Lahore: Basheeran Bibi, 50, a home-based workers prepares paper bags for livelihood as her husband passed away five years ago and earns 40 rupees for making 1000 bags a day. It was a shock to her when she came to know that she is a patient of tuberculosis, a couple of months ago.

Tears rolled down her face when she told News Lens Pakistan, “I am not afraid of dying but what bothers me is my treatment. I don’t have money to spend for it or I would prefer to feed my two daughters instead of taking medicine.” She had developed the diseases while working in unsanitary environment. Six months ago, her cousin and another home-based worker Tehmina succumbed to cancer as she could not bear the medical expenditures.

Women in Pakistan comprise half of the country’s population. The issues they face are so diverse and problematic that life has become a misery for them, says Samina, a home-based worker from Lahore.

Samina, a resident of Daroghawala, a remote locality of northern Lahore, told News Lens Pakistan about the plight of home-based female workers. She said that the informal sector plays an important role in the regional and national economy, but it is rather ironic that there are no health care facilities for members of this sector.

“Women and girls in the area where I live usually stitch clothes, bags, shoes and do embroidery work to earn bread and butter for themselves, but the sordid working conditions are proving to be detrimental for them. Dim light, narrow rooms, poor sanitation, polluted environment and domestic pressure further intensify their misery,” Samina said.

Samina is not the only one facing such issues, there are countless examples of women who are struggling just as she is. The pinnacle of the problem can be observed first hand at the outskirts of Lahore, where home-based workers can be found in abundance. In addition to domestic chores, these women do various other jobs to earn a livelihood. “Due to our conservative society, they cannot leave the house for long periods of time, hence they avail every possible opportunity to work at home so they may have some income,” she added.

A young girl, Kishwar, another home-based worker, says in an interview with News Lens Pakistan that most of the home-based working women remain unidentified, invisible and unrecognized for their efforts because Pakistan has a male dominated society. “Our health issues are so severe that they have reduce the workers’ lifespan to half of that of an average person.”

She said, “Embroidery work involves the use of chemicals to fix the artificial pearls onto the clothes. These chemicals give off toxic fumes, which are inhaled by the workers with every stitch and when they feed their children, the situation becomes worse. These women are plagued with diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, joint problems, poor eyesight and severe headaches.” she said. She laments that the government hospitals as well as private organizations do not relieve them of their problems, rather they turn a blind eye.

After the Eighteenth Amendment in the Constitution of Pakistan, the rights of home-based workers come under the federal government. “We are trying hard for the approval of a suitable policy and legislation for home-based workers, but even after so many years we have yet to succeed in our efforts,” said Maria Kokab, Senior Programme Officer Home Net (a network of organizations working for recognition and labor rights of home-based workers).

She said that it is very odd and peculiar for the government to be delaying such an important issue. Although the actual number of home-based workers is unknown as no study or data has been compiled in this regard, the figures estimate it to be in millions. These women work in every district of the province without the basic right of social benefits. They also need special medical care and soft loans for establishing the small business.

Rabia Yasin, Assistant Director Women Development Department Punjab said, “Government of Punjab has a dedicated department for the uplift and betterment of women named Women’s Development Department. Although this department has initiated various programs, these programs have not benefited home-based workers’ health crisis.” She said that WDD has initiated a project with the help of International Labor Organization (ILO) through which it is training 1000 female domestic workers in Lahore. This training includes basic housekeeping, cooking and care-tactics for children and the elderly. It spans over a period of 36 days and each trainee receives a stipend of Rs.3000 for transportation.

She said, “This is just a pilot project as we will continue to expand it across the whole province at a later stage. As many as 400 women have completed their training and another batch of 200 is under training process. In addition to this, we are working on a ‘rozgar’ bank scheme which will provide these women with loans to start their own businesses.” Daycare centers and hostels for working women are our other projects but no major program is under consideration regarding the health care problems, she added saying, “We might focus on it at a later stage.”

The average monthly income of a home-based worker in Pakistan is approximately equal to 30-40 US dollars. In order to struggle for such a measly amount, the entire family works under the same roof at times as they have no other means of livelihood. Poverty is a grave issue as the income of the husband alone cannot cover all the expenses, hence women are required to contribute as well.


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