Congress participants visit 6 HBW organisations in the outskirts of Kathmandu

Learning and exchanging: Congress participants visit six HBW organisations in the outskirts of Kathmandu

The field visits aimed to provide an opportunity for the delegates to interact with home-based workers (HBWs), gain insights into their nature of work, and understand the challenges they face.
On April 27, 2023, on day 4 of the HNI Congress, participants put their HNI t-shirt on, comfortable shoes and hopped onto 8 different buses that took each group to different locations in the outskirts of Kathmandu. Six home-based worker organisations led the hosting efforts: Home-Based Workers Concern Society Nepal (HBWCSN), SABAH Nepal, Women for Human Rights (WHR), Saathi, and Class Nepal.
South of Kathmandu city, the delegates visited traditional Newari settlements: Bugamati, Khokana, and Sunakoti in the Lalitpur. Home-based workers in these areas were involved in various crafts such as wooden handicrafts, knitting, embroidery, harpic and phynel production, liquid soap making, straw and plastic mat making, carpet weaving, soap making, incense making, food processing, and tailoring.

“What we have learned as a good practice is the empowerment of female home-based workers in the communities. The community organizes using cooperatives, with good management and governance. The community has benefited from a housing welfare relief fund for the people who have been affected by the earthquake which made way for a childcare center, kindergarten and clinic for female home-based workers. They bring children to daycare, thus, they can work efficiently to earn income for their families without the concern of taking care of their children when they work. Most importantly, they have collected a pool of money to help with bulk-buying for raw materials and the welfare of members of the group for sickness, maternity, and death.”

One of the groups visited SABAH Nepal’s office and Flagship Store in the Lalitpur district, south of Kathmandu City. SABAH Nepal is a community-based social business organization that houses its Trade Facilitation Center (TFC) at its office space. The TFC serves as a hub for product design, development, and marketing of HBWs’ products, connecting grassroots women’s products to national and international markets through trade linkages. During the visit, the delegates had the opportunity to explore different units within SABAH Nepal, including production, business, program, and marketing units, and interact with HBWs.

“We had never stepped out of our homes, so meeting all of these sisters and brothers has made us feel very good. Yesterday, we visited the place where sisters of Nepal do home-based work. I am a HBW and do sewing and weaving. They minutely and patiently explained everything to us. When we go back to our homes, we will explain this work to our sisters in a better way and produce better finished work.”

Further south of Kathmandu, delegates visited Godawari. HBWs in Godawari were engaged in various work such as knitting, pickle making, shoemaking, and beadwork. The participants interacted with HBWs to understand their nature of work, their challenges and marketing strategies while touring through the residential area where they lived. They also had an interactive session at the municipality hall to learn about HBWs’ work, their collective efforts, and their collaboration with local stakeholders for sustainable development.

“One woman noted that she had participated in a training provided by the International Labour Organization (ILO) on entrepreneurship and the elimination of violence against women. Following the training, she started training other female home-based workers, and as a result, these women started to sell their products outside of the home, something they had never done before. In addition to providing space, the district council assists Sabah Nepal by paying the female trainers for the instruction they deliver.”

Delegates also visited the eastern part of Kathmandu City, specifically Byasi and Manahora in the Bhaktapur district. In Byasi, they learned about Dhaka weaving, a traditional handwoven fabric, and interacted with HBWs. They also visited the homes of two HBWs. In Manahora, a slum area, they had an interactive session with HBWs from the Ujjwal Manohara Women Home-Based Worker Group. This group advocates for improving housing and the community environment while addressing various forms of violence faced by women and girls in the area.

“We observed the women weaving dresses. They mentioned it takes them three days just to make one meter, sometimes they work from 5:00 am until 7:00 p.m. They work 12 hours. Also, they struggle with the heat and cold in their center, due to climate change. Some people may think these tasks are easy, but in reality, they are very challenging.”

In the northern part of Kathmandu, delegates visited Gokarna and Mulpani. In Gokarna, they interacted with HBWs from the Gokarneshwor Home-Based Workers Skill Development Women’s Cooperative, which is an affiliate of HBWCSN. The cooperative consists of 725 female members engaged in various activities such as knitting, embroidery, beading, shoemaking, Dhaka weaving, carpet weaving, soap making, incense production, and more. The cooperative operates a community center that serves as a training center, production and collection hub, and space for other collective activities.

“We discussed the main organizational issues our fellow sisters are facing in the cooperative. All of us as home-based workers are dealing with similar issues. We saw their struggles, it was painful to see that some lack good working conditions and a proper space. As my fellow sisters said, the place is too small for the work they do. Also, they have been inhaling glue and they lack ventilation. Our fellow sisters suffer health problems, like back pain and eye problems. It is very important to see that from their side. Those are the working conditions of these fellow workers.”

In Mulpani, the majority of HBWs are piece-rate workers, with approximately 600 HBWs who are members of the Mahila Utthan Group, a Member-Based Organization (MBO). They are involved in the production of traditional children’s clothes, shawls, garlands, pickles, silver and copper statues, ladies’ shoes, incense, and disposable dishes made from leaves. During the field visit, there was an interaction with HBWs, a showcase of their products, and a visit to a newly opened store where HBWs’ products are displayed and sold to the public.
The last field route was in the North part of Kathmandu, delegates were taken to the Women for Human Rights (WHR) office in Budanilkantha. WHR focuses on single women’s issues and aims to change traditional stereotypes and mindsets that hinder their participation and access to resources. There are more than 500 informal workers, with 30 percent being home-based workers (HBWs), engaged in activities such as Dhaka weaving, incense making, shoemaking, and pickle making. WHR takes orders for stitching, which are provided to HBWs on a piece-rate basis. The organization markets and sells many of the products made by homeworkers, and it organizes bazaars at their office four to five times a year to support HBWs in selling their products.

“This visit was an excellent experience for us. We learned a lot by sharing experiences and seeing things. We met the home-based workers there and spoke to them. We came to know that they are very good home-based workers, but their products are not getting access to the markets, it is restricted in the community only. We realized this was a challenge for them. They were making excellent products which deserved to have access to the markets.”