Bold Steps: The journey of a domestic workers movement in Guwahati
Smita Das of Boston, USA has been involved with sSTEP for the last few years. Ms. Smita visited Guwahati several times and has been working closely with sSTEP volunteers. AFNA is supporting sSTEP project financially. Walk through Japorigog in Guwahati and take a look at women walking on the street. Think about how they work and how they relax, who they respect and who they care for, what they think about and what drives them.
not been paid for the last year. She was rarely permitted to leave the house and suffered poor sleeping conditions and
Recruitment, screening, establishment of expectations, contract negotiation, and quality control are vital components of placement. Development of these components is steady but slow. While contracts are signed and relationships are monitored to verify the satisfaction of both employers and domestic workers, domestic workers are proving difficult to recruit. Few are aware of sSTEP’s services and many domestic workers still come through connections, middle-men, and traffickers, with no one to oversee their labor conditions and no community to support them. sSTEP’s connections are strong in Mongolodoi and growing in Guwahati’s labor markets, but the message is still slow to spread, and they need assistance making connections and discerning which villages domestic workers come from. This trickle of domestic workers means that the demand far outweighs the supply, and employers are often desperate for help and eager for immediate placements. This limits sSTEP’s ability to train and properly screen domestic workers, and the organization is working to develop a more feasible procedure. sSTEP has matched 28 domestic workers with employers to date and rates are increasing with publicity. sSTEP also keeps a detailed database of potential and existing employers and domestic workers such that they can track the history of clients, match clients, and measure the success of the program.
These courses serve to give domestic works opportunities for social mobility and hard skills for work and home. Trainers impart important information in a respectful and empowering way and test that the information is absorbed. Training also helps employers obtained the skilled help they require. This support is especially important to the women of the household.
Kalita manage the project, Pinky Sarma is the new project coordinator, Keshabi Devi and Mina Deka lead the domestic worker society and facilitate recruitment and placement. The team is well aware of immediate steps and hurdles, but is driven by the potential of this project. The goals of the project have grown in exciting ways to include (1) the connection of domestic workers to ragpickers and thelawalas to reduce environmental degradation, (2) financial education, as many of these women are primary bread-earners and must learn about savings, household decision-making, investment in education, and separation of assets in abusive situations, and (3) crèches for domestic workers run by graduates of the child care training to promote proper nutrition and education of their children.
The domestic worker project depends on the support of the community, and sSTEP invites advisors, trainers, interns, and spectators to be a part of its great potential.
Learn more about the effort at www.boldsteps.org.
I have a 15 minute exercise for you that could change your perspective. Put together a minimal budget for a family of four. Don’t do it in your head-- take 15 minutes and write it all down and add it up on a sheet of paper. Don’t forget food, fuel, shelter, clothing, transportation, health care, let alone any kind of entertainment, education, or giving that living in Indian society requires. I worked with domestic workers for years before completing this exercise, and it transformed my point of view. It revealed how creative a person had to be to make things work, how impossible it was to be a single low-income mother and how a woman may have to stay in abusive situation to maintain financial solvency, how valuable a BPL card could be even when it saved so little, how easy it would be to be resentful, how impressive it is for a person to escape the poverty trap, and how impossible it would be if things like death, disaster, illness, addiction got in the way as they often do.