HomeNet SEA Subregional Assembly 2005: Towards Strengthening Homeworkers’ Networks

Homeworker-members from Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Lao P.D.R. renewed ties with sister HomeNets at the Southeast Asia Regional Assembly held at the Asia Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand on 22 – 23 October  2005. The approval of Homenet SEA’s Constitution and By-Laws, the election  of officers and members of the subregional council, and the joint mapping of future plans and directions for year 2006 at the subregional level were the highlights of the Assembly.

The Constitution and By-Laws of HomeNet SEA will be registered in Manila. As agreed upon during Assembly, the format and other requirements relative to its registration must conform with  Philippine law. Below is an excerpt from HomeNet SEA’s Vision – Mission statements:

Vision

The empowered homeworkers realize their economic, political, and social rights through the strengthening of their own organizations and networks, the improvement of their working and living conditions, the enjoyment of income and employment security including social protection, and participation in governance related to homeworkers’ concerns.

 Mission

To enable organized homeworkers to democratically run and manage institutionalized and self-sustaining organizations and networks at the sub-regional and national levels that will allow them to enjoy better working conditions and standards of living, attain higher income, steadier employment, and access to social protection; and to ensure that their issues and concerns are better addressed in the policies and programs of governments, international agencies, and civil society organizations, and that their representatives gain greater visibility and participation in various levels of governance, than when they were unorganized.

For year 2006, the plans and directions of HomeNet SEA were  discussed during the Subregional Assembly, summarized below as:

Towards the Legal Establishment of HomeNet SEA
HomeNet SEA will soon acquire a legal personality as its approved Constitution and By-laws will be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in Manila, Philippines.

Organizing Expansion
Group formation and strengthening of mass-based groups have been the thrust of PATAMABA (Philippines), HomeNet Indonesia, and HomeNet Thailand in pursuance of expanding the organization of homeworkers’ networks. Being eyed for affiliation are groups in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, (PATAMABA had preliminary talks with some women leaders from Vietnam, and  Homenet Thailand will establish linkages with Cambodian groups, as it has done with Laotian groups).

Capability Building and Strengthening
HomeNet South Asia will conduct an institutional-building workshop at the national coordinators’ level in New Delhi in the first quarter of 2006. Homenet SEA has been invited to send one participant from each country. National Homenets will continue conducting capability building programs as part of strengthening their networks.

Resource Mobilization
With UNIFEM and Oxfam programs about to end in 2006, alternative sources of funding and possibilities of establishing linkages with NGOs sharing the same vision as HomeNet SEA’s must be explored.

Knowledge Sharing
There will be a subregional workshop on fair trade and marketing in Manila sometime October 2006 to coincide with the annual meeting of the Subregional Council. The Homenet Southeast Asia Newsmagazine will continue to come out twice a year and the website will be updated on a quarterly basis.

Policy Advocacy
National HomeNets will work jointly on the following issues: Approval of ILO Convention 177 on Homework ; Country Program and the Magna Carta for the Informal Sector (in the case of the Philippines); Labor Protection Laws (advocacy and campaigns for the coverage of informal workers and homebased workers); Ministerial Regulation to Protect Homeworkers (heighten and if possible, dramatize campaigns in order to attract the attention of lawmakers and governments); Statistical Visibility (to push for the inclusion of homeworkers in national statistics); Microfinance (continuous networking with various institutions for provision of microfinance services to homeworkers) ; Child Care (advocacy for longer time of child care so that women can perform homebased work in a safe manner without hazard to the child); Fair Trade for informal workers in the context of the WTO (to prepare a position paper for the WTO ministerial meeting, with the theme “make trade work for people, and not  against the poor”).

Elected Members of the Homenet SEA Subregional Council: (behind,left to right) Duangduan Kamchai, Kanoknart Ngamnetra, Boonsom Namsomboon, Sujin Rungsawang (proxy for Somkid Duangern) , Primar Jardeleza, Josephine “Olive” Parillla, and Lourdes “Baby” Gula; (front,left to right) Cecile Susiloretno, Sutarti, Hesti Wijaya, Rosalinda “Inday” Ofreneo.

Sharing of Social Protection Experiences – South Asia

HomeNet South Asia was invited to share insights on the social protection experiences of homeworkers’ groups in the region. Sapna Joshi and Jyotsna Sivaramayya presented a study entitled “Action- Research on Social Protection for Homebased Workers in South Asia covering Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

What surfaced from South Asia’s research was a strong gender bias that disfavor women workers in the form of irregular payments or wages lower than men’s for the same type of work, etc. Given that scenario, yet, with their earnings considered very essential to the family’s survival, women have expressed preference for homebased work, rather than working in factories because the arrangement enables them to carry out domestic duties, considering that women are also tied down by cultural norms. However, women in homebased work do not learn the latest skills and lack the resources to buy equipments. They also suffer from occupational health hazards like eye strain, back pains, abdominal pains, knee pains and foot pains. Women have also been complaining of reproductive health problems such as heavy menstruation and uterus related problems. Abdominal pain is an occupational hazard for both men and women.

In search of strategy to assist the “poorest of the poor”, the means to address their issues and problems are also being sought. Of foremost concern is the occupational health problems of homebased workers which often affect other family members too. Health and sanitation, remains a big problem, particularly in areas where potable water and toilet facilities are lacking. Insecurity in the workplace, displacement from their residences and workplace, vulnerability to disasters (natural and man-made) are equally important concerns. For credit, homeworkers depend largely on relatives and neighbors, so something must be done to address their access to funds. The challenge is how to make social protection more inclusive – to include those who are not part of any group- because the current emphasis is largely on organized groups.

Sharing Of Social Protection Experiences – Philippines

During the subregional workshop on social protection, the research findings in the Philippines, involving 1000 respondents from six information-rich communities with PATAMABA’s organizational presence, were presented by Dr. Rosalinda Pineda Ofreneo (National Research Coordinator for the Ford project ) and the PATAMABA homeworker community leaders themselves who had actual social protection experiences.

Insights from the following case study sites were discussed: PATAMABA Damayan (mutual aid) in San Francisco, Bulacan; community-based health- micro insurance scheme (AHMI) with a housing component, in Angono, Rizal; SSS-Automatic debit Account (ADA) scheme in Balingasa, Quezon City; the indigenous social protection scheme in Apugan; microfinance program in PATAMABA Region 6 (Iloilo and Antique provinces) and the ORT- Health Plus Scheme (OHPS), a non-profit community health insurance program in La Union. (For more information on these schemes, see Homenet Southeast Asia News Magazine, Vol 3, No1 April 2005 and the www.homenetseasia.org website).

The findings revealed that the current situations present a challenge to traditional notions of economic and social security tied to formal government run systems where women informal sector workers are barely covered; and if ever they are granted access, cannot even sustain their contributions due to income insecurity. Study findings also surfaced other forms of security that are gaining importance in homebased workers’ lives, such as food, reproductive health, etc.

The overriding concern is to enable women workers in the informal economy to have a secure income, to increase their capacity to meet basic needs and to deal with risks and vulnerabilities, which should inform the national government’s overall agenda in combating poverty.

Sharing Of Social Protection Experiences – Laos P.D.R.

Khantone Phamuang spoke on behalf of CDEA, an NGO which he represents, and which has been working with HomeNet Southeast Asia through Homenet Thailand. Social security for the informal sector is a very new idea in his country. Likewise, this is a new idea for him because he was exposed to community development; that was his organizing track back home. But he assured fellow HomeNet participants that the new knowledge gathered from this meeting will be applied when he returns to his country.

Mr. Phamuang said that social welfare is being practiced in Laos by giving out loans for education, health, maternity etc. There is also a savings group where members obtain benefits from the interest at the end of the year. The provision for social service is made possible through a savings group that gives some amount to members during times of need – death of a family member, giving birth, payment for coffin, or provide some amount of money (equivalent to USD 300) to the bereaved family. The group also provides support for income generating activities and in the marketing of homeworkers’ products.

Mr. Phamuang reiterated that he will study how social security can be extended to the workers in his country. What he has learned from this workshop, particularly social protection and security of homeworkers and those in the informal economy, will not be wasted. The concept of social security will be introduced to them. Much more, he can see that these workers need safety and health insurance because the working environment can be really bad, and there are health hazards in the workplace.

Sharing Of Social Protection Experiences – Indonesia

The study entitled “Social Protection for Homeworkers in Indonesi: Insights and Lessons” was presented by Dr. Hesti Wijaya. The standard formal social security enjoyed by formal workers in Indonesia is practically non-existent or not extended to informal homebased workers. The unsuccessful effort to push for the social security coverage of homebased workers from state-funded social security institutions gave way to the development of indigenous social protection schemes. Apparently, it was the second best alternative to not having any means of protection at all.

The research study was conducted through participatory community based action in selected areas in Jakarta, West Java, Yogyakarta and East Java. The study showed that organized homeworkers in these areas have developed various special protection schemes, which are non-conventional but are addressing their particular needs. There are five schemes which have been covered as subject of the study: Social Welfare Scheme; Health Scheme; Saving-loan Scheme; Arisan Scheme and the HWPRI Provincial Fund for Organizing.

The Social Welfare Scheme requires members to give contributions, based on an agreement among themselves on the amount deemed affordable to those involved. Various welfare benefits are covered: health injury and accident; death; birth; wedding; circumcision; engagement; amenities for group meetings; education; purchase of consumption goods such as TV sets and electronics. Since most of them are generally poor, sustainability can become a big problem and fund depletion can happen when members try to access in succession. Experiences in the field reveal that the scheme has been relatively successful and quite effective.

For the Health Scheme, known as Dana Sehat in the Indonesian language, the target coverage is directed towards preventive and curative health care. Preventive health measures entail giving education to health workers who will subsequently be the health cadres to work for homeworkers on a voluntary basis (counseling on health matters). The curative aspect is the promotion of indigenous herbal medicines and increase in healthy food intake, provision of medicine in case of emergency, and continuing lobbying for inclusion of homeworkers in the traditional, formal health insurance scheme of the government. The fund is managed by the workers themselves and sustainability becomes a problem when contributions could not catch up with the escalating prices of medicines and medical service.

The Saving-Loan Scheme has been quite popular among the informal workers because it addresses both economic and social welfare protection. It can be a cooperative or a loan saving organization.

The “Arisan” is very popular among the Indonesian women where some 10 to 50 homeworkers organize themselves into a group. Contributions in every area vary, depending on how much the group has agreed upon. The recipient is drawn, lottery style, and there can be about 1 to 4 winners per drawing session, depending on what has been mutually agreed upon at the beginning. The meeting serves as an occasion to socialize and even an opportunity to say that one is in urgent need of cash. For the latter, group members will be flexible with rules and may forego the drawing of lottery in favor of the member who is in dire need of assistance. Arisan is a flexible saving scheme meant to address the urgent needs of members. It is also an effective means to organize and develop cohesiveness among homeworkers.

The HWPRI Provincial Fund for Organizing Scheme has been conceived to address the increasing cost of transportation to attend organizational meetings conducted in the regions of East Java. Through partial transportation subsidy, transportation costs among members are reduced. Participatory action here means that each member contributes to the HWPRI fund for organizing at the provincial level, on a monthly basis. This is one way of ensuring that organizational meetings are undertaken regularly.

Indigenous social protection is an alternative solution among homebased workers. But in the midst of chronic economic crisis, sustainability remains a big question. There must be a continuing quest for indigenous social protection schemes that are responsive to the needs of women home-based workers.

Making Governance Gender-Responsive

Twenty-one participants from Thailand, Indonesia, Laos and the Philippines joined the Gender and Governance Workshop held on 24 October 2005 at the Student Christian Center in Bangkok, Thailand. Primar Jardeleza and Olive Parilla (PATAMABA-Philippines) served as resource persons.

The workshop aimed to 1) identify gender problems and issues in informal work (in their respective communities); 2) explain the elements of an effective Gender and Development (GAD) Plan and Budget for their organizations and communities; and 3) identify steps towards making their organizations more gender-sensitive and eventually, towards formulating a Gender-Responsive Plan for 2006.

The opening ceremonies got everyone involved with the “Paper Folding” exercise where each participant was asked to explain the meaning of her/his creation. From the participants’ creative minds, various persuasions and symbolic meanings surfaced.

The 15 minute showing of “The Impossible Dream” was the take off point for identifying gender problems, issues, and manifestations of gender bias in society and in informal work. Dividing participants into country groups, their presentations revealed some commonalities: within the family, women assumed their traditional reproductive roles; in the community, women surprisingly, had time for organizational activities, despite their numerous tasks within the home; but women have more problems, because of the multiple roles that they assume.

The discussion on Why Gender Matters in Governance emphasized that good governance can only be attained if gender biases are addressed and eliminated. In gender-responsive governance, there exists: equality among women and men (access to resources, participation in decision making, sharing of benefits); respect for human rights; empowerment of women; and a transformative agenda. Its attainment, through the preparation of a GAD Plan and the GAD Budget, can be a potent advocacy tool and has its implications for social equity (how the pie is sliced and shared). The GAD Plan and Budget, translate political commitments and goals into reality, and reflect the government’ s social and economic priorities at various levels.

Homenet SEA participants to the Gender and Governance Workshop  held at the Christian Student Center,  Bangkok, Thailand on 24 October 2005.