Dignity and domestic work – sounds like an oxymoron? Read to find out why the dignity of a domestic worker should matter
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I belong to a well to do family. I shifted from my village to the city with my husband to provide better education to our children. Since we were unable to make our ends meet in the city lights, I started working as a domestic worker in 2018. However, I haven’t informed my relatives about my new job. I’m looking forward to getting a dignified job as soon as possible, said Simran, a domestic worker from Bihar in response to what made her join the Domestic Work Industry.
On being asked if she would like to stay in the industry, Jolly, a domestic worker from Orissa said, I would like to make an exit from the industry if I get a job where I’m treated with respect, even though the pay is a little lesser than my current earnings.
India witnessed massive demand for domestic workers post the liberalization and the globalization phase, wherein girls and women make up the significant majority. The industry started emerging as a crucial livelihood option for millions of women in the country. According to reports by the National Domestic Workers’ Movement (NDWM), between 2000 and 2010, women accounted for 75% of the increase in the total number of domestic workers in India. This has been accompanied by a significant increase in women migrant domestic workers who are particularly vulnerable. Since most of them are with little or no education, they suffer from a perception crisis and are often viewed as ‘servants’ and looked down upon.
Domestic workers are further subjected to caste discrimination and assaults. They have been working without many of the rights enjoyed by other workers, including social security, paid leaves, and various types of protection due to the grossly informal nature of the industry. The notions of arrogant, suspicious attitudes, and disrespect by the children of the employers add to the fact that social marginalisation runs deep into the roots of the society.
There is no dignity of labour and, hence, this makes the helpers feel that their work is non-aspirational.
The shame in working as a domestic worker is a deeply embedded stigma which leads to lack of motivation among the people who take up the profession. The feudal mindset has to be changed considering the fact that the domestic workers not only contribute to the household but also to the economy through their invisible yet crucial service to humankind.
Preyansi Mani, the founder of School of Dignity said, “Cleaning is a scientific term. People performing such duties should be projected with dignity and the profession should be treated as a career choice”.
It’s high time that we should recognize domestic work as legitimate work and the industry as a career-oriented industry for those who want to opt for the profession. Domestic workers form a significant portion of a productive economy, and they deserve to be respected like any other working professional.
Noting that domestic work is one of the highly unorganised sectors, various trade unions, NGOs, placement agencies, and training organisations are actively working towards helping the domestic workers understand that their job is no less dignified. However, an individual contribution can work wonders. We as employers must treat our helpers with due respect not only because it’s their right but also because it reflects on our own personality and also because they’re, well humans. For Sirius Black rightly said, “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
Tips to become a better employer
Employer’s household for a domestic worker is a workplace. It does not comprise an office like set-up, yet there is a professional association between both the parties involved. For a healthy employer-employee relationship, efforts need to be put from both the ends on a personal level as well. When the ball is in the employer’s court, the following tips must be kept in mind to achieve the desired result:
- Develop understanding: After establishing a professional equation with your domestic worker, an attempt should be made to understand their nature. Every individual has their own strengths and weaknesses and so does your helper. Try to build an equation which is beyond the existing roles of an employer and employee.
- Be communicative: Communication plays a crucial role in relationship building. Try to create a conducive environment that is open to two-way communication. Ask about their problems or suggestions on a regular basis and also give them feedback on their work performance.
- Treat them with respect: Have you ever wondered what makes your helper happier, more than wages or bonus? Well, it’s a small yet powerful word – RESPECT. When you recognise their identity and treat them with respect, you do not only notice a positive change in their behaviour, but also receive better quality of work.
- Be patient: There are times when an employer loses his/her cool when their helper does not meet the required expectation or fail to perform the task. Instead of reacting angrily or humiliating them, you should be patient and considerate towards them. A little guidance and practise would help them deliver the expected results.
- Set-up a routine: Following a routine gives clarity to work and helps in achieving the goal effectively. Design a routine for a week including priorities, working hours, do’s and don’ts, so that your helper can get direction and perform their work to meet up to the standard.
Everyone has the right to dignity, especially those women who contribute so much of their time trying to make life easier for us. The movement must start with us, the employers. By taking note of the aforementioned suggestions and incorporating them into our lives, we can create a huge difference in theirs.