Why do ASHA workers in India earn so little? -Shruti Ambast
India’s response to the pandemic has depended heavily on the exploited labour of women workers, most of them from marginalised backgrounds. These are ASHAs or Accredited Social Health Activists, the cadre of frontline health workers that has been mobilised for everything from door-to-door surveys, distributing medicine kits, measuring oxygen saturation, monitoring containment zones and spreading awareness about vaccines. 70,000 such women recently went on strike in Maharashtra demanding higher pay, regularisation of work and social protection. In August 2020 there was a nationwide strike of 6 lakh ASHAs, and over the past year there have been strikes and protests across States, including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat and Kerala.
The extra burden of pandemic-related duties, lack of protective gear, harassment by the public and delayed payment of COVID honorariums have led to this breaking point, for workers who were already underpaid and overburdened. This has also prompted the National Human Rights Commission to ask the Centre and States to file reports on the poor working conditions of ASHAs. The existing policy framework for ASHAs, based on regressive classifications of women’s labour, does not support adequate compensation, and is in need of a complete overhaul.
ASHAs: volunteers or workers?
It was in 2005 that the government started deploying ASHAs under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). The Mission Document of the programme posited the role of the ASHA as a core strategy for improving access to healthcare at the level of rural households. There are currently a total of 10,47,324 ASHA workers across India.
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CBGAIndia.in, 29 June, 2021, https://www.cbgaindia.org/blog/why-do-asha-workers-in-india-earn-so-little/?fbclid=IwAR3J6O3oUEXLCmId3qYXnO7l46wbe3OQ_KKh2TbWsrwRZEmurySOS04m3SM