BY SHAZIA HASAN
KARACHI: They held banners demanding their rights. Some held framed photographs of lost loved ones close to their chests. And together all lit candles placed in a formation that read ‘March 8’ outside the Karachi Press Club on the eve of International Women’s Day on Monday.
The demonstration organised jointly by the Home-Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) and National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) comprised home-based women workers, female factory labourers and victims’ families of the Baldia factory fire tragedy.
Shabnam Azam, a home-based zardozi artisan, said the basic problem is not being a registered employee. “If I prepare 12 sherwanis in a day, it will fetch me only Rs20 in that entire day. But there is no one to raise a voice for us. The politicians may come out to make statements in our favour on Women’s Day but they forget about us after that,” she said.
Zahra Khan, general secretary of HBWWF, said the atmosphere in the country is such at the moment that on the one hand laws against violence on women are being passed and on the other millions of home-based women workers are deprived of basic facilities even though they contribute in the production process. “Eighty per cent contribution to the national economy is from the informal sector and women comprise 70pc of this sector, and their number is rapidly increasing, with their contribution being around 40pc. And still they are not given the right of legal recognition as a worker. There are no salary scales, no regular wages,” she pointed out.
Nasir A. Mansoor, deputy general secretary of NTUF, said home-based women workers “use their homes as factories to make goods for capitalists”. By doing so they pay electricity, gas and other utility bills on their own. “A policy to safeguard the rights of home-based workers has been lying with the government without any progress on it from their side for two-and-a-half years now,” he said.
Nuzhat Shirin, a social worker, said that home-based women workers brave health issues such as eye problems and breathing issues. “Besides health problems they don’t have identification cards and no secure roof over their heads. Extreme poverty is forcing them to send their children to madressahs, as food and education, never mind what kind, is free there,” she lamented.
Shahnaz Parveen, who lost her tailor husband Furqan Alam in the Baldia factory fire in September 2012, said that she was still wondering what happened to the compensation that was promised to her. “They say the factory fell victim to extortionists. The factory owners are rich people who are alive and well. Our breadwinners died in the fire. We have been living hand-to-mouth ever since,” she said.
Dilshad Begum, mother of Mohammad Azeem, also a tailor who lost his life in the fire, said that she has daughters to marry and no source of income. “The little we got in the name of compensation was not enough. There is a constant rise in our daily expenditures, given that we are still alive, and no one left to earn,” she wept.
Also present on the occasion was Anis Haroon speaking from the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) platform. “Women’s rights to mobility, education and work should be protected by the state. Women should be recognised as equal partners in development and they must equally enjoy all benefits available under the Constitution and granted by international treaties to which Pakistan is a signatory,” she said.
The gathering demanded all discriminatory laws against women to be abolished and women to be considered equal citizens; end of the jirga system and other extrajudicial systems; no gender-based discrimination in factories and workplaces; justice for the victims’ families of Baldia factory fire; removal of all anti-women content from academic syllabi; a national policy for home-based women workers with laws enacted to safeguard their rights and for improving their working conditions; ratification and insurance of implementation of ILO’s Home Work Convention C177; registration of home-based workers and their contractors; providing social security including healthcare, education, employment, pension and other facilities to home-based workers; and abolishment of dark traditions such as Karo-Kari, Wani, Watta-Satta, Sawara, underage marriages and women trafficking.