By Zofeen, Ebrahim.
Zehra Khan has much to celebrate on International Women’s Day. It is exactly four months since members of the Home-Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) in Sindh province, Pakistan – of which Khan is secretary general – finally received legal recognition.The province’s chief minister, Syed Murad Ali Shah, signed a policy that means the region’s estimated 5 million home-based workers – the majority of whom are women – can register as workers and access benefits.
“It was an important day not only for the history of the labour movement in Sindh and Pakistan, but also for south Asia,” says Khan, whose federation has more than 4,500 members. “Once they are legally accepted as workers, they can be registered with the government-run social security institution, [and] be part of [the] workers’ welfare board to enjoy benefits like health, education and housing, as well as those offered after retirement,” she adds.
Almost 80% of an estimated 12 million Pakistani home-based workers are women. As well as unpaid domestic work, the women often spend up to 10 hours a day making garments, footwear, sports goods, and arts and crafts behind closed doors. Their work is often invisible to the rest of the world, despite having propped up the country’s informal economy for so long.