Lady health workers deserve respect-decent wages and service structure

 Lady health workers ended their seven days long sit-in after successful negotiations with government

The lady health workers have ended their seven days long sit-in after having successful negotiations with minister of state Ali Muhammad Khan in Islamabad. It is an important victory for them. They showed determination and courage to press their demands and finally government accepted their demands.

Hundreds of lady health workers along with young children spent cold nights under the open sky in darkness as government switched off street lights. They spent nights without food and water. They face all odd but continued their struggle for their rights.

In a meeting held with State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Muhammad Khan, both parties agreed to the formation of a committee with representation from each province to address the issues brought forth by the LHWs. The federal government agreed to instruct inspector generals of each province to ensure the safety of all health workers.

In addition, matters regarding pensions and bonuses will be handled by the Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and the Prime Minister’s health committee. Government officials have agreed to deliver on their promises within a time frame of three months.

Prior to the brokering the deal, the LHWs had gone to no small lengths to secure their demands. Geared with compact travel bags, purses, empty plastic bottles and a rug to mark their territory, and lacking any arrangements for food and access to sanitation facilities, they spent the last few days under the open sky, braving the chill of October nights sans sweaters or blankets.

The LHWs claim that the government had tried to scare them away by switching off the street lights at night and ordering nearby petrol pump workers to bar them using their toilets, but nothing dissuaded them. “We are here to stay; we have burned our ships. God will protect us,” they said.

Indeed, in their desperation, the LHWs set off on a determined march toward the parliament house on the sixth day of protest, pushing through the various barriers, containers and barbed wire placed by the administration to thwart their stride. An eventual clash with the police, who had deployed female personnel to contain the protest, resulted in at least one lady health worker sustaining injuries.

Lady health workers had put forth a list of ten demands, which includes restoration of the National Programme of Family Planning to its original plan, equal bonuses for all employees (including drivers), a unified pay structure, job security, and ample protection when rendering their services during health campaigns, such as the polio immunization drive.

The Lady Health Worker Programme was established in 1993 by then the Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto Shaheed to provide primary healthcare to women who are confined to their homes, and to execute immunisation campaigns such as the polio-eradication drive. About 125,000 women are employed as part of the Lady Health Worker Programme.

However, in a society as conservative and patriarchal as Pakistan, each day poses a new threat. On one hand, they are vilified for carrying out polio campaigns by those who deem it un-Islamic and part of a ‘Western agenda’. On the other, their own families often resent them for taking up work that demands them to be out in the public at odd hours.

“Sometimes we are required to do a delivery at 2AM and if we say “no”, we get a show-cause notice. On top of this, there is no arrangement for our security and harassment is part of our daily routine now. What is the point of enduring all this and not even earn a decent salary? Aren’t we human beings? Were we born just to serve this country as slaves?” cried out a protestor who wished to remain anonymous.

For all their relentless public service, one of the biggest disappointments for LHWs is the display of extreme hostility from locals, especially while they are out on polio drives. Just last month, a 25-year-old LHW, Nasreen Gul, was shot dead in the Mirali sub-division of North Waziristan.

One lady health workers explained the situation they faced in these words. “So many of our colleagues have lost their lives in the line of duty, yet we haven’t received the recognition we deserve. A few months ago, one worker from Azad Jammu and Kashmir was shot dead during a polio drive and her co-worker went into a coma after experiencing a heart attack on the spot. Now there is no one to answer to their families or facilitate them in any way. Even now, many people don’t open their doors for us and taunt us for not having anything better to do in life.”

The lady health workers deserve respect, care, decent wages, protection, security and service structure to serve the women of their areas better. They are doing great job and their services must be acknowledged by both the government and society.  

                                                              Rukhsana Manzoor Deputy Editor

1 comment:

  1. Yr writing is comprehensive, govt should act upo yr advice honestly.


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