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Understanding Occupational Health among Informal Agricultural Workers in Gujarat, India

UVA-SEWA Partnership
SEWA 2018

Mary Collins, Lina Hong, Patrick Robinson, and Elise Watt (all in the College of Arts & Sciences) conducted the Occupational Health Solutions for Informal Women Workers project in summer 2018. The Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), founded in 1972 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, mobilizes and unionizes informal women workers in 14 states of India.  Nearly 94% of self-employed workers in India engage in the informal work sector, and the majority of this percentage is women (Bhatt, 2006). In addition to housing support, banking services, insurance, and childcare, SEWA established the Lok Swasthya Mendali health cooperative in 1990 (Bhatt, 2006). The cooperative currently offers occupational health services such as yoga relief sessions and ergonomic tools in the workplace. While meeting a clear need for a subset of SEWA members, in their current form these interventions represent only a starting point. SEWA’s focus on occupational health and safety has had a predominantly urban focus, leaving a clear opportunity to expand to the agricultural sector. Even in the limited settings for which ergonomic tools have been developed (e.g.among garment workers, kite makers, embroiderers, and incense stick makers), these tools are often difficult to implement without the necessary supplemental educational materials. In addition, affordability remains a barrier to access for many workers (IIPHG, 2013). Our research lays a foundation for the expansion of SEWA’s occupational health program in terms of area of application and scope of resources. Using ethnographic and participatory rural appraisal methods, we explored the experiences of agricultural workers and rural home-based workers in relation to occupational health hazards. We worked with our partners codesign a curriculum and complementaryresources to aid SEWA in occupational health education and intervention that accounts for the experiences of rural women workers.