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Home based workers- prime victims of gender-based violence

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In the patriarchal structures of our society violence against women is considered as a normal practice. Where no matter what working status a woman enjoys, she is seen in subordinate roles. Women are taught to be submissive and inferior beings. Both men and women can be victims of violence; however, women are more vulnerable due their positions within the home, at workplace and in society. Violence is any act or threat that result in suffering for women.
This violence can be physical, sexual, economic and mental in nature. Women often face oppression since the beginning of age. Over the years the common practice of patriarchy has become deep-rooted with creating a mindset that strongly see women as a problem to society and a threat to male dominancy, therefore, needs to be restricted in certain roles in subordination.
In Pakistan, domestic violence is considered a private matter, as it occurs in the family. Spousal abuse is rarely considered a crime socially unless it takes an extreme form of murder or attempted murder. Various forms of domestic violence include physical, mental and emotional abuse. According to an estimate, approximately 70 to 90% of Pakistani women are subjected to domestic violence. Almost one in three married Pakistani women report in case of facing physical violence from their husbands. Only 22% of women are formally reported to participate in the Pakistani workforce. There are presently 12 million Home-Based Workers (HBWs) in Pakistan and 80% of them are women and their number is growing with each passing day. Due to lack of health and safety measures these workers face accidents and suffer from different diseases. Despite all of their hardships, these home-based workers are not even considered as workers under any labour laws, which is why they are deprived of all facilities and perks provided under these laws.
Women are the targets of such discriminatory behaviour by society, including profit hungry industrialists, which makes the lives of working women even more difficult. Industries were outsourcing work to women at home while not caring about their rights to adequate wages, health and safety allowances, social security and others. It is observed that investors exploit women and underage workers by offering them the lowest rates.
Merely 27-year-old Sultana is a true example of gender-based violence. Sultana was married at a tender age against her will. Carrying orthodox mentality of early child marriage, her mother forced her into an arranged marriage. Her in-laws detested her presence and to them, she was a maid for their house. Socialized to be a submissive woman like many others in our society, Sultana never raised her brows on her ill-behaved in-laws. When Sultana gave birth to her first child, a daughter, she was being verbally abused by in-laws as bearer of “solely daughters”.
Behaviour of her in-laws worsened upon birth of her second daughter. She tolerated the abuse for the sake of her family and to protect their honour as divorce is associated with stigma for a woman. She thought that things will change as later she gave birth to a son, but soon her husband planned to go to Dubai for job, leaving her behind with his cruel mother, his sister and her husband. Aware of the lecherous acts of her male in-laws, Sultana demanded her husband to shift her in a new house as she wasn’t comfortable with her male in-laws alone in his absence. Her husband refused to fulfil any such demands. Sultana was more worried about her daughters than herself. All her pleas were disregarded by her husband which led her to take a strong decision to file for divorce. Unconcerned for her children, her husband agreed and fled to Dubai leaving Sultana and 3 children behind.
Having dexterity in stitching and stone work Sultana started as a home-based worker to earn for her children. She was introduced to HomeNet Pakistan (HNP) by HNP social mobilizer. HomeNet Pakistan strives to empower HBWs to realize their economic, political and social rights through the strengthening of their respective organizations, adoption of fair-trade practices, resulting in the improvement of their working and living conditions. So, soon Sultana became a member of HNP and attended numerous trainings to empower herself socially and economically.
Among these trainings were financial literacy, leadership, ecommerce, 3-day capacity building, group formation, business development, digital literacy and training of trainers. With the help of these trainings, Sultana was able to gain bargaining skills, communication skills, costing and soon she formed her own group of 50 women home workers. Initially Sultana used to work for someone but with progress in work, she started getting work in bulk, enough to provide to her own group of workers.
She further attended the awareness sessions of HNP that included awareness on HBWs law, study circle on early child marriage, violence against women and exposure visits to market and women development department. The exposure visits acquainted her with the knowledge of various products and their worth in market as well as knowledge of women’s right.
About 95% of home-based women workers are unaware of their rights and thus end up becoming an easy victim of gender discrimination. Upon consulting the advocate through the exposure visit, arranged by HNP, Sultana received guidance and soon filed a case against her husband for maintenance of their children. Sultana believed she could’ve done this early but she was unaware of her rights and laws for women. She was at a stage where she begged her husband to stay and now, she has empowered and become economically independent that her ex-husband wants to reunite with her. Sultana believes she is much better off now and she will not sacrifice her peace for any further gender-based violence.