Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften

Reimagining Work from the Perspective of Women Working in the Informal Sector of India

Dissertationsprojekt von Mubashira Zaidi

Women’s lived experience of work in India is highly mediated by norms and practices
emanating from historically determined social institutions such as class, caste, and religion.
However, patriarchal gendered discriminations cut across all these social institutions,
frequently placing women in a subordinated and weak position. These cultures of patriarchy
embodied in various social institutions create unique and complex contexts for women to
manoeuvre in their daily existence. This research project is to closely understand the lived
experiences of women and the daily moments of negotiation, compromises or agencies in
their informal world of work. A large majority of women workers in India are concentrated in
precarious forms of paid work in the informal sector of India. The informal sector often
symbolises the traditional and pre-capitalist backwardness in comparison to the formal sector,
with an expectation that with greater modern development the former will transform into the
latter. However, one of the main challenges in relation to the informal sector also lies in its
underestimation, particularly in relation to estimating women’s work in this sector. The
activities that women are engaged in are especially difficult to measure as they are perceived
as housewives and often their economic activities are concealed in the multiplicity of tasks
she undertakes for subsistence, social reproduction or unpaid family work.

The structural features of the informal world of work noted above allude to the complex
realities that women face when engaging in different kinds of work. This research project is
an attempt to capture the existential contradictions inherent in the social and praxical lived
experiences of women in the informal world of work in the Indian contexts and bring forth
the subjectivities women experience while being an active part of or involved in this very
structure of the world. Thus, this research project calls the question of ‘being’ or ‘existing’ by
women in the informal world of work and in so doing, interprets the relationships that women
build with their environment, unearths the meanings women generate, explores the language
used to convey the meanings, and understand the alteration of ethics and norms if any.
Another important concern for this research is to understand women’s agencies in owning up
to their life situation in their given web of social relations and context.

Mubashira Zaidi completed her Masters’s degree in Social Work at the Tata Institute of
Social Sciences, Mumbai, in 2005. Since then, she has been actively working in the
development sector, initially, with women survivors of violence in the slums of Dharavi,
Mumbai, through counselling, legal aid and building community support structures to reduce
violence against women. Subsequently, Mubashira was involved in developing campaigns
related to justice and accountability matters, particularly in the context of mass violence. For
the last 9 years, she has been working at a feminist think tank in Delhi, India – the Institute of
Social Studies Trust (ISST)—and in her capacity as a Research Fellow has contributed to
research and analysis in the area of women’s economic empowerment, women’s work, the
care economy, and women’s struggles and claims-making processes in India.