By Zehra Khan, Home-Based Women Workers' Federation
Thousands of working class women marched with red flags through the streets of busy Sadder area in Karachi to press for their demands to be accepted as workers and covered under social security schemes and for regulations to protect women health workers. The rally was organized by Home Based Women Workers' Federation (HBWWF) and Lady Health Workers' Association (LHWA) to commemorate the 101st International Women's Day (IWD) on March 8th.
The rally started at Regal Chowk and culminated at Karachi Press Club. Rally participants carried placards and banners demonstrating their demands and chanted slogans to highlight their struggles.
At the end of the rally, addressing the gathering of women workers, leaders said that March 8th would be remembered as day of struggle and to recognize the sacrifices of working women who light the flame of movement to liberate women globally from all kinds of discrimination and injustice. The speakers pledged to continue their movement despite any circumstances they may face to achieve the equal rights and elimination of all laws, customs and traditions which call them second class citizens and lesser human beings. Women have been deprived of their basic rights in the name of religion and reactionary traditions rooted in feudalism, while the capitalist system has treated women as cheap labor and a market commodity.
The speakers explained that nearly 12 million women contribute to the Pakistani economy through their production as home-based workers in different industrial and commercial sectors including garments, leather, embroidery, sports goods, shoe making, glass bangles and many other sectors without their role being recognized by the country's labour laws. Since Pakistan laws don't recognize them as workers they are not covered under state-run social security schemes covering health insurance, education, and pensions. They also said that ILO Convention 177 on Home Work asks the government to recognize home-based women workers as workers under the law and to formulate national policy for the progress and well-being of the most oppressed and vulnerable sector of workers -- the home-based women workers.
They also showed their solidarity with human rights activist Asma Jehangir for her steadfastness on human rights issues, especially on the plight of missing persons and condemned the character assassination campaign of reactionary forces against Asma Jehangir. They also expressed their deep concern on the growing menace of kidnapping of girls belonging to religious minorities and the forcible conversions of them, stating this will not be tolerated at any cost, and in camaraderie with Ms Rinkle Komari and her family who was kidnapped and forcibly converted with the backing of influential feudal lords.
In the rally, the following was demanded:
- Abolish all discriminatory laws
- Recognize home-based women workers as labourers under the law and register them with all state-run social security schemes
- Recognize home-based workers' right to collective bargaining
- Immediately provided legal protections and regulations for all lady health workers and formulate pay scale with the consent of LHW representative body.
- End the feudal system and introduce radical land reforms and provide women peasants with the right to own land
- End the Jirga system and declare it an criminal act
- Declare March 8th a public holiday
- End all kinds of harassment of women workers in factories, offices and other workplaces
- Lower the cost of utilities including electricity, gas and water, and end the privatization of these utilities
- Provide regulations for the working conditions for all temporary, casual, and contract workers of public and private sector establishments
- Release all political prisoners including comrade Baba Jan and other arrested comrades, and six Faisalabad power loom workers
- Recover all kidnapped women including Rinkle Komari, and arrest the culprits and their bosses involves in heinous crimes; restore respect for and the confidence of religious minorities
- End the character assassination campaign against Amsa Jehangir systematically launched by reactionary forces with the backing of the so-called establishment
- End the military operation against Baloch Nation which has hurt the Baloch women very much
- Institute state subsidies on essential items including flour, rice, lentils, sugar, cooking oil and other food items
- No to the privatization of health, education and transport