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Activists demand equal wages for women, implementation of home-based workers act

Updated March 08, 2019

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A YOUNG woman lights candles at the vigil outside the press club on Thursday. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
A YOUNG woman lights candles at the vigil outside the press club on Thursday. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: A vigil was organised on the eve of 108th International Women’s Day by the Home Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) Pakistan outside the Karachi Press Club on Thursday to remember and recognise the efforts, achievements and sacrifices of the textile and garment factory worker women of North America and Europe who initiated a struggle against the capitalist system which today has taken the shape of a global labour movement for social rights and gender equality and justice.

The themes of the 108th International Women’s Day are ‘Balance for Better’ and ‘Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change’.

The participants in the rally held up placards with pictures of human rights activists such as Asma Jahangir, Tahira Mazhar Ali, Mai Bakhtawar, Comrade Shanta and Comrade Afsal Tauseef, who may not have been there with them in person but were very much there in spirit.

They chanted slogans demanding equal wages as men for equal work along with demands for the implementation of the Sindh Home-Based Workers Act 2018.

Mahnaz Rahman of Women’s Action Forum said that the chief minister of Sindh should ask the labour minister to implement the Sindh Home-Based Workers Act. “Why are the poor hard-working persons who work from home not treated with respect?” she asked.

‘Why are persons who work from home not treated with respect?’

Karamat Ali of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) said that the law was there but the making of its rules was taking too much time.

“Still, we hope to see some progress by next week following which the registration of home-based workers will begin making them eligible for health allowance and pension according to the labour policy,” he said. Saira Feroze, general secretary of United Home-based Women Workers Union said that it was sad that home-based workers were not treated like regular factory workers.

She also said that even though there were men too working from home, the women doing the same were still at a disadvantage due to their gender. “Where a male worker gets Rs22 for his work, a female worker doing the same work gets Rs10,” she informed.

Kulsum Jamal, a women’s rights activist, said that observing Women’s Day was not about women fighting men for equal rights. “We are fighting society and the system which goes against us. Even if a man loses his job, it is the woman in his house who is worse affected. So she is fighting for the man and for herself as well making it two fights,” she pointed out.

Nasir Mansoor of National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) said that they were with women in their struggle for their rights.

“Women are as hard-working as their male counterparts so there is no reason they should be considered weaker or any less than men. And the story of all home-based workers is also the same. There are also men along with women who do home-based labour and they are as hard-working as any other factory worker so should be treated with equal respect,” he said.

Shabnam Azeem, HBWWF central leader, said that following the traditions of the women’s movement, the peasant women of Okara, lady health workers, home-based working women, affected women of the Baldia fire factory and women belonging to other walks of life had written a new history of their successful struggles. “Today in Pakistan when warring mentality and religious extremism is rising and the country is being enslaved by the imperialist financial institutions, it is the working women and their organisations that are resisting it with the masses and other progressive organisations and challenging the anti-people policies of rulers,” she said.

Saeeda Khatoon, mother of Aijaz Ahmed, who lost his life in the Baldia factory fire in 2012, and who now represents the Association of Affectees of Baldia Factory Fire told Dawn that they were travelling in the shape of a rally to Hyderabad this year where they would be walking from the Comrade Haider Bux Chowk to the Hyderabad Press Club on Friday.

“Usually, our Mehnatkash Aurat Rally sees women from Hyderabad and other parts of Sindh joining us in Karachi. But this time all hard-working women will join them in Hyderabad,” she said.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2019