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