CHALLENGES FOR WOMEN HOME BASED WORKERS OF KARACHI
HomeNet Pakistan is a network of 360 organizations with over 50,000 women members of home-based workers across Pakistan. It was established in 2005 to raise awareness about the economic, social, and domestic and other working conditions of women in the informal economy that constitutes 74% of the informal workforce which contributes towards the country’s economic activities. HomeNet Pakistan has been working to advocate for the recognition and support to the home-based workers, domestic workers and women in the informal economy in order to ensure that they have legal recognition as a worker, security of income, enjoy social protection benefits and participation in governance related to their concerns and livelihood. HomeNet Pakistan, as a member of HomeNet South Asia, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and Development (APWLD) Global Solidarity Economy Forum (GESF) and Clean Cloth campaign strives to empower home-based workers and women in informality to realize their economic, political and social rights through the strengthening of their respective organizations, adoption of fair trade practices, resulting in the improvement of their working and living conditions.”
The informal economy includes workers who do not have employment-based social protection and enterprises which are not incorporated or registered. Pakistan’s informal economy is 74% with the majority of women working invisibly as home workers, domestic workers, contract workers in factories,rural economy, etc. Home-based workers who are subcontracted by national and international supply chains (often called homeworkers) report that they have not received orders or regular orders have not been renewed for weeks, even months. The beginning of the year 2020 has been turned into the year of gloominess and loss, especially for the informal sector workers. Because covid19 has impacted daily wage earners to severity leaving them laid off and without money
In Pakistan where millions of women do piecework for national and international brands, work began to fall off in February as fears of the virus spread. Since many of the raw materials these workers rely on come from different countries including China, they were unable to get supplies early on in the global crisis or had to pay more for inputs. This affected those who produce garments as well as those who assemble electronics, games, and other products.
Neelum an HBWs from Abidabad, Baldia Town, shared that businesses have been halted since the lockdown due to COVID-19. People have been asked to practice social distancing, therefore, her vocational center is also closed. However, she had to pay to the teachers which she paid from her own pocket. She added, as for the ration, even though they have contacted all welfare organizations that claimed to provide ration, as well as government schemes, but they have not received any positive response.
Home-based workers who are self-employed are also without income as governments around the world impose lockdowns. They cannot meet with customers or clients — or even, in provinces like Sindh and Punjab where the shutdown is absolute, venture out for essentials like food.
Also, many were unable to stockpile raw materials before lockdowns began. They might not have had time, storage space or the available cash to do so. This prevents them from using this time in isolation to amass products that they can sell once the lockdown is over.
In many districts /cities, some self-employed home-based workers belong to self-groups or cooperatives that rely on steady orders from brands and social enterprises.
As the situation of the COVID-19 is becoming critical, the economic and household conditions of the women in the informal industry is even more precarious due to the nonavailability of work and their declined household income. Covid-19 has impacted daily wage earners’ home workers to severity leaving them laid off and without money.
Keeping in view the evolving situation where the Government of Pakistan has started the EHSAAS program for the facilitation of ultra-poor, the majority of women from the informal sector are not been able to access the scheme.
A large number of women do not have Computerized National Identity Cards (CNICs) and hence cannot avail relief being offered by the government. The situation is especially precarious for female home-based workers as they are unable to avail relief under the Ehsaas program because they do not fall within the category of daily wagers.
Many women home base workers who were previously beneficiaries of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) have been excluded from the Ehsaas program so they are now unable to benefit from the government’s relief program.
Excluded women are also unaware of any appeals process for the program. There is no platform for redresses at the moment. Increasing lockdowns and unemployment, an increase in crime as well as mental health issues leading to anxiety, depression, etc among the working class are also observed.
Farhana, from Sabri Chowk 11 Orangi town, shared that her entire work is suspended due to COVID-19. These deprived home-based workers are daily wage earners and their only source of income is their work, and now they are not getting any work. All workers are worried that COVID has also affected their mental health. Farhana shared, “Along with the disturbance in work, we have to pay all the household bills and school fees of our children. The schools are closed here and this is not a developed area where online classes can be conducted, even then the school has not provided any compensation in fees.” Attached here is the fee voucher that Farhana paid for her only daughter.
Likewise, Fozia, from Saeedabad, Baldia Town, shared that there was a work routine of all workers that have been disturbed. She mentions, “Our routine was to receive work and deliver it in 3 days but now it is completely disturbed because we have no work due to the lockdown in Karachi.” She explained that she is immensely affected by this pandemics because she is the sole earner of her household, as well as, caretaker of her 3 children. She said, “suspension of one month’s work has given us a loss of 6 months”. Talking about relief response, she informed that workers in her area have not received any ration. Their sole source of earning was their work which depicts that these workers are the most in need of ration but they have not received ration from any means yet. It was appalling that Fozia had to pay school fees for the month of March despite the fact that her children are not provided any online classes as well. She further mentioned that children sit for their exams in April but now due to COVID-19, schools will remain close until May. However, the school has charged examination fees and refused to provide any considerable exemption in fees for the month of April and May. Even religious institutes (Madrasah) are charging fees for every month without exemption.
The most surprising thing that came at the forefront is the partial distribution of rations. In some areas where ration is provided, it is distributed to only a specific cult or community. Rasheeda, an HBW from Musharaf colony Baldia town, informed that ration was brought in her community only to be distributed among specific clan ‘Kachi baradari’. She explained, “There are some underprivileged and some well-off people from Kachi baradari in my area, however, the ration was distributed among all Kachi baradari people and other needy people were neglected because they didn’t belong to that baradari”.
This pandemic has taken a toll on all workers but some have suffered more than others. Sadaf, from Musharaf Colony Baldia town, shared that at times she does not get advance payment for the work that she receives. Her middle person only makes the payment when work is completed and returned. This time, due to lockdown, middle person couldn’t pick the completed work from her, thus, she is left with all the finished products without any payments. She has a group of more than 60 women home-based workers, who work on a per piece that are left unpaid. She stated, “We don’t have any work now and we have not received our previous payments as well”. Talking about ration she further added, “In my area, ration has only been distributed to people of a certain tribe, caste, ethnicity and others not from the same ethnic background have been excluded.”
Haseena Ali, from Nathan Khan Goth Karachi, explained that pandemics have affected her work tremendously. Due to social distancing, HBWs are unable to sit together and make products. Since shops are also closed, workers are unable to purchase raw materials. Haseena recently initiated a vocational center in her area because girls in her area are not allowed to step outside their houses due to strict cultural barriers . She informed that she pleaded parents to enroll their girls in courses so they can utilize their skills. But just when the center was showing progress, it had to be closed due to lockdown. Now, Haseena is going in loss as she has to pay the rent of the center, as well as, salary of the teachers. She initiated this center hoping that she will provide skills to young girls who are otherwise not allowed to leave their houses but outbreak of covid-19 has changed the fate. “It is a huge loss for me and it will take unpredictable months to recover”, she added.
Women home workers from Karachi informed HomeNet Pakistan that none of them have been provided any health facilities. In fact, prices for masks inflated as the virus cases increased in Pakistan, and soon after that there was a shortage of masks. Other than this, home based workers have not received any social protection schemes despite of the fact that Sindh has enacted the HBWs Law in 2018. Usage of mobile apps come with expenses for this working class as majority of them do not have an android and mostly not aware of using the technology of mobile apps. Furthermore, media has played a positive role by creating awareness on protection from covid-19 and taking important measures during this pandemic. Workers also became aware about government schemes through media but they didn’t receive any positive response by government on those schemes.
OPPORTUNITIES & RECOMMENDATIONS
• Informal sector workers lack economic opportunities under Government plans. Production of their products has halted because of the decrease in the market demand. The social distancing has also impacted them adversely as they used to work together in groups for completion of products and orders. Since shops are closed due to lockdown, there is no means for workers to purchase raw materials. Only few workers had some raw materials available in stock and they utilized it to make masks. However, with limited resources they could only produce few of these.
• Promising opportunity for HBWs is to linked with production of physical protective equipment (PPE) via private companies which includes gowns, gloves and face masks. If these women workers are provided contract or bulk order to produce PPE, this will curtail the negative effect of pandemics on them.
• In addition to this, supervision of ration distribution ensuring inclusion of all is important in order to avoid any biasness. Workers who earn a salary and are able to bear expenses should be supported in business related activities through provision of interest free loans. • The underprivileged workers who are unable to get the minimum wage, should be provided monthly/fortnightly ration or money schemes by government such as, ‘EHSAAS program’ for a period of three months ensuring amount equal to minimum wage of the province.
• Provision of household Ration cards should be introduced in order to limit social interaction and ensure provision of ration.
• Lists of beneficiaries of the Ehsaas relief programme needs to be updated in order to include persons who were slightly above the poverty line/PMT score but have now fallen under it. Women Home-based workers (micro level own account and piece rate workers) are a confirmed group to have fallen under the poverty line.
• Community level socio-demographic and economic data collected by CSOs must be used. Based on this data, local CSOs can immediately reach out to community members who need assistance.
• For women and members of other marginalized groups who do not have CNICs, temporary identification numbers based on household data should be issued for 6 months making them eligible to avail of the existing and new coming up schemes.
• Furthermore, in posh areas of Karachi children are given online classes. However, people in peri-urban areas are deprived of facilities such as net and online classes thus, school fees for the months of March, April, and May should be exempted for them. Also, the facility of online schooling should be introduced for the peri Urban and slums of Karachi.
• In addition to this, people who earn up to minimum wage on normal bases should be either exempted or at least be given compensation in gas, water, and electricity bills. This will not only eliminate the burden of expenses from them, it will minimize the household expenditure. • The HBWs leaders across the city should be provided master training sessions for creating awareness among the community groups preventing them from inflicting with viruses.
• The women home base workers should be linked up with the private sector for generating economic livelihood activities at their doorsteps.
• The women’s home workers need legal social protection as under the Sindh HBWs Act, 2018.