Women Domestic Workers: Citizenship Rights, Capacity Building and Advocacy

Sponsor: L & T Hydrocarbon Engineering Ltd

Even as women domestic helps eke out a living at the heart of Mumbai city, they are the most invisible category of informal sector workers. Their everyday experiences at the workplace and their homes are marred by long working hours, low pay, frequent cases of harassment at the workplace, insecurity of work, absence of social security, high incidences of domestic violence, financial vulnerability and serious health issues. How do we address this complex set of issues and accompanying disempowerment that are associated with the intimate spaces of their homes and that of their employers? What role do public and community-level institutions and organisations play in addressing these specific concerns of women? How do we restore women’s issues within the framework of citizenship rights, wherein they as active working members of their families and the city, should have access to municipal and community services to secure their interests and status as citizens? Motivated by these concerns, the project was undertaken among women domestic workers, especially the migrant population, of the Govandi and Mankhurd area of Mumbai.

The project had two broad objectives: one, to conduct a major survey, related literature review, interviews with stakeholders such as employers’ collectives, mahila mandals, union leaders and NGO workers, and also document women’s narratives regarding their vulnerabilities/opportunities, lack of protection frameworks, lack of access to public institutions and resources; and second, organise capacity building workshops by bringing together various stakeholders and select groups of women domestic workers to provide a platform for information sharing, capacity building, advocacy and bridging the social and political distance between them. Experts were consulted at every stage of the project, during the survey of 275 women domestic workers as well as before organising the capacity building workshops.

One of the major contributions of this project has been to develop a model for capacity building and advocacy that could be replicated in future for addressing citizenship rights of women workers within the informal sector. The project reached out to 100 women through two workshops that also involved various stakeholders which included bank officials, municipal corporators, union leaders, micro credit and finance professionals, social workers/family planning/occupational health experts and medical doctors. The workshops were highly appreciated and the women participated in all the activities with enthusiasm and interest. Certificate of participation, a small stipend and a well-designed custom-made manual was provided to the women participants. Their feedbacks were instructive, in that they revealed how women interpreted the benefits of the workshop. Besides the fact that they, for the first time, got an opportunity to meet municipal and bank officials from their area, as well as share their concerns with them, the workshops provided them with an opportunity to interact with each other and also build friendships and networks. Women were also taken for a field visit to the nearest police station where they met police personnel who apprised them of the work they do, how and in which contexts they could be approached, and assured them of all help in case of any crisis.

As a CSR initiative, this project sought to combine academic research with meaningful intervention that positively contributes to women’s lives, builds their confidence through effective stakeholder engagement and management, and secures their citizenship rights through capacity building and advocacy.