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  Archives » Unifem Conference » Short Report
  Women Work and Poverty
Policy Conference on Home Based Workers of South Asia
18-20 January, 2007, New Delhi
A Short Report
   
 
UNIFEM and SEWA organized a regional Policy Conference, 'Women Work & Poverty: Policy Conference on Home Based Workers of South Asia', in New Delhi on January 18-20 2007.

The key objective of Conference was to advocate for bringing the benefits of growth to the home based workers in the five countries in South Asia, in order to lift them out of poverty. Specifically, the workshop deliberated on issues of policy for the home based workers; fair trade; social security and building voice and organizations.

The Conference was attended by over 200 homebased workers (on the first day) and delegates from Governments, HomeNets and members of civil society from Bangladesh (5) , India (35), Nepal (10), Pakistan(11) and Sri Lanka (9); delegates from international agencies like ILO, Ethical Trading Initiatives (ETI) and WIEGO gave their expertise. The conference focused on protecting homebased workers through ratification of ILO Convention 177, increasing incomes and employment through trade and empowerment through organizing in HomeNet.
   
  The Conference was inaugurated by Hon'ble Prime Minister of India, Dr Man Mohan Singh . Speaking on the occasion, Dr Singh highlighted the current invisibility of home based workers and undertook to take forward the National Policy for homebased workers in India and also to promote their issues at the SAARC level.
   
 
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Smt. Elaben , founder of SEWA welcoming Shri Manmohan Singh Ji, Prime Minister of India
  The Prime Minister of India, in his speech said, "I have always been inspired by the work of Elaben and SEWA in empowering women... Estimates suggest that there are around 50 million home based workers in South Asia, and most of them happen to be women. ..Unfortunately, most homebased workers receive very low levels of income due to a chain of middle-men through whom they work. ... .I would like the SAARC Summit in New Delhi to consider the Kathmandu Declaration and address effectively the problems of homebased workers.. Our Government will be happy to take forward the National Policy for India as well as to facilitate the programme for countries of South Asia."

Elaben reminded the conference of the long journey and struggle of the homebased workers including the struggle for passing the ILO Convention 177. She especially highlighted the need for social security and reminded the Government of its commitment to the Social Security Bill for workers in the informal economy.
 
 
Jaitun Shaikh an incense stick worker from India and Padma Kumari Gurung a handloom weaver from Nepal spoke about their experiences of being homebased workers. Jaitunben said that in spite of working more than eight hours a day, she was unable to earn more than Rs. 25. She said that after organizing and joining SEWA, they were able to bargain and considerably increase their earnings. Padma Kumari said that she learnt the skill of weaving when she was a small girl and is a skilled weaver. She felt that the market was changing rapidly and she asked for good linkages to the market.

The conference focused on protecting homebased workers through ratification of ILO Convention 177, increasing incomes and employment through trade and empowerment through organizing in HomeNet and had five key sessions - increasing employment through trade; protection for the home based workers; social security for the homebased workers; building voice of the home based workers and a national policy for the home based workers.

 
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Jaitun Shaikh an Incense stick worker
   
  Speaking in the session on Trade, Mr Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State, Ministry of Trade and Commerce, Government of India said that his Ministry would like to focus on trade not only for the dollars it generates but also look at the employment it creates. In that context he would take forward the recommendations of this Conference at both National and South Asia level. papers were presented by Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI), Monsoon Accessories, Sewa Trade Facilitation Centre (STFC), Empowerment through Creative Innovation (ECI), Fab India, Siyath Foundation and WIEGO.

In the Protection session, Mr. Dan Gallin, Chair, Global Labour Institute, Geneva presented a paper on the ILO Convention 177 and strongly reiterate the need to ratify the Convention at the country level. Several trade Unionist and from Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh made presentations on organizing the home based workers.

The session on Social Security was very rich and included a diverse range of papers and presentations. Ms. Ratna Sudershan, ISST, in her presentation on 'Social Security for Women Homebased workers in South Asia' highlighted economic security, health and housing as the key needs of the home based workers. The session also included best practice social security initiatives from the region including the SEWA social security and the experience of disaster relief in Sri Lanka. Presenting a regional perspective, Marc Socquet, ILO highlighted the country best practices in the region like Bangladesh-maternity protection, national voucher scheme, India-old age benefits, West Bengal Provident fund. The presentation from NCEUS highlighted the proposed coverage for the informal workers in the social security bill in India, including coverage health and life insurance and old age pension.
   
 
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Shri B.K. Chaturvedi Cabinet Secretary, India, Smt. Renana Jhabvala, National Coordinator, SEWA
  The Session on Voices for Women in South Asia highlighted the experience of organizing home based workers. Dr Naila Kabeer began her presentation by illustrating how joining one's voice to the collective can shape public opinion, underlining how home based workers are embedded in disadvantageous circumstances and need to organize and build a collective voice, which have to be heard by a range of actors in the development arena, especially the State. Dr Kabeer opined that a greater degree of informalization with more work outside the ambit of trade unions has had a significant role in the emergence of newer forms of organizing. In these newer forms, she stressed the need to distinguish between organizations that are formed by the poor and those that work for the poor. Experience of organizing home based workers into country HomeNets were also recounted in this session.

The group work included sessions where the country delegates brainstormed to develop a framework for the National policy on home based workers which were presented in the plenary. All the countries in their presentations emphasized the need to advocate for national policy, ratification C 177 and social security for homebased workers. A Drafting Committee for formulating the Regional Strategic Action Plan for the home based workers was set up. The Conference approved the South Asia Platform of Action for Homebased Workers.
   
  Congratulate SEWA and UNIFEM for organizing this conference, Mr Chaturvedi, Cabinet Secretary, Government of India, in his Valedictory Address, highlighted the key needs of the home based workers as Up gradation of skills; Microfinance: user friendly technology, marketing and social security.
 

Shri B.K. Chaturvedi Cabinet Secretary, India, Smt. Renana Jhabvala, National Coordinator, SEWA

 
Homenet South Asia was formally launched by Indian Cabinet Secretary Shri B.K. Chaturvedi with flowers, balloons and singing of "We Shall Overcome" in five languages.
   
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