India’s Home-Based Working Women Struggle For Recognition

As per WIEGO, a global research - policy network, there are nearly 38 million home-based workers across India - 40 per cent of which are women.
For 35-year-old Rani, a humble sewing machine is her best friend. Daily household chores and her three children consume most of her morning and evening time. She, however, make it a point to dedicate her afternoons to sewing, embroidering and making bangles to supplement her family’s income. “It feels good to be paid for the hard work you put in,” she told NDTV.

Rani is one of the 150 home-based working women in New Delhi’s New Ashok Nagar area. Organised by Ruaab, a project under a non-profit called SEWA, these women are sub-contracted to make clothes and accessories for big brands such as Fabindia. They get paid per piece and work for about four hours a day. They make between Rs 700 to Rs 4000 a month. Mostly it’s stuck at Rs 700, they say.

“For the last few months, very little work has been coming in. Companies have stopped giving us work,” Rani said. 

Kusum, another home-based worker, echoes her sentiments. “We need more work to come in. Big contractors pick up most of the work that comes from companies, and we lose out.”  

Rupa, a SEWA worker under the Ruaab project, said, the low number of orders is because global companies are wary of home-based workers and prefer compliant factories.

As per WIEGO, a global research – policy network, there are nearly 38 million home-based workers across India – 40 per cent of which are women. While some are self-employed, others are sub-contracted to make products for large global companies and are an important part of the supply chain. However, they lack any form of legal recognition. 

Firoza Mehrotra, strategy advisor at HomeNet South Asia, an organisation working for the rights of home-based workers, said that home-based workers are not recognised as workers at all. “People think they’re just doing some work in their homes as a time pass, but that’s not true. They’re contributing to the family’s income, community’s income and national income since they are a part of global supply chains,” she said.

While some global companies do recognise their existence, many of them don’t, she added. 

Home-based working women also have to deal with social restrictions on mobility and household responsibilities. “So much time is spent by a woman home-based worker to collect water, fire wood, go to municipal tap to get water. It cuts into a productive time. People don’t recognise the gender angle, but women are definitely more marginalised because of this,” Ms Mehrotra said. 

Sarita, 36, is a mother of two and her dream is to start her own tailoring business. “I don’t have anyone to support me emotionally or financially or to give me the strength to do something on my own,” she said.

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