Women workers stay silent over air pollution issues: NGO survey

New Delhi: As many as 94% of women construction workers in Delhi never raise their voice against air pollution at construction sites in fear of losing their jobs, a survey carried out by the NGOs Mahila Housing Trust and the Help Delhi Breathe Campaign has found
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Published on May 25, 2022 12:22 AM IST
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New Delhi: As many as 94% of women construction workers in Delhi never raise their voice against air pollution at construction sites in fear of losing their jobs, a survey carried out by the NGOs Mahila Housing Trust and the Help Delhi Breathe Campaign has found.

The survey, released on Tuesday, also says there is an increased awareness among women construction workers in the areas of Bakkarwala, Gokulpuri and Sawda Ghevra, where the two NGOs carried out an extensive awareness campaign on air pollution between August 2021 and April 2022, stating more such awareness drives will not only lead to behavioural modifications in regard to air pollution, but create more awareness and drive change at the ground-level.

As part of this awareness campaign in these three Delhi villages, hundreds of female construction workers were targetted, which included mobilisation activities and educational sessions on the impact of air pollution, suggesting changes one could make both at the house-hold level and at construction sites, in order to reduce exposure to sources of pollution. The women were also educated on the steps they could take to mitigate air pollution at construction sites, largely arising out of dust resuspension.

A total of 390 respondents, all women, were then surveyed on air-pollution related issues, finding that around 68 percent of them felt focus in reducing air pollution may limit their employment opportunities, however, most admitted they felt the impact of Delhi’s polluted air while working. Around 75 percent of the respondents admitted to feeling sick and uncomfortable when air quality was poor or higher, while 73 percent of the women reported having at least one problem amongst breathing issues, asthma, coughing, skin allergy, redness, or eye irritation.

The survey also says around 93 percent of the respondents felt that public transportation systems should be improved so that more middle-class people could shun their personal vehicles.

To ascertain the impact of the educational outreach, a survey was also conducted at the start and at the end of the nine-month long campaign, finding awareness in female workers around air pollution-related issues had increased by 21 percentage points, rising from 76 percent to 97 percent.

“The endline research shows us that women construction workers are making behavioural shifts based on our campaign. But, for systemic changes to take place, clean air groups need to centre their actions around such invisibilised groups too,” said Roshini Suparna Diwakar, senior researcher at Mahila Housing Trust.

Mallika Arya, senior campaign at the Help Delhi Breathe campaign feels these findings can provide ground for launching similar campaigns across the country to build awareness on climate change and air pollution.

“Construction workers are a highly integral but invisible section of our society and they literally build and create the cities in which we live. By identifying pathways through which they can take action to safeguard themselves and their families, there is an entire dialogue that has opened up between these women and local decision makers, which has led to an increased level of awareness, knowledge and understanding on both sides,” she said.

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