medical conditions very poor. But these women still kept working under all these conditions for the survival of their families.

Some of these maids were from the lower middle class families but due to some incident or the other, they were forced to work as housemaids. Accidentally, or incidentally they have to join this profession not by choice but by luck. Saira, a 23-year-old young lady was one of them. She was from a noble family but a few years back her father died in an accident and being the eldest she had to work to run her family. Initially she tried to work in some other profession but because of being less qualified she had to take up this line of work. “I was enjoying my life to the fullest but the sudden death of my father made me work as a house maid. I have to feed my mother and four younger siblings. I am satisfied with my life but just have one message for all the people — they should respect all women including their housemaids,” Saira said, adding, “People make us feel embarrassed because of our work and sometimes create hurdles for us. But they should understand that we are not doing this by choice but it is actually our fate.”

Another aspect of this issue was child labour as girls aged 10 to 12 were also working as housemaids. The house owners made these young girls work a lot, ultimately exploiting their childhood. At times they were also abused by the male members of the families. Innumerable cases of sexual harassment and abuse, excessive workload and income-related exploitations have been reported numerously. The mothers of these girls took them along to lessen their work load without realising that they themselves were actually responsible for spoiling the lives of their own children. Hina, 13, faced a similar situation where she was misused by her so called ‘sahab’. Many young girls were mistreated by their authorities and if they did not comply, they were kicked out of those houses.

It is high-time that the concerned authorities do something for the welfare of this working-class of women. Women’s groups, NGO’s and human rights bodies should be more involved in monitoring the working conditions and living standards of these housemaids.

Source: The News

Date:12/24/2007

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