About the project

No Space For Work: Political economy and challenges to women’s labour participation, safety and autonomy (or NSFW) is a national project spearheaded by Zubaan and funded by the Ford Foundation. It seeks to understand how women navigate the world of paid economic work against the backdrop of unpaid and devalued work, and how their social identities (based on caste, class, region, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.) influence these relationships. The concept behind the project is in continuation with Zubaan’s larger organizational commitment of providing visibility to diverse sets of perspectives put out by local researchers and grassroot women’s collectives. The project supports participatory research by women and LGBTQIA researchers, in partnership with women leaders, community researchers, grassroots activists/organizations, grounding their work in their own communities. The research aims to produce outputs, in the form of documentation and audio-visual reports, which can be used to disseminate information within the community as well as help in local organization and mobilization. The informal sectors of work under focus in the project are construction, sanitation, domestic work, sex work, agricultural and allied sectors, grassroots volunteer-based work (ASHA, Anganwadi, etc.). Smaller pilot studies are expected under hospitality, private education, media, tourism, etc.

 

COVID-19 response

Responding to recent events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the project has adapted the focus towards exploring how the experiences of work for women, and forms of violence they face at work have changed in the times of the pandemic. Besides, looking at the issues concerning women and work through the participatory research model, Zubaan has also provided relief to marginalised women and communities through its partner organisations in Assam, Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Manipur, Rajasthan and West Bengal.

 

Outputs

No Space For Work was designed and implemented after multiple discussions with feminist activists, organisations, women’s unions, etc. working at the grassroots level. The outputs, therefore, form the core of the project and are developed through participatory research. These multimedia outputs are and will be based on the needs and requirements of working women in specific project locations.

 

In a pre-COVID world, workshops were held in some project locations with partners, wherein women workers from the informal sector spoke about their experiences of paid and unpaid work, all while negotiating structures of violence (mental, physical, economic, etc.). Out of these narratives of struggle emerged various stories of solidarity and resistance. The project aims to support the documentation of these very  stories and build on the research capacities of working women so that they can document these stories of struggle and resilience in their own languages and on their own terms.

Ahmedabad workshop with women workers in agriculture and allied industries, construction, pastoralists, etc., in partnership with WGWLO and Utthan, 28-29 November 2019.

 

However, the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown brought widespread changes to the world of women’s work, and new methods (like telephone-based research) are being developed to ensure that women can conduct research in ways that do not endanger them and others. These in turn have led to the generation of various multimedia outputs.

 

  • Collaborations with women’s collectives

 

Collaborations with women’s collectives in Gujarat, Assam, Manipur, Sikkim, Karnataka, and West Bengal (with partnerships currently being formed in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) saw the combination of relief based outreach with research. Here, community researchers conducted relief operations in their areas, all while collecting testimonies of those whose work and livelihood had been severely impacted by the pandemic and lockdown. Regional specificities and cross-cutting issues of migration, caste, ethnicities, disabilities, etc. formed the core of their research. While the narratives that have been collected are in textual form, efforts are underway to adapt them to different formats (like audio stories and graphic illustrations), and disseminate them amongst the communities they emerged from, through mediums like community radio, WhatsApp and Facebook groups. When health conditions improve, there are plans to use easily distributable and reproducible materials like pamphlets and posters for dissemination as well.

Bangalore workshop with women workers from domestic workers union, construction sector, street vending, etc., in partnership with SIEDS, 19-20 December 2019.

 

  • Generation of academic material

 

In addition to community research, the project is also supporting the publication of research papers that look at the intersection of various forms of violence and the world of paid and unpaid work. Two experts from the field of feminist economics and labour activism have been commissioned to write background papers that explore this. Further, a separate call for papers that situates these issues in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown was put forth in May 2020––selected papers will be published adapted to shareable materials and published in a volume in 2021.

 

  • Future outputs and plans

 

As per the Attribution NonCommercial 4.0 International Creative Commons License which rests with Zubaan, the copyright for all material generated under this project is shared by Zubaan and the creators of the material. Using this license and sharing model, the project envisions the creation of a resource  base with these and other materials, wherein the information amassed will be used as a source to produce various content for distribution and advocacy purposes both within the communities engaged with the project, as well as other stakeholders in the field.

 

Why did we start this project?

Statistical and quantitative analyses of women’s workplace participation in South Asia, especially India, tend to overlook the role that violence in the workplace and work-related hostility play. In 2016, Zubaan completed a three-and-a-half year IDRC-supported research project called the Sexual Violence and Impunity (SVI) project, which looked at sexual violence in South Asia, the silences that exists around it, as well as the structures that enable a lack of accountability (impunity).   The project illustrated the need to examine the presence of these structures of violence and impunity within the workplace and their consequent impact on women’s paid and unpaid labour.

 

Bangalore workshop with women workers from domestic workers union, construction sector, street vending, etc., in partnership with SIEDS, 19-20 December 2019.

 

The #MeToo movement, while highlighting these and similar issues, was limited to a certain audience and thus failed to capture narratives from a wide range of sectors. Implicit in the discourse that accompanied the movement were certain exclusionary preconceived notions regarding what ‘work’ and ‘violence’ were and what a ‘workplace’ looked like.

How then, does one address the fact that structures of violence in women’s workplaces and their participation in the workforce are inextricably linked, and ensure that studies that examine this linkage accurately represent the broad range of women’s work, all while acknowledging that these structures of violence have different implications based on one’s social location? 

This project attempts to contribute to this ongoing conversation by looking at these questions through specific areas of work such as construction work, domestic work, sanitation, healthcare and care work. These sectors were chosen based on the visibility (or lack thereof) of women’s experiences of work, the reasons for their share in work participation, and to foreground women’s voices within these work arrangements. For example, even though a sector like the garment industry employs a large percentage of women workers, it was omitted from the project following discussions with garment unions and women workers as they already form a part of other extensive studies. The aim of this project is not to duplicate research, but to work in a collaborative manner with women’s unions, collectives, and other organisations dealing with the same issues. By directly involving women workers in the process and making them the chroniclers of their own experiences, No Space For Work aims to create a space where such issues can be articulated and addressed by women, on their own terms.


  Call for Collaboration

 

We will be looking for collaborators on our project on gender and labour in the upcoming year, some of which will be graphic or illustrative longform nonfiction work. Please note that there is no deadline for this call as such. You can send us your portfolios and we’ll reach out if/when there’s a collaboration that fits your style! Also kindly note, that we will not be responding to individual emails unless there is a specific graphic/illustrative work opportunity for you. You can send your portfolio to contact@zubaanprojects.org!