Vulnerable female HBWs finding it hard to make both ends meet | Pakistan Today

Vulnerable female HBWs finding it hard to make both ends meet

Working for long hours, for low wages and under poor working conditions, female home-based workers (HBW) are particularly susceptible to exploitation and violation of their economic and social rights. Having been relegated to work at the bottom of the supply/value chain, they occupy particularly vulnerable positions in the national and global economy.
HBWs occupy a defenseless position in the economy, not just in Pakistan but also in Thailand, Nepal and India. Poonsap Tulaphan from Thailand, manager of the Foundation of Labor and Employment Promotion, Bangkok, said that around 50 percent of Thailand’s population consists of women. They consist of an equally large percentage of workers in the country’s informal sector and are almost equal to men in number.
“About 34 million women work in the informal sector,” said Poonsap. “Official statistics say that about 500,000 women out of these are home based workers, but we believe that the number is higher than that. It must be about double,” she said. As Poonsap’s description suggested, home-based workers in Thailand are facing similar, if not the same problems as home-based women workers in Pakistan. They work on similar items and face the same kind of situations.
“Women in Thailand who work from home, make a large variety of items,” she said. “Blouses, clothes, shoes, food processing; work is done at home to a very large extent. But despite the level of their skills and work, they remain underpaid workers who slave for long hours from early morning to late night, sometimes facing hazardous conditions. For instance women who work with cotton that enters their respiratory system, gives them breathing problems while several women sit in cramped positions to get their work done and this can result in reproductive problems,” she said.
She said that the women were house bound and had no proper work place. Working from home could raise serious issues such as a lack of space and ventilation, interference by domestic chores, and the spoiling of goods, she added. “Sometimes a shirt can be stained with something from home, like food, for instance. The stain may be very trivial, but the clients refuse to accept it, and in fact the woman must pay for it herself from the minimal pay she gets,” said Poonsap.
She said that the supporters of this cause lobbied for laws and petitions which seemed to be the only way to get things done. Poonsap said that the government had conceded in paying 30 percent of the contribution after which women could easily get their social security. “The political conflict in Thailand has broadened the gap between rich and poor. Helping HBWs can help solve this problem and perhaps reduce the gap to a large extent,” she said.
Thailand exports bamboo, food, garments, leather, shoes, cars and electronic items. “One meal is about 30 Bhaats,” said Poonsap. “To survive the women must earn at least 100 a day. Although the per capita income is 200 Bhaats, some women earn only about one fourth of this,” she said.
NEPAL: Om Thapaliya, executive director of Home Net Nepal, concurred that the situation of women home-based workers in his country was also the same. “They are over worked and underpaid. The majority of HBWs in Nepal work eight hours a day and earn only about 1,750 Nepalese Rupees in a month, whereas the basic minimum monthly wage defined by the government is NRs 6,250,” said Thapaliya.
Similar to what Poonsap said, these women workers are very vulnerable because of lack of light, fresh air, bad sanitation facilities etc. “They have to adjust in hardly a 10 by 10 square feet of a room to live, cook, care for children, work, store the raw materials, as well as the finished product and finally they are left with not much space in that room,” said Thapaliya. “Their occupation is vulnerable but they are excluded from the national social security mechanism too.”
Thapaliya said that Home Net Nepal’s intrinsic objective was to provide recognition to HBWs to help them lead a dignified life with better and more justifiable wages through legal and economic protection. He said that a policy had been drafted but not yet issued by the government. “The Nepalese government is now focusing on the drafting of a new constitution,” he said.
“There is no national data on HBWs in the country. The Nepal government is now supporting by bringing national data through national census and has formed a task force to formulate a separate policy on HBWs. Concerning the issue of social security, the government had shown support but had not taken any significant action. But the Ministry of Labor has shown interest in the ratification of the ILO Convention 177 on HBWs.”
INDIA: Sapna Joshi, regional coordinator for Home Net India highlighted some issues in India during her meeting with the media. India comprises a very large market share of products by home based women workers. “A major part of the labour force in India works in the informal economy and out of this total number of non-agricultural women workers, about 53 percent are HBWs. The contribution of the informal sector to national economy is 93 percent of the labour force, 62 percent of the gross domestic product, 50 percent of the total savings of the country and 39 percent of the exports of the country
“In India, there are about 30 million home-based workers, who are engaged in bidi (a type of cigarette) making, agarbatti (incense stick) rolling, sewing, embroidery, food processing, producing readymade garments and handicrafts, among many other occupations. In addition, they engage in small household trades. They work in their own homes under poor living and working conditions. They do not work in public spaces and are generally not open to public view.”
Joshi said that within the informal sector, these women were the most vulnerable. The precarious nature of the rapidly expanding and female-dominated informal economy left HBWs with little or no access to legal and/or social protective measures, she added. In the absence of such protection, and information about their basic rights, HBWs have little agency and bargaining power. Women constitute a majority of the HBWs, which also explains why they are rarely acknowledged as ‘workers’ despite their being co-breadwinners – and often the sole breadwinners in their families.