The empowered homeworkers realize their economic, political, and social rights through the strengthening of own organizations and networks, the improvement of their working and living conditions, the enjoyment of income and employment security, including social protection, and participation in governance related to homeworkers’ concerns.
To enable organized homeworkers to democratically run and manage institutionalized and self-sustaining organizations and networks at the sub-regional and national levels that will allow them to enjoy better working conditions and standards of living, attain higher income, steadier employment, and access to social protection; and to ensure that their issues and concerns are better addressed in the policies and programs of governments, international agencies, and civil society organizations, and that their representatives gain greater visibility and participation in various levels of governance, than when they were unorganized.
Homenet Southeast Asia : Strengths and Challenges
National homebased workers' networks in Southeast Asia and/or are being developed in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Lao PDR and most recently, Cambodia. The first three emerged as part of a major subregional project undertaken from 1988 to 1996 by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and funded by DANIDA, while the latter two came as a result of expansion initiatives by subregional and country Homenets. Subregional networking, advocacy and networking is channeled through Homenet Southeast Asia, where common goals include greater visibility, recognition and participation of homebased workers in the ASEAN context ; access to resources and social protection (including occupational safety and health); and better policies and programs through improved legislation and the ratification of ILO Convention 177 on Home Work.
The institutional base of HOMENET SEA rests on the relative strengths of the national networks of its members. Each national network - PATAMABA (and more recently Homenet Philippines), Homenet Thailand (otherwise known as the Foundation for Labor and Employment Promotion - FLEP), Homenet Indonesia, CDEA Lao, and Artisans Association of Cambodia (AAC) - offers a diversity of organizing strategies which seem to work best given particular national circumstances, but which need to be more focused on sustainable membership-based organizing.
PATAMABA has a total membership of about 17,000, 98 percent of whom are women aged 18 to 75 years old. This figure on total membership is across the country in 276 chapters located in 34 provinces. PATAMABA helps homebased workers form self-sustaining groups at the grassroots level. At the policy level, it acts to raise awareness about homebased workers and to bring about the necessary policy changes for the benefit of women workers in the informal economy. PATAMABA’s key initiatives include education and training, socio-economic assistance, networking and advocacy, social protection and the empowerment of women.
Homenet Indonesia now covers 19,248 homebased workers, 12,609 of whom are subcontracted and 6,639 are self-employed. They are in nine provinces, concentrated in Java (East, Central and West) as well as Yogyakarta, but some groups can also be found in Sumatra (West and South) as well as in Banten , Madura., Lampung, Riau Island, Bali, West Nusa Tenggara, South Kalimantan, and others).
PATAMABA has a membership of 16,295 in 276 chapters covering 34 provinces nationwide. Of these numbers, 2567 are in subcontracted work, 12,069 are self-employed and 1,524 are combinations of both. PATAMABA, with the support of Homenet Southeast Asia, spearheaded the successful launching of Homenet Philippines in May 2006, a broad coalition of 23 organizations comprised of homebased workers’ groups and NGOs of various persuasions with a total membership reach of about 60,000.
Homenet Thailand covers about 144 groups of home-based workers,14 groups of agricultural groups and three groups from the services sector. Within 151 groups, there are 6,637 workers - 1,606 males and 5,031 females.
Homenet Lao now covers 4 networks: a) Weaving group of Saysavang village, Saythany District; b) Garments group Nongthatai Village, Chanthabuly District; c) Steel Wastepickers, Nongduangthong Village , Sikhodthabong District; and d) Handicraft group, Phiavath village, Sisathanak District. Since 2004, NALD has promoted and established 11 saving groups consisting of slum dwellers in Vientiane Capital, with a total number of 1,897 members, who can also be considered potential beneficiaries of this project. Homenet Laos has also recently expanded to Luang Prabang area, the tourist spot with many traditional weaving groups.
AAC is a membership based organization comprised of craft producers and sellers in Cambodia. Established in 2001 through joint efforts of World Rehabilitation Fund (WRF), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and International Labor Organizations (ILO), AAC aims to create employment opportunities for and promote socio-economic integration of landmine survivors, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups through small and medium craft production. AAC grew from -12 members in 2003, 22 members in 2004, 32 members in early 2006, to 41 members by 2007. They are comprised of 1989 producers and staff working throughout Cambodia (71% are women and 15.11% are people with disabilities); 57% of AAC’s member organizations are managed by women. These are the potential beneficiaries of this project.
Homenet Indonesia (MWPRI- or the National Network of Friends of Women Homeworkers) now covers 19,248 homebased workers , 12,609 of whom are subcontracted and 6,639 are self-employed. (These numbers, however, are quite fluid due to loss of homeworkers’ employment as result of natural disasters such as earthquakes; i.e., the recent one in Jogjakarta, and threat of terrorism which led to a decline in tourism and therefore in the demand for homeworkers’ artisanal products). They are in nine provinces, concentrated in Java (East, Central and West) as well as Yogyakarta, but some groups can also be found in Sumatra (West and South) as well as in Banten , Madura., Lampung, Riau Island, Bali, West Nusa Tenggara, South Kalimantan, and others).
It took Homenet Thailand (FLEP) ten years (starting in 1998) to establish five regional networks - the Central Network, the Northern Network, the North East Network, the South Network, and Bangkok Network, each of which has homebased workers’ groups under its wing. Each of the five regional networks has its own committee and an office with a regional coordinator who works part-time for the network. The national committee is composed of two representatives from each region and provides the coordination at the national and international levels on policies and issues related to homeworkers.
As of 2007, there were 151 groups of informal workers being served by the networks (144 are home based, 14 belong to the agricultural group, and three are from the service sector). Of these numbers, 80 groups have own account or self employed workers, 31 have subcontracted workers, and 40 have a combination of subcontracted and self-employed workers. Total number of covered workers is 6,637, of which 5,031 are females while only 1,606 are males. Majority are middle aged, and only a few belong to the elderly and youth groups. These workers are found in garments, shoes, food processing, gem cutting, cloth weaving, basket weaving, doll making, wooden toys, boat maintenance, shrimp processing, crab processing, agricultural product, local fishing and mulberry paper making, and many other industries.
This year (2008), the Artisans’ Association of Cambodia (AAC) has been formally invited to be part of the Homenet SEA network. For two consecutive years now, AAC’s representative, Mr. Sitann Nuth, had been a participant in Homenet SEA’s subregional workshops.
The Artisans’ Association of Cambodia (AAC) is a Fair Trade association that provides support to over 40 handicraft groups that work with some of the country’s most vulnerable people. Its goal is to create social enterprises that produce handmade Cambodian products under fair trade standards. AAC is committed to ensuring that the benefits of trade are passed down to the people behind the products comprised of about a thousand grassroots producers throughout Cambodia.
Through the 42 member organizations that work directly with grassroots producers, AAC provides producers with knowledge and skills and jobs that can sustain families through income derived from sales, locally and internationally. In addition, AAC had provided assistance meant to strengthen member organizations in the field of management, production, design and marketing, promotion of fair trade standards and increasing the sales of members.
Some Challenges Ahead
Moving towards sustainability and strengthening capacity of homebased workers, Homenet SEA and all the national Homenets will continue their work towards organizational strengthening, membership-based organizing, social protection promotion and localization of advocacy efforts that will enable women HBWs gain economic security to meet basic needs and at the same time deal with risks and vulnerabilities. All the Homenets will continue their campaign towards fundamental rights at work of informal workers; organize members focusing on participation, ownership and commitment; develop new leaders; cover more sectors of informal workers; enhance capacity to effectively manage the organization; and be strong advocates representing vulnerable groups particularly women.
Global challenges such as the recent financial and economic crises pose difficulties to vulnerable groups particularly women and children. It is therefore equally important and very timely to develop adaptation mechanisms for food security and livelihood alternatives to address global issues brought about by the global economic downturn and also the need for disaster preparedness and formulation of mitigation measures to address the effects of climate change especially to women and workers in the informal sector.
In the current context of recent globalization, homebased women workers exhibit strengths as well as weaknesses, and face opportunities as well as threats. Many of them have the capacity, the resilience, and the adaptability to enter many forms of employment during times of crises because they need to seize every opportunity to earn in order to ensure family survival. However, these very same forms of employment in the informal economy are also subject to the vagaries of the global and local markets, and can be threatened by competition, instability, and lack of support. Under such circumstances, women’s overburdened state becomes a vicious cycle of having to shoulder various means of making a living while attending to domestic as well as community responsibilities. As with other informal workers, homebased women workers have little access to education, credit, healthcare and other resources needed to meet basic needs. Homeworkers generally suffer from substandard wages, poor working conditions, exposure to occupational health and safety hazards, and lack of social security. They also have difficulty joining an organization or forming an organization of their own which can represent them and serve as the instrument for them to secure their economic, political, social, and cultural rights.
Loss of jobs and a slump in economic productivity due to economic slowdown has adversely affected women in terms of employment opportunities, consumption patterns, food security, social protection schemes, and health-related problems. A tremendous loss of jobs and increased unemployment particularly among overseas workers resulting in an increase in the number of workers in the informal economy calls for measures to develop sustainable livelihood opportunities, create alternative sources of employment , and conduct skills retooling for displaced workers.
Likewise, the negative impact of climate changes such as massive disasters and calamities cause damage to resources and properties, loss of lives and livelihoods and increase vulnerability particularly among women and children. Women make up a large percentage of the poor in communities that are highly dependent on local natural resources for income and livelihood making them vulnerable to effects of climate change. From the gender perspective, inequalities in terms of access to resources, credit, information and technology, and extension services need to be taken into account in formulating mitigation measures and activities to decrease vulnerability and increase resiliency in times of critical unforeseen events. Women’s roles and household responsibilities, limited mobility, and cultural practices must be taken into consideration in identifying gender-sensitive strategies in response to climate change. Mitigation and adaptation strategies must consider women not only as vulnerable victims but as effective agents of change taking into consideration their priorities and needs. Their knowledge and expertise may be tapped to ensure their active involvement in climate change initiatives .
Steps towards greater visibility and a better policy environment were significant accomplishments of homebased workers’ network in the sub region. However, further strengthening, consolidation and awareness-raising in their own organizations and networks are needed in the light of variable developments as well as stumbling blocks resulting from unbridled globalization.
There is also concern that interventions are still not reaching majority of informal workers, more so the homebased workers, whose productive and reproductive work confine them in their private spaces that are oftentimes unrecognized, voiceless and neglected. They continue to rely on family and the community to address risks.
This time, greater intensity must be exerted towards pushing further the advocacy efforts of homebased and other informal workers for representation and voice at the regional, national, and subregional networks. Since they themselves form the base of their organization, they feel and fully understand issues and problems in their own context. Homebased and other informal women workers’ groups on the ground can contribute much towards the institution of programs oriented to the poor that are empowering, gender-responsive, culturally appropriate, environment-friendly, and participatory.
Homenet SEA’s persistent advocacy towards the ratification of ILO Convention on Homework is in response to the changing global employment system, characterized by lack of social security, particularly among homeworkers, majority of whom are women. The Convention aims to protect millions of homeworkers in terms of their right to organize, non-discrimination in employment and occupation, maternity protection and attention to occupational safety and health, ability to access and receive capacity development training in various aspects, and obtaining other entitlements to be of equal status with workers in other occupations defined as ‘employees’.
Surfacing homebased workers’ visibility in recent years would not have been attained without the inspiration and support provided by advocates and supporters from the ILO, UNIFEM, Ford Foundation, Oxfam Hong Kong , trade unions such as FNV, sister networks such as Homenet South Asia and WIEGO, various universities and research institutions, and other civil society groups. The importance of bringing together homeworkers’ and informal workers’ organizations, academics, activists, policy makers and others to promote and give voice to homeworkers’ and informal sector concerns needs to be highlighted.
As far as Homenet Southeast Asia is concerned, the challenge has always been to find ways of continuing and sustaining activities already built up through years of collaboration with main partners. Thus, attaining ‘sustainability’ remains a lingering challenge among the Homenets, at the institutional and financial levels.
In order to serve as an effective mechanism for the various Homenets in the subregion to project themselves, strengthen their international visibility, generate resources, exchange information, coordinate their efforts, motivate and inspire each other, Homenet SEA must continue to strengthen and institutionalize itself. Already, Homenet SEA as a network has paved the road towards empowerment that is enhanced by a right-based frame work covering the economic, political, social and reproductive spheres of women’s lives. What is crucial and genuinely needed at this point is sustained support behind the network, and more active involvement among the general membership.
Today, Homenet Southeast Asia’s years of hard work, since its formation in the late ‘90s, have yielded results that serve to motivate organized groups of homebased workers (HBWs) to further strive for more concrete gains that will ultimately spell a difference in their lives. The collaboration among the Homenets of Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines has been a long standing one. Laos joined the Homenet SEA family, made possible through networking activities of Homenet Thailand with other Laos NPOs (not for profit organizations) and the Lao Women’s Union. And very recently, Cambodia’s Artisans’ Association of Cambodia (AAC), a fair trade group that provides support to over 40 handicraft groups in the country, signified its intention to join the Homenet SEA family.
At this time, funds for organizational sustainability are difficult to secure. Hence, initiatives for resource generation (especially for core funding) possibly, among the national Homenets, will need to be seriously thought out and attended to.
Based on membership feedback, much more needs to be done in order for these initiatives and efforts to really transform their lives. They are still very much in need of pivotal support to improve their productivity and harness their potentials. They need assistance for better access to resources, technology and social protection. They need responsive policies and laws that will make their working environment facilitative and conducive to the realization of their rights and simultaneously encouraging and supportive of social enterprise development. They need to further capacitate homebased worker leaders to manage, run, and represent their own membership-based organizations. Thus, the next two years of Homenet Southeast Asia’s work is focused on strengthening the capacity of homebased workers’ networks for membership-based organizing as well as national and regional advocacy.
HomeNet Southeast Asia has decided to transfer to Manila, where PATAMABA has expressed readiness to take on the challenge of subregional leadership.
For many years HomeNet Southeast Asia had been
generously hosted by HomeNet Thailand, and had been led by an articulate
and dedicated activist Rakawin Lee. The latter's entry into the
ILO in a project that will benefit workers in the informal economyin
Thailand, Laos and Cambodia also opened the possibility of reverting
to an earlier decision to rotate the hosting of HomeNet Southeast
The second half of 2004 and the first half of 2005 comprise an important transition period for HomeNet Southeast Asia, not only in terms of transferring to its new Manila office, but also to transform itself from an informal ad hoc mechanism to an institution with a structure and mandate.
HomeNet Southeast Asia must work towards being an effective mechanism for the various HomeNets in the subregion to project themselves, strengthen their international visibility, generate resources, exchange information, coordinate their efforts, motivate and inspire each other. The various HomeNets in the subregion should be able to “own” HomeNet Southeast Asia through clear policy- and decision-making procedures which allow homeworker leaders to participate and to represent themselves.
Moving to Manila would require harnessing the energies of homeworker leaders and their supporters who have expressed willingness to devote time and effort as HomeNet Southeast Asia settles in its new home.
The women tasked to carry out activities for HomeNet SEA in Manila are mostly officers of the PATAMABA National Executive Committee, namely:
Lourdes Gula, former homeworker-sewer and currently Chairperson for Organizing of PATAMABA, who will spearhead the formation, consolidation, and registration of the HomeNet Southeast Asia organizational structure;
Primar Jardeleza, former homeworker-bamboo weaver and currently Chairperson for Education and Training of PATAMABA who will help oversee the HomeNet Southeast Asia newsmagazine and website, as well as the subregional training weorkshop;
Josephine "Olive" Parilla, slipper-producer, Auditor and Chairperson for Networking, Advocacy and Lobbying of PATAMABA, who will take charge of finances and resource generation;
Mary Lucette Parrilla- dela Rosa, youth leader and anti-child labor advocate of PATAMABA, who will be the Layout Artist and Website Designer;
Phoebe O. Cabanilla, who did field research with PATAMABA and has a Master's degree in Women and Development Studies from the University of the Philippines, will serve as Editorial and Technical Consultant; and
Rosalinda Pineda Ofreneo, an academic and advocate who has been with PATAMABA since its founding, and has served as Co-Coordinator of HomeNet Southeast Asia, who will continue to provide support.