Homenet South Asia called for a national policy for home-based workers on the occasion of the International Day for Home-based Workers i.e. October 20, exactly three weeks ago when most channels were already into loop coverage of the Diwali celebrations in Ayodhya and the elections to Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Predictably enough, it went unreported and exposed the big media’s amnesia when it comes to such issues. But the Moderne Mahagun fracas is still fresh in our memories.
Why should it matter? For beginners, the numbers are massive, as per the UN Women, 85 per cent women are engaged in vulnerable employment, especially in home-based work (37.4 million workers), domestic work (4.2 million workers) and construction work (5.7 million women). According to the 2011 Census, number of domestic workers has increased by 120 per cent from 1991 to 2011 after economic liberalisation. According to the Domestic Workers Sector Skills Council, helmed by Amod Kanth, the domestic workers in India are 20 million, and it is a conservative estimate, by its own admission. As per Arjun Sengupta Committee report, 93% of the country is engaged in the informal sector. The numbers are staggering, any which way one looks at them, which is why informal workers deserve way more media attention.
But this article is not about informal workers, it is about the child care challenges they encounter.
WIEGO, Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising, a global advocacy network, has come out with a five country study (India, Thailand, South Africa, Ghana and Brazil) on the challenges to child care that informal workers encounter. WEIGO also came into prominence during the Moderne Mahagun stand-off with their draft legislation for regulation of domestic workers’ working condition.
The countries are purposely selected in the study i.e. countries in the Global South where social policy and welfare programmes are still under construction. The countries represent three continents housing most of the low and middle income countries i.e. Asia, Africa and Latin America. All the respondents in the study are working women with children younger than seven years to care for.
The in-country researches were done by organisations affiliated to WIEGO such as SEWA in India, Homenet Thailand and SAIWA in Thailand, WEIGO Brazil and WEIGO Ghana in Brazil and Ghana respectively. The research and writing is led by Laura Alfers of WEIGO global team, who has also done the South African leg of the research.
From rag pickers to tailors, from street vendors to construction workers, from women engaged as maids in others’ households to agricultural labourers in peri-urban farms, women want day-care for their children, not just for the feeding and care, but also the learning and stimulation their children will get. A sentiment echoed by Sumitra Mishra of Mobile Creches also in our launch episode.
But only respondents from Brazil were most articulate, felt, quality child care should be a service provided by the state, or heavily subsidised by the state. Surprisingly and sadly, even women from India, who used the ICDS services, the Anganwadi centres, didn’t demand it as their entitlement vocally or vehemently. Says something about the world’s largest democracy and the citizen-state engagement and such low benchmarks for public service demand!
The study threw very specific set of demands from the respondent informal workers for their dream child care centres, and these demands hold good across countries and continents:
The study concludes with a call to recognise informal workers’ rights to access child care. Speaking to Newslaundry at the study’s India launch, WIEGO India representative Shalini Sinha shared, “Access to childcare needs to be seen as an integral part of women workforce participation. India has one of the lowest women’s labour force participation and lack of access to childcare is a major reason for the same.” A sentiment echoed in an earlier piece by this author, No country for working women.
The new national nutrition strategy of the NITI Aayog calls for prioritisation of creches and care for children. But will the call translate to reality? Many women’s organisations and child rights organisations are pinning their hopes on the new strategy. This is one agenda that brings the feminists, the child rights advocates and the nutrition advocates together. Will their hope hold? The jury is still out.
WEIGO’s child care initiative study can be accessed here.
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