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Living On the Edge: Maternal Health Issues of Domestic Women Workers

By Punam

February 17, 2011
Author is a freelance health and development journalist. She can be contacted

A recently finalized Paper on ‘Living On the Edge: Maternal Health Issues of Domestic Women Workers (Housemaids) in the Indian Capital emphasizes the critical need for a well-defined and workable system of maternal & neo-natal health for the domestic women workers in informal economy (House Maids). It very clearly points out the weaknesses which currently affect the accessibility, affordability and quality of maternal health care being provided to the women workers, who are mostly migrants. They are largely settled in the urban clusters, slums or rehabilitation colonies across the National Capital of Delhi. Research Author, Ms. Anusha Agarwal – a young health & development advocate - not only pointed the inherent weaknesses in the health delivery systems but also opined, “The core behavior change messages of the much acclaimed strategic health communication campaigns that focus on maternal health and family planning are very poorly accessed or even understood by the housemaids, including their male counterparts or by the communities in which they live”. Anusha further mentioned, “A case in point was when during our focused group discussions (FGDs), some housemaids shared how they requested their “mem-sahebs” (Women employers) for morning-after-pills after they have had sexual liaison with their partners without using any Family Planning method. And, this was constantly requested by them”.

The available socio-economic analysis shows that almost all big cities of the country have become the centers to recruit poor women as domestic workers, Delhi being no exception. Poor availability of jobs in the rural context facilitates continued supply of domestic women workers to Delhi and other cities. Needless to underline, a major reason for this is a sharp increase of middle class employed women. Due to increasing family and work pressures, these middle class employed women have conveniently shifted their household workload to the poor working women as their “house maids”.

As the research establishes, most of the women who migrate to Delhi are from poor families and are illiterate. The lack of education and skill make their choice very limited when they come to big cities such as Delhi. In major metro cities, they tend to face a number of problems and because of their inexperience and lack of skill these women become easy victim of exploitation too. As is also evident through this research, even access to crucial health care facilities is extremely poor or is missing.

This research indicates that clearly the issue of making “informed choices” appears much at the lower order, as even the provision of basic family planning advice/services and maternal health services too are not easily available to the women workers from the informal economy sector.

The field research was undertaken to examine the prevailing maternal health issues among the “housemaids” (domestic women workers) with a strategic focus on Indian capital. The residential areas selected, where the domestic women workers stay, largely represented the adjoining work-areas where these women go for daily household work. The field work covered select patches nearBudhella, Keshopur and Hasthsal villages (Near Vikaspuri); Slum settlements near Rajouri Garden and Mayapuri; Resettlement colonies near Tughlakabad and Sangam Vihar.

The existing problems of domestic workers have been widely studied through many researchers, activists and policy community at different levels. But they have not succeeded in providing a practical and feasible solution to the problem, especially if focused on bringing equity of opportunity to access quality health services including maternal and neo-natal health. Perhaps lack of a common perspective in this area is a main cause for it. Since the problems of women domestic workers are multifold, it needs to be studied holistically covering economic, legal, social, health, physical and psychological aspects.

Posted on: February 17, 2011 09:12 PM IST


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