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Protecting their rights

Plan International Pakistan works in a number of slums to empower women domestic workers. With the support of Pakistan Workers Federation, the first ever domestic workers union was formulated. Efforts are being made to have this union recognised formally by the Social Welfare Department.

Most young girls and women living in Islamabad’s slums work as domestic workers to make ends meet. Young girls are often forced to drop out of school to work as domestic help in affluent neighbourhoods. Domestic work falls in the category of informal labour so their labour and protection rights are not protected.

It is not uncommon for girls as young as 12 to work two-to-three houses a day.

 

Shagufta, 35, is a resident of Sixty-six Quarters – a slum in Islamabad. Shagufta is the elected president of the domestic workers union of her community. She has been working as a domestic worker for the past five years and her husband works a sanitation worker in an office.

Rubina, centre, speaks at a meeting of the domestic workers' union

“There is no concept of a minimum wage, regular job hours, a fixed salary or over-time, and there is no paid leave even when a domestic worker is with child,” says Shagufta.

She also discovered that domestic workers are not respected by society and face harassment on a regular basis.

According to Shagufta, it is not uncommon for younger girls to suffer physical abuse by their employers. More often than not this abuse goes unaddressed: girls are usually reluctant to tell their parents, and even if they do, the abuse often goes unreported.

“I always felt bad because girls and women I knew were living with discrimination and abuse. Being selected as the president of the union I got the chance to learn more about our legal and labour rights and be more vocal; we even held a press conference at Islamabad Press Club!” says a beaming Shagufta.

We should be protected by labour laws so that like other workers we have job contracts, defined hours, salaries, pensions and other benefits

“We should be protected by labour laws so that like other workers we have job contracts, defined hours, salaries, pensions and other benefits,” she goes on to say.