Women Homeworkers: Advocating for the Recognition and the Protection of Workers Rights and Shifting Local Norms

Mustaghfiroh Rahayu
Nadlirotul Ulfa

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This case study illustrates the changes for homeworkers in the research village in the district of Bantul, Yogyakarta after the formation of women’s groups by the Annisa Swasti Foundation (Yasanti). Women in this village have often faced challenges due to the lack of formal recognition of their work and social and legal protections by the government.

The women homeworkers in the Bantul research village predominantly sew material offcuts to make bags of various sizes that are then distributed to larger enterprises. Most women are employed by the three key small businessmen in the village. These women specialise in a variety of skills, including patchworking, sewing, lining, and finishing. Women are paid between Rp. 1000 and Rp. 1,500 per sheet of material, depending on how much work they can complete in a day. These wages are low compared to the average cost of living in the village. Nevertheless, women choose to pursue work as homeworkers. During the research, many women explained it was better to work than to be unemployed and that being a textile craft homeworker enabled them to earn an income without relocating away from their local community; a community that places a high value on cultural values of helping (rewangan) neighbours and contributing to activities in the village.

The informal sector, including these homeworkers, lacks government’s attention in general. Very low wages, flexible working hours, and home-based activities render these homeworkers even more invisible, and many of their work rights are denied. Yasanti has sought to undertake advocacy and support homeworkers at two levels simultaneously—at the individual and collective level, as well as at the institutional level.

At individual and collective level, Yasanti’s advocacy has aimed to increase women’s awareness that they are workers with rights to a fair wage and protection. Yasanti has also lobbied for regulations to protect homeworkers. Yasanti has successfully encouraged and supported women workers to create a union, called the Creative Mothers Homeworkers Union. Members of this union have also, with Yasanti’s support, contributed to the ongoing activism to protect homeworkers. As members of the Creative Mothers Homeworkers Union, women have participated in leadership training and practiced public speaking to express their opinions and manage the organisation. Through training and education programs, women have increased their understanding of the causes of and economic and social challenges they face as homeworkers. Armed with communication skills, confidence, and networks, women in the Bantul research village have also increasingly become involved in decision-making processes at the hamlet and village levels.

At the institutional level, women’s advocacy has led to enactment of various regulations that protect the rights of homeworkers. At the village level, they successfully advocated for the enactment of Village Head Decision No. 20, 2018, which recognises their Union as one of the village institutions formally invited to contribute to policy making and to participate in village planning and other meetings alongside other more ‘traditional’ groups. This recognition has contributed to the Union’s successful advocacy for a Village Fund allocation, which this Decision guarantees, with the funds being used for training by the Union.

At the district level, women’s advocacy led to the Creative Mothers Homeworkers Union being recognised by the Bantul Department of Manpower in 2017. Equally, at the provincial level, a dialogue between Union members and the Head of the Manpower and Transmigration Office was influential in the formulation of Provincial Decision No. 463/03508, 2017, on the Protection and Welfare of Female Homeworkers. This recognition has provided the Union with access to various government grants and empowerment programs.  

Read other case studies in the same sectoral focus of work conditions.