Impact of Covid 19 National Lockdown on Women Domestic Workers in Delhi
This report was published in May 2020 by the Institute of Social Studies Trust (ISST), a non-governmental organisation based in New Delhi. It assesses the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown of March 2020 on the lives of women domestic workers in Delhi. Written by Anweshaa Ghosh and Ashmeet Kaur Bilkhu of ISST, the report documents the obstacles that domestic workers faced in availing essential goods, the uncertainty surrounding their livelihoods as well as their concerns about rent payments.
The report is based on a survey of 35 part-time, full-time and live-in domestic workers ranging from 21 to 60 years old. It was conducted in April 2020 in neighbourhoods of Shahpur Jat, Tilak Nagar, Okhla, Sarai Julena, Andrews Ganj, Mayfair Garden, Gulmohar Park, Kalander (Dilshad Garden) and Kotla. The 11-page report is divided into seven sections: Key findings; Introduction; Domestic Workers; Impact on paid work; Impact on unpaid work; Impact on access to essential resources and services; and Recommendations.
The report recommends that the government provide “immediate income security and rent protection” for the domestic workers during the course of the lockdown. It also calls for a labour ministry taskforce to ensure long-term protection of the rights of domestic workers.
Although some official estimates number the domestic workers in India at 4.75 million, the actual numbers are likely to be around 50 million – the report notes, citing a 2014 publication by Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), Ahmedabad, and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), a UK-based policy research organisation.
Majority of the surveyed workers (83 per cent) reported experiencing economic difficulties during the March 2020 lockdown. The sudden mobility restrictions kept 53.4 per cent of the workers from collecting their salaries for the month. About 14 per cent of workers did not go to work and collect wages to avoid catching the virus, and 10 per cent reported employers having withheld wages. The economic impact was less detrimental on live-in domestic workers and those whose employers had disbursed their salaries in advance.
As per the statements of a community leader cited in the report, workers who were not part of any union or group found it difficult to refuse their employers’ mandate of coming to work even in the lockdown.
About 85 per cent of the respondents reported managing their household expenses by dipping into their savings. In comparison, 14 per cent were forced to borrow from informal sources like relatives or neighbours.
An increased burden of cooking, cleaning, washing and other unpaid household work during the lockdown was reported by 54 per cent of the respondents. Much of their effort was spent making arrangements for food and other essentials, followed by caregiving and water collection tasks.
Over half (54 per cent) of the women surveyed reported having no help in household work. The remaining respondents mentioned receiving assistance from their spouse (14 per cent), other male members in the house (nine per cent), other female members (nine per cent), and relatives and neighbours (three per cent).
The report states that 44 per cent of domestic workers procured dry rations from government ration shops and 26 per cent purchased the same from local kirana stores. Roughly 14 per cent procured essentials from individuals distributing rations, 12 per cent used rations given by NGOs and three per cent obtained cooked food from government-run community kitchens. The report mentions the difficulties people faced in procuring rations through e-coupons – a temporary scheme instated by the Delhi government in April 2020 – due to the lack of smartphones, poor data services and tedious filing processes.
There was a substantial rise in the prices of essentials like vegetables, milk, fruits, tea, and sugar – according to 51 per cent of the workers surveyed. Furthermore, they did not have enough to purchase these items at the increased prices during this period. The respondents reported instances of kirana shops selling rations at inflated prices being commonplace.
Women domestic workers faced severe challenges in accessing crucial health and communication services. Around 34 per cent of women faced difficulties in accessing shops for phone recharges, 23 per cent found it hard to access healthcare, and 20 per cent struggled with obtaining essential medicines.
Roughly 16 per cent of respondents did not have access to housing. Many found it hard to pay rent, and were asked to pay the full amount despite Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s appeal to landlords against harassing tenants. About 43 per cent of the respondents anticipated a loss in income over the coming months, and 57 per cent were worried about their rent.
According to the respondents, significant sources of information on Covid-19 included television (94 per cent of respondents), family and neighbourhood (54 per cent) and social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook (48 per cent). About 34 per cent were unsure how to respond and whom to contact if they contracted the virus.
The report recommended that the government ensure urgent income security and rent protection measures for women domestic workers. It also suggests setting up a domestic workers helpline for reporting the grievances faced by the workers and calls for their registration to the Social Security Board, established under the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008.
Focus and factoids by Tathagat Singh.
PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.
Anweshaa Ghosh and Ashmeet Kaur Bilkhu
Institute of Social Studies Trust, New Delhi