KARACHI: Speakers at a seminar held on Friday at the Karachi University (KU) demanded that the government recognise home-based workers, make laws immediately to safeguard their rights and ensure they receive fair wages for their hard work.

The event was organised by the Centre of Excellence for Women’s Studies in collaboration with the Higher Education Commission and the Department of Social Work, KU, the provincial women development department and the Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Niswan to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day.

“I am shocked to know from a home-based worker invited here that she earns only Rs15 for sewing a pair of jeans that is priced quite high in the market. One could not imagine the level of exploitation these home-based workers are exposed to,” said KU vice chancellor Prof Mohammad Qaiser during his speech.

He praised the role of women in society and said they had the key to the nation’s progress. Thus, it was important that they received education, he added.

The government, he said, had the responsibility to ensure fair wages to home-based workers, most of whom comprised women. “By doing so, not only the government will help improve life of these disadvantaged women, but it will also give a boost to the national economy,” he said.

Speakers who included Dr Tajnees Pirzada of the Shah Abdul Latif University, Dr Misbah Qureshi of the Sindh University, Mehnaz Rehman of the Aurat Foundation and Dr Shagufta Nasreen briefed the audience about the hardships the home-based workers were facing in the absence of a law on their rights and because of weak governance.

They urged the government to take guidance from the C-177 convention of the International Labour Organisation on home-based workers.

Low wages, prolonged working hours and unsafe working conditions were some major problems being faced by these workers that were yet to be officially recognised.

These issues, they said, could only be effectively addressed if efforts were made to change class-system prevailing in society. More and more people, it was said, were getting into informal work because of rise in inflation and increasing poverty.

“During my research, I came across people who have lost their thumb and finger impressions due to handling of toxic chemicals,” said Dr Misbah Qureshi while sharing findings of her research with the audience, adding that around 30,000 people were part of Hyderabad’s bangle industry.

Dr Nasreen Aslam Shah who held dual charge of director of the Centre of Excellence for Women’s Studies and the Department of Social Work, said that her research focused on the problems being faced by ageing women in home-based work.

Later, the 10th volume of Pakistan Journal of Gender Studies, Journal of Applied Social Sciences that was printed after a gap of 54 years and a book, The Ageing Home-based Women Workers in Karachi were launched on the occasion.

Part of the programme was also a display of hand-made items that included flower arrangements, embroidered clothes, home accessories and carpets.

Published in Dawn March 7th, 2015

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