No schooling exposes girls to a life filled with problems

Urmila Chanam
Posted July 28, 2019 from India
Workplace can never be just offices but for many women in India, even other's homes are their workplace.
Workplace can never be just offices but for many women in India, even other's homes are their workplace.

These are some of the facts that came glaring out from the experience sharing time I spent with my domestic help who is a young 27 years married Muslim woman. This story is based out of Bengaluru city in southern region of India

The criteria for selection of households to work in depends on how kind or polite the family members are especially the woman or household- in- charge, often the mother or mother-in-law. Because domestic help job can involve a lot of verbal and mental abuse.

Being a domestic help exposes women to the household undercurrent, feuds, power dynamics and violence, they are witness to what's happening within the family and at times, receive it themselves too. It's also cumbersome to leave and find another household where payment and services offered are complimentary.

One of the most significant concern among women who work as domestic help in Bangalore(India) is the apprehension of advances from the men in the household. These women are easy targets of sexual advances or abuse in the absence of other women family members or sometimes right under their nose. They have accounts of complaining to the women in the family but getting fired from the job and instead of relief, getting blamed for the incident. These incidents travel by word of mouth in the locality further affecting employment opportunities in other households or giving men the wrong notion that they are available.

The young woman who has been the biggest help to me in the past one year she has been working with me, did not wear her silver anklet at home.  When I asked her the reason she told me,

" The house that I work in is very silent and when my anklet makes sound when I walk , I feel embarrassed because the family has many male members. I removed my anklet because I don't want to direct their attention towards me. I don't want any problem."

To find a women headed household is a blessing for women in this job as they can avoid unwanted attention from men in the houselhold.

The professional hazards for women who clean homes include back pain and constant fever, cough and cold from working with water the whole day and also headache. "I clean, wash, cook, shop for vegetables and home supplies for others but when I get home I am so tired I don't feel like cleaning my house or even cooking." This is another professional hazard- not having time or stamina for self and family.

This young woman has completed 20 years of work as a domestic help becuase she has very little opportunities other than this with no education.

She recollects how small she had been when she had first begun working at seven years that the woman of the household assigned her only one job, to sit with the children in the house and play with them because that was all she could do. They would even feed her like the family children, give her old clothes and toys, even make her sleep in the afternoon. She doesnt remember their names or the address, she only remembers their kindness to her. One day the woman informed her that they are moving to another part of Bangalore and that was the last she saw of them. Even in twenty years she hasn't forgotten them and tells that they are the best family she has worked for.

Never having received education makes women lack skills to remember names, time, location etc.

With long hours of work and atleast three to four households to attend to on a daily basis, money is not enough to support their family in an expensive city as Bengaluru, so informal micro credit systems/chit systems are common among women.

These women who work in others' homes sometimes form a community or informal groups, loaning money to each other, helping each other find new homes to work in and sometimes, if one is sick or due to family problems cannot attend work for a period of time as long as even a month, one of her friends or a substitute from the group offers to fill in so that the original domestic help does not lose out of her job in the long run.

Even more touching was to hear that she never went to school as a child though two out of her five siblings did some schooling as they were much older and were already in school when their mother passed away. Their father used to work in a factory and after their mother's demise when she had been five years, the most he could do was cook for them and lock them in the house till he returned at 8 PM everyday. It was not possible to take them and bring them back from school during day time when he was at the factory which was very far. This meant no schooling for the children.

Her joint pain has been assigned to calcium deficieny which has its roots from a childhood where she was not fed milk or nutritious food due to poverty and lack of care at home after mother's death. Even now she is underweight.

Few days ago on 26th July 2019, I participated in a Twitter chat under the theme 'Women at work' and 'Gender stereotyping at the workplace' organised by SheThePeopleTV where questions like what can be done to see more women at workplace or how gender stereotyping manifests at workplace  were being raised to mobilize discussions.

I found that these questions do not accomodate the reality of women in unorganised sector or from lower income groups like women who are working in others' homes as domestic help. Workplace can never be just offices but for many women in India, even other's homes are their workplace. Further, these women are beyond the ambit of urban discussions or in our elite panels. They are busy working and not within the radar of either media or social media. But to not know they exist and not count them in the woman workforce and their contribution to the economy would be a big mistake because they are running their homes with their income.

There are several areas that this story suggests which can be possible interventions - mother's death at a young age when daughters are still in their pre-school years, single parent/widower headed family with multiple children to look after, empathetic policies in workplace for such single parent and multiple children families, education options for children from difficult situations and a unique examination provision for such children to not lose out completely on education, nutrition of children, support and safety systems for women working in homes or in unorganised sector, child care or day care facilities, hostel for children, micro-credit, insurance and other social welfare schemes that could provide support in local transportation, food supply, health care and medications, counselling for domestic violence, depression, anxiety and hopelessness and so on.

The narative on gender and workplace needs to accomodate women from all economic levels and profession, even those women who are unable to represent themselves in these conversations.

This was also my pitch at the Twitter Chat.

I request you to read few references like The New Federal Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Would Remedy Decades of Injustice and Invisible women: Domestic workers underpaid and abused that have emerged from discussions with sisters on World Pulse across this story which will throw light on the movement for protection of women's rights in domestic work.

#domestichelp #WomenAtWork #India

This story was submitted in response to Supporting Our Girls.

Comments 20

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ARREY- ECHI
Jul 29
Jul 29

Dear Sis Urmi,
Thank you for a beautiful and well articulated article on this other social ill which plagues our communities. It is sad that your help has been on this almost all her life, starting as young as 7.. a time when should have been enjoying her childhood and building dreams.

I agree with you that lack of education impedes the women and exposes them to a lot of vices. In some places, not only are they also sexually abused and left pregnant, promises are never kept and most leave after years of labour and toil empty handed.

There is a need to focus on people affected by this and I am glad that you are shinning the light here.

Educating and empowering a woman is the best possible gift any parent can gift a their girl child especially. It saddens me that she missed this opportunity due to the death of her mum and other circumstances beyond her control, yet, I am glad she found you. I can rest assured that you would seek ways to make her life more better while with you, as you try to continously shine the light on this.

Thank you for sharing.
Love you and keep doing all you do for women at large.

Urmila Chanam
Jul 29
Jul 29

Dear sister Arrey Chi,
I agree that education can empower girls into empowered women who can be economically independent and socially well placed but we also see how many children, especially girls miss this opportunity due to different family conditions. Infact, girls' education and her over all well being are the first to be sacrificed when difficult situations crop up in the family. I also find we do not have to plan the benficiaries of our work when we live surrounded by women who need our help. I am happy to support the young woman in the article with medical care, money in crisis situations, food, clothes and advice.
Love and prayers,
Urmila Chanam

ARREY- ECHI
Jul 29
Jul 29

"Infact, girls' education and her over all well being are the first to be sacrificed when difficult situations crop up in the family."

Very spot on sis. Thank you for providing the basics to support her. Hopefully, by observing you and listening to your advice, she would make a better future for herself and family.

Warm hugs

Urmila Chanam
Jul 29
Jul 29

Sister, women from World Pulse in different parts of the world are supprting women in many ways, and I am also one of them and so are you.

Jill Langhus
Jul 29
Jul 29

Hello Dear Urmila,

How are you doing? Thanks for sharing your sad, but informative account on these domestic helpers. That is so sad that's she started at 7 and has so many health issues from working so hard for so long. Does she have any hopes or aspirations or she's only able to focus on the immediate need of paying the bills? Thanks for bringing awareness around this issue. It's so lovely to hear that you're helping these women.

Hope you're having a great day and week!

XX

Urmila Chanam
Jul 29
Jul 29

Dear sister JIll,
The irony is child labour is prohibited, yet my house help began work at 7 years and there are many children who are on streets, in cheap hotels and restaurants, in flower shops and tea stalls working to take food home to their parents when instead the parents were to shield them. My house maid does have aspirations; I plan to employ her in the center I plan to establish for women and women's hostel. Thanks for reading sister Jill.
Love and prayers,
Urmila Chanam

Jill Langhus
Jul 30
Jul 30

Hello there:-)

Oh, dear:-(

That sounds excellent. Good job:-) I'm looking forward to hearing more about this center and how her story gets turned around, too!

You're welcome. Thank you for all your hard, transformational work, dear.

XX

Hello, sis Urmila,

How timely your post is! I have been actively looking for a house help to assist me while I take care of my children. It’s not easy because a lot are scammers. They ask for fare but they don’t show up (these are warning posts from FB groups, but I haven’t experienced it yet).

It’s sad that the helper was only seven-year-old when she began. Is there a law against child labor in your country? This is no longer allowed in the Philippines.

But as you know, there are a lot of Filipino domestic helpers all over the world. We hear a lot of tragic news of abuse, rape and even murder to our women who work abroad.

Thank you for sharing this, sis Urmila. We do treat our house helper a part of the family. It’s just challenging to look for the right one we can truly trust nowadays.

Urmila Chanam
Jul 29
Jul 29

Dearest sister Karen,

I agree that finding a trustworthy house help is very challenging just like it is challenging for them to find the right people they would like to work for- so its about the match! I have had women who had more absenteism than work days, who would steal things from my home, tell tales about me or my family to neighbours, who did not speak any of the languages I speak making me rely on sign language (not the organised sign language but I mean body language), or charge me very high. Allowing another individual into your personal space comes with lot of risk and privacy related issues. But when you find a good working match, rare but that happens too, you can work to be good for each other. Thanks for your warm wishes and comment and for reading.
Much love and hugs,
Urmila Chanam

Thank you for your empathy, sister Urmila. I guess it’s poverty that causes house helpers to steal. Gossiping is another issue, too. Maybe that is because Asians in general are non-confrontational. I can say this is true in our country. People are good in front of you, but tear you apart behind your back. That’s sad coz you don’t know who to trust.

Yes, I am praying/attracting for a good match.

You’re welcome! Hugs.

Lisbeth
Jul 30
Jul 30

Karen, I also think respect is reciprocal. When you give you received. I am not saying it's a ground for the helpers to misbehave but it's a factor.

Golden rule: Do to others what you want to be done to you. Thanks for sharing Urmila

I agree, sis Lisbeth. There are cases though that those who applied for house helpers are not really for the job, but to swindle those who hire them. There are a lot of scammers here much to the dismay of the real ones looking for a job.

Urmila Chanam
Aug 04
Aug 04

Dear Lisbeth,

Indeed, respect, tolerance, understanding and giving each other a 'long rope' in instances of conflict of interest or misunderstandings go a long way to enjoy a harmonious and productive relationship, be it employer-employee relationship or any other. Thanks for reading, sister.
Love and prayers,
Urmila Chanam,
India

Beth Lacey
Jul 30
Jul 30

Your words are so true
XXOO

Urmila Chanam
Jul 31
Jul 31

Dear Beth,
How are you doing, my sister? Women's work place needs many more interventions.
Love and prayers,
Urmila Chanam

Rahmana Karuna
Jul 31
Jul 31

thank you for articulating this so well. i know this happens in the usa also, so i went on google search. what pops up w "domestic help in usa" is "how to bring your domestic helper into usa" or "hiring overseas domestic workers"
it is global problem of wealth and poverty
Boston, United States - There are at least two million domestic workers in the United States, and most of them are black Americans or immigrant women.

They are considered so unworthy of legal protections that basic workers' rights do not extend to them. Now, a political climate and leadership tells them that they are not only unwelcome, but they also should not expect safety because of their skin colour and ethnicity.

Many face slave-like working conditions.

They are one of the only classes of workers excluded from basic working protections, as set forth in the 1935 still-unamended National Labor Relations Act. Many are poor immigrant women of colour, which puts them in the crosshairs of President Donald Trump's administration.
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/invisible-women-domestic-workers-...

Urmila Chanam
Aug 04
Aug 04

Dear Rahmana,
I appreciate you sharing what's happening in the USA which many countries look at it as a role model especially people in developing countries as India. I am surprised that women in unorganised sector as in house help even in developed countries are not protected under labour laws or legal dimension. The female workforce and head counting of women who contribute to the economy should include women like these. Human Rights, Labour Rights agencies and women empowerment and social justice bodies should push for their rights. I am happy to hear from you, my sister.
Prayers,
Urmila Chanam,
India

Rahmana Karuna
Aug 01
Aug 01

Globally folks have the false beliefs that live is plush and plum here. it isn't.
they are pushing. and at some point, i think in the late 70s or 80s they changed their name to Domestic Engineers, but apparently that title has been co opted by urban dictionary.
_________________________
At the time, “I didn’t know where to turn,” she said. “I was giving them care, but within the industry no one was caring for me.” She was too terrified to tell anyone, fearing “there was no safety net,” especially if her employers simply responded by firing her. “We are often up against the rich, white folks we work for.”

Then she heard about the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which organizes domestic workers across the country. She quickly got involved and has since become a dedicated organizer, both in Miami and around the country. She now feels emboldened enough to ask for better working conditions from her employers, and has gotten them.
https://www.thenation.com/article/federal-domestic-workers-bill-of-right...

Urmila Chanam
Aug 04
Aug 04

Dear Rahmana,
I am encouraged to see these community based movements and will like to speak about them in women groups and discussions in India as a likely approach. Thanks so much my sister for sharing. Have a great week ahead.
Much love,
Urmila Chanam,
India

Rahmana Karuna
Aug 04
Aug 04

your welcome.