Making workplaces safer for women domestic workers in India
“I was forced to ignore sexual harassment in my workplace, because I needed to continue working and earning.” - Aisha*, domestic worker in Gautampuri, Delhi.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a widespread and pervasive human rights violation. In India, latest figures from the World Bank indicate that less than 20% of women are employed in formal work settings. Indeed, as in many other countries, women account for the majority of domestic workers  and are at heightened risk of discrimination, exploitation and violence due to their gender and caste, but also due to their extremely precarious conditions of employment.
The Martha Farrell Foundation, a women-led civil society organization founded in 2015, is running a project with the support of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, in 13 districts of the Delhi region, to support and protect women domestic workers and ensure their safety at work.
Empowering women domestic workers
Through capacity-building sessions, the project seeks to empower women domestic workers by improving their awareness and knowledge about existing legislation and human rights. Since 2021, over 2,700 women domestic workers have received information about their rights under the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act. Women now feel more confident to break the silence, exercise their rights and report cases of violence, including outside of work.
The use of a participatory, contextualized and game-based training methodology helps to break down complex legal concepts and facilitates participation, learning and retention of information. It also enables women domestic workers to discuss workplace violence with peers in a safe and empowering space, without fear of discrimination and stigma, which furthers strengthen their confidence and agency.
In addition, since 2021, 60 women community leaders, all of them domestic workers, called “Pehelkaars”, have received specific training on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. These Pehelkaars have in turn reached 500 domestic workers in their communities, through house visits, various community mobilization and outreach strategies.
Empowered women domestic workers are now equipped to speak up and lead strong advocacy efforts. Ahead of the Delhi Municipal Elections in 2022, trained women domestic workers led a major campaign to demand safety at work involving 25,000 fellow workers.
Similarly, in May 2022, women domestic workers led over 80,000 informal women workers in a historic state level consultation in Delhi focused on safety at work, involving local authorities, the media, civil society organizations and union members. They facilitated critical discussions, called for the strengthening of implementation of the Sexual Harassment at Workplaces Act and provided practical recommendations.
As a result, the Martha Farrell Foundation is now actively collaborating with the Labour Department of Delhi to analyze challenges faced by Local Complaints Committees and implement solutions to equip them to handle cases of workplace violence.
Holding institutions accountable
The project works closely with relevant institutions, such as the Local Complaints Committees and the police, to ensure that they are held accountable and can provide effective, accessible and survivor-centred response mechanisms for domestic workers filing complaints.
Since the start of the project, three Local Complaints Committees have received training on timely redress regarding sexual harassment complaints and 10 additional district authorities have been approached to set up training sessions for their own committees.
Nandita Pradhan Bhatt, Director at the Martha Farrell Foundation, explains: “We believe that all individuals, communities, and institutions have the will and ability to facilitate change and invest in self-empowerment and growth.”
The project has already reached more than 53,000 women domestic workers and continues to make strides to achieve fully violence-free workplaces.
* Name changed to protect the individual’s identity.