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Why Are Domestic Workers Not Lauded And Considered ‘Essential’?

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The Indian middle class roughly constitutes 300–350 million of the population according to statistical evidence. History has it that this middle class is rooted in socio-cultural entitlement and post Covid-19 breakout, it has undoubtedly amped up to a greater extent as is evident through the case of domestic workers who predominantly work for these middle-class families.

While migrant workers, doctors and nurses have received much attention on national media, house workers have been typically absent. During the initial stages of the lockdown, some members of middle-class families were temporarily relieving domestic workers for their reluctance to pay money. There was also a certain understanding mass who provided them with paid leaves.

But as the lockdown has prolonged and the pandemic has taken on this monstrosity, more and more people have given up on their domestic workers on some excuse, leaving them jobless and paranoid in economic hardship. Either pay cuts or complete indifference has relegated these workers who stand to suffer the most.

The Indian Middle class’ attitude towards domestic workers has primarily been one of ignorance and steeped with caste-class hierarchies. House workers are not only losing their jobs but are seen as probable carriers of the disease. Although this has increased their visibility as a pertinent section of the population, it has only done so in a negative manner. The idea that these workers can be potential carriers of Covid-19 only strengthens the sense of social stature that the middle class enjoys and the concept of purity that these workers are subjected to in all its notorious depreciation.

domestic workers protest
There are over 4 million domestic workers in India as of today. Nearly two thirds of this workforce is comprised of women.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that a lot of domestic workers were not given their salaries on time or were paid less. They are even evicted due to the inability to pay rent or on the assumption that they were probable carriers of the disease. Caste and class differences have made it difficult for domestic workers to resume work in middle-class homes successfully. Typically, workers worked in more than one house, which supposedly increased the risk of contracting and spreading the disease. 

The segregation of domestic workers has also brought to light other aspects of politico-legal fissures in the country’s law-making decisions for them. The lack of social and financial security has made redressal almost impossible for domestic workers. At present, only two legal frameworks for workers are available, the Unorganised Workers Act 2008 and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2013. But there is no concrete law that mandates the workers’ financial and overall plight during such over-arching situations. 

The pandemic has also made it evident to the middle and upper classes that domestic workers are indispensable. Everyday jobs have become tortuous for many. So it is only viable that workers are given their due. The first step to that is to consider their work as paid and effective labour. Although some states have implemented minimum wage plans, it largely varies across the country. It will be feasible if a proper legal framework and action plan are put in place regarding eviction and payment of workers. One way of doing it is to sign agreements that will ensure this and prevent workers from losing their jobs suddenly without notice.

The Indian middle and upper classes are also mostly ignorant about the health of domestic workers in their homes. A common assumption about domestic workers is that they fake ill-health to get leaves or relief from work. While it might be valid for a certain percentage of people, it is extremely disagreeable on the part of people to presume this. 

The plight of women workers is even sadder. While there are ongoing struggles for day-offs during menstruation among working women circles, the same is discarded for a domestic worker who is supposed to be ever-present, failing which, other mitigations are arranged, like pay cuts. The gendered nature of working-class people is subjected to such scorns many a day.

Thus, the middle class expunges the workers and enforces itself on them based on their vulnerabilities. The ever-changing democratic fabric of the country should address such everyday issues from a directive and focal point of view to relieve itself of caste, class and gender biases to a more productive growing society.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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