India: ActionAid Association organised a national consultation on gender-based violence against women workers in the informal sector of India. Organised at India International Centre, New Delhi, it was part of ActionAid Association’s study on gender-based violence against informal women workers in the country. The fieldwork for the study was conducted with women home-based workers in Delhi; domestic workers in Kolkata, West Bengal; and women agricultural workers in Bihar.
The consultation began with sharing of findings of the study amongst the diverse pool of attendees. There was representation from various community-based organisations working with street vendors, construction site workers, domestic workers, and other informal sector workers, besides the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), journalists, activists and leading women’s rights organisations such as Jagori. The objective of the consultation was to discuss the various forms of violence faced by women in the informal sector and to find mechanisms to tackle the same – at institutional as well as community levels.
Swapna from Paschimbango Griho Paricharika Samity (PGPS), a domestic workers’ collective in West Bengal, stated that the violence that domestic workers face is not just physical or sexual in nature. It is deeply rooted in structural inequalities and intrinsically tied to their identity as domestic workers. Furthermore, if they do share instances of violence faced at the workplace, they end up facing stigma and harassment at home. They are blamed and, in many instances, even discouraged from working.
Kanchan, a street vendor from Delhi, talked about cases of violence that women street vendors routinely face, including harassment from male street vendors and the authorities who remove them arbitrarily and even break their carts.
Pranav Jha from the National Human Rights Commission shared that the Commission has improved their online complaint mechanism and has begun disposing off the complaints rapidly. He implored more people to lodge complaints on this online portal.
Following in-depth deliberations, the gathering unanimously agreed that there is a strong need for spreading awareness on complaint mechanisms as well as to ensure last mile connectivity of complaint mechanisms to make them more accessible to the most marginalised women workers of the informal sector. Additionally, it is imperative to activate and further strengthen the Local Complaints Committees and to ensure their swift and efficient functioning.
It was further agreed that women in the informal sector must be identified, duly registered with their employers, unionised, and be given a voice and platform. National policies for groups such as home-based workers and domestic workers must be formulated and implemented, clearly defining their work, working hours, days off, and wages, and ensuring their maternity and health benefits. It was strongly felt that the creation of a safe workspace would help prevent violence. This would require clearly defining, regulating and monitoring informal workspaces through vigilance committees and complaint mechanisms.
The consultation ended on the possibility of forming a feminist solidarity network to work on the issue of gender-based violence and for different civil society organisations, community-based organisations, activists, and policymakers to come together for improved access to justice and the creation of safe workspaces for women workers in the informal sector.