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17 hrs work by Ahmedabad women building workers daily; carry 5,680 kg of load, climb 480 steps, walk 4 km: Study

Counterview Desk
Shantaben, 45, is one of the 75,000 women working at construction sites, 2,595 of them in Gujarat’s business capital, Ahmedabad. Migrated with her family from tribal-dominated Dahod 20 years ago, she gets up at 3:30 am, spends around an hour looking for a functional pay-and-use toilet. “If I’m delayed, I will not be able to finish my household chores in order to reach the labour naka in time to find work”, she says.
Thereafter, she must spend four hours collecting water, cooking for her family, washing clothes, and cleaning. “She wolfs down her breakfast in five minutes, and changes her clothes behind a parked car”, says an Aajivika Bureau study, released in Ahmedabad, which quotes her saying, even at the construction site, she is “expected to clean the site before work commences.”
At the work site, she is expected to lift and carry 10 bags of soil weighing 25 kg each, and some cement bags weighing 20 kg. She filters sand, fills soil in sacks, mixes material, lifts and carries the material, throughout the day. Even five minutes of rest after difficult work is rare, she says. For all this, she receives a paltry Rs 300, and no overtime for working more than eight hours.
Same is the case with Somaben, 24, who has migrated to Ahmedabad from Banswara, Rajasthan, with her husband and 3 young children, except that she has to additionally take care of her three children, who include her two-month-old baby, whom she must breast feed. At the construction site, she ties a swing from sheets of cloth for her baby to sleep near where she is works. She receives only Rs 250 for her work.
Based on interviews with 43 migrant women construction workers in Ahmedabad, the study uses the new time-use survey methodology to understand the burden of their work. It points out that women workers an average work for about 17 hours a day, carry 5,680 kg load, climb 480 steps, and walk four km taking loads as heavy as 35 kg at a time.
Compared to this, it underlines, male workers are not expected to lift and carry materials, they are only responsible for filling the materials, operating the machine, or helping the masons. On an average, male workers work for 12 to 14 hours.
As part of the drudgery at home, the study says, women workers spend half-an-hour collecting water, carrying heavy 20 litre canisters of water back and forth from their living spaces. For women who live in open spaces, time spent on water collection goes up to 45 minutes. They take water from taps in nearby private homes or apartment buildings, but this source of water is not guaranteed every day.
Of the around 2.25 lakh construction workers in Ahmedabad, 80% of them migrants hailing from Gujarat, southern Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, 30% are women.
According to the study, things are even more difficult for pregnant women, who spend up to eight months of their pregnancy working in the city, and are made to lift the same amount of weight and perform strenuous tasks. They go back to the village to perform their delivery, but in 15 days’ time must return to work, where there is no social support system.
Noting that during illness women avoid going to the hospital, as it means that their husband would also have to take a day off work, and forfeit wages, the study says, accessing healthcare costs them between Rs. 350 and Rs 1000 in the city for a single visit.
Women interviewed reported pain in their limbs and joints, severe headaches, and abdominal pain. They attribute this to the heavy weights that they have to lift throughout the day and lack of rest. Pregnant women often suffer miscarriages at construction sites, the study says, adding, yet, most of them remain completely invisible and outside the coverage of government mandated maternal and childcare, including ante or post-natal care and vaccinations.

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