The safety of women health workers at the frontlines

Jashodhara Dasgupta, Jayashree Velankar, Pritisha Borah, Gangotri Hazarika Nath

Abstract

This article, based on the report of the fact-finding team on the gang rape and death of an accredited social health activist (ASHA) in Muzaffarnagar in January 2016, attempts to analyse the issues of the safety and mobility of front-line women health workers. It argues that although the National Health Mission is often alluded to as a flagship programme of the government, it has failed in its basic responsibility as an ethical employer, since there is no support and back-up system that can be easily accessed by ASHAs in terms of dealing with the fallout of their social role as “change agents” in rural areas, and community reactions to their mobility and public exposure. The report stresses the need to consider the deeply patriarchal system within which ASHAs function in states such as Uttar Pradesh. It also discusses the fact that the workforce is increasingly shifting from the formal to the informal sector, which has given rise to an assumption that the employer is no longer accountable for women workers’ safety at the workplace.

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