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Manjima Bhattacharjya

By Shahrukh Rafi Khan , Saba Gul Khattak, Sajid Kazmi
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2005, pp. 220, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 12 December 2005

Across South Asia, neo-liberal economic policies are pushing in- creasing numbers of people (a large percentage of these, women and children) into an unprotected, unregulated labour market. As the forces creating these trends become stronger, these issues receive less and less attention from policy makers. This book adds to a growing body of empirical data that illustrates some of the worst effects of the current economic framework.   This book is a detailed report of a recent study conducted by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) with the help of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) in four settlements in Karachi. The study takes a detailed look at four sectors of the informal sector – agarbatti (incense stick) making, carpet weaving, prawn shelling and sack stitching. All four sectors share certain similarities – they are all home-based subcontracted work given to households in different settlements in the city, they are mostly undertaken by migrants, primarily by women and children in the households, and they are all deemed ‘hazardous’ in some way.   Home-based work is that segment of the informal sector which is more vulnerable than the rest.It is a domain that rests precariously between the private and the public world – that is not a ‘workplace’ in the conventional sense, neither does it encourage regulation because of the perception that what goes on inside the four walls of the home are not the business of the state nor enterprise. Finally women themselves deem work done in this space as not “work” like that in the public arena, and often allow this ‘self image’ to devalue and often discount the labour in this sphere – whether domestic labour or work for pay. Yet, home-based work is increasingly popular in the region for various reasons – it helps women intersperse domestic work with paid work, and in a context where there is strong cultural resistance to female mobility, it is often the only choice available to women as a means to earn.   The study provides interesting insights into the specific processes of the four sectors, the differences in the communities involved in each, the experience of the workers, the hazards to health, the impact of the additional income, the relations with the contractors and various other aspects of their engagement with the work. It also undertakes an impressive value chain analysis, showing the revenue distribution across the production chain (including after export). The result ...

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