Illustration by Faraz Ahmed
Illustration by Faraz Ahmed

Labour Day is the day to honour and celebrate workers and the importance of their contributions to the nation and society. It is a day to say thank you to those who do hard work for us in a million ways and make our lives better.

Although labourers are all around us — gardeners, drivers, cooks, cleaners, construction workers, vendors, garbage collectors, etc., but this Labour Day, I want to bring attention to the roles of female labourers that often get overlooked, not just in urban areas but rural regions too.

Just like male labourers, these females are also the backbone supporting our daily lives and the comforts that we often take for granted. For instance, these female workers toil relentlessly alongside men, doing equally strenuous tasks — lifting heavy loads, ploughing land, operating machinery, working as warehouse staff, janitors and cleaners, construction labourers, workers at factories, farmers, retail employees, garbage collectors, household helpers and many more. However, biologically, women are more vulnerable to the tolls of such heavy or cruel work.

Unfortunately, these women have no choice. They lack the financial resources to prioritise their well-being; the result is they face more health issues like chronic body pain, respiratory diseases, arthritis and permanent spinal injuries to name a few.

Sadly, this vicious cycle continues as a lack of medical care and rest only deteriorates their condition over the years. This Labour Day, we must acknowledge the role of labourers across all fields. Whether it’s a woman moulding bricks, or a janitor keeping our buildings clean — they are the ones keeping things going smoothly while being crushed under the weight of their problems in life.

Many of us are familiar with having part or full-time maids, cooks, nannies or other household helpers — typically women from underprivileged backgrounds. While they ease our daily burdens, have we paused to consider the tremendous physical and emotional toil their jobs entail?

Let’s start from their home. From a young age, many of these girls help out with a tonne of household chores, like cooking, cleaning and looking after their younger siblings in their own homes. The responsibilities keep on growing. Later, they are pushed to become household helpers. Their days begin before dawn with arduous tasks like mopping, sweeping and doing dishes for multiple families. The constant bending and lifting heavy loads like buckets of water, batters their bodies relentlessly.

But kids, like your parents’ have an end to their workday, these women’s days don’t end when they return home. They have their families to cook for, clean up after, children to look after, etc. Sustaining this unending cycle of chores is enormously draining, yet crucial for the basic needs of these women.

In rural areas of Sindh and Punjab, even under the scorching heat, you’ll find women working 12-14 hour days carrying extremely heavy bricks, weighing up to 35 pounds, from the kilns to loading areas. The constant bending, lifting and exposure to extreme temperatures cause chronic pain, respiratory issues and many other internal health problems — and that also for very low daily wages.

The situation is similar at construction sites, where women comprise a large portion of the low-skilled labour force. From dawn till dusk, they drag heavy materials like bricks, cement and steel rods. While in agriculture too, women bear an uneven share of the workload — sowing, harvesting, weeding fields and tending to livestock. These female toil relentlessly for very little pay. Carrying hundreds of pounds of produce on their heads, and squatting for hours to pluck crops — their bodies ultimately suffer from various grave health issues.

Sadly, with no enforceable labour laws and often gender discrimination, these female workers are exploited to an extent that we can’t even imagine.

What we can do?

Kids, Labour Day is to recognise the hard work that labourers have done and are doing for us. I would like to advise here that while recognition is the first step, the second should be to provide them with relief from their pain. The pain that most labourers face is that they cannot afford to buy medications or visit the doctor.

The first step should be to observe the labourers around you, like the household helpers, construction workers and street vendors, and learn about their health issues. Talk to the elders in your family or with your friends, and come up with easy solutions to provide the basic facility of medical.

Help them access affordable medical care. Even small actions like providing first-aid kits; urging elders to organise community health camps, or contributing to medical funds can make a big difference in alleviating their silent sufferings.

Remember, it is because of these hard-working people that we can live a decent life with access to all the facilities and necessities we need. They have committed their lives to serving us through their work, be it men or women, it’s time to serve them back in whichever way possible for you.

Let us honour and celebrate the hard work and dedication of individuals in every field.

Published in Dawn, Young World, April 27th, 2024

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