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12 Jan 2021

Neetha N., The Indian Express

India: ASHA and Anganwadi women frontline health workers must be recognised as workers and not volunteers

"Govt must give ASHAs, Anganwadi volunteers rights, benefits due as workers", 12 January 2021

COVID-19 has given visibility to Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) and Anganwadi workers — women “volunteers” attached to a government scheme or employed on a mission mode — who are frontline warriors in the battle against the pandemic. In India, there are about a lakh ASHA workers, 1.3 million Anganwadi workers and another 1.2 million Anganwadi helpers, of them women. As the response to the pandemic required localised approaches, services of community workers became useful, given their robust contacts at the grass roots. During the lockdown, when there was uncertainty and fear of the virus, these women became the connecting link between the community and the state machinery.

But, in India, there is a refusal to recognise this “all women workforce” as workers providing labour. They are classified as “honorary workers”, denied minimum wages, leave and other conditions that work entails. Sugar-coated in the superior value-domain of women as the embodiment of care service providers, the state prefers to call them “volunteers”.

With all field reports and CMIE data pointing to a deeper crisis in female employment during the pandemic, state intervention is much needed..