This article is created by The Better India and sponsored by Wingify Earth.
A survey shows that 94 per cent of women construction workers never raise their voices against air pollution at their workplace for fear of losing their jobs. But they continue to be the party most affected by rising dust levels in the capital.
Delhi is a city perenially under construction. From overbridges to connecting roads and metro lines to colonies, it is always growing. Over the last few decades, construction dust has become one of the biggest contributors to the city’s pollution. As per a survey, rising dust at the capital’s under-construction sites contributes to nearly 30% of the toxic air in its surroundings.
Despite various government efforts, construction sites continue to violate procedural norms, including covering large heaps of sand or installing metal sheets around the area. Even as the city continues to be harpooned by floating dust particles, it is the construction workers, the agent zeros, that are most affected by it.
A survey released this year shows that a whopping 94% of women construction workers never raise their voices against pollution at their workplace for fear of losing their jobs. These women live in shanties at Delhi’s margins, which are the most polluted areas in the capital. Thus, for them, air pollution is a double whammy.
“Our eyes itch constantly and we face severe difficulty in breathing. Coughing, seasonal ailments, and allergies are common, and our skin also gets affected,” says Shakuntala, a construction worker who lives in the Bakkarwala colony, adding that while she somehow manages to finish off her work at construction sites, she feels the real effect of pollution when she comes home and tries to cook food for her family.
Shakuntala, and many others like her, are now connected with the Mahila Housing Trust – a national NGO that works to empower women labourers. In a special project with another non-profit, Help Delhi Breathe, MHT is helping women construction workers deal with the on-ground impact of air pollution at their workplace.
AQI Ambassadors tour the streets of Delhi to teach women workers about air quality levels
(Image Courtesy: Help Delhi Breathe/Sundeep Bali)
Towards a sustainable future
Between August 2021 to April 2022, the two organisations collaborated with women construction workers in Delhi’s Bakkwarwala, Gokulpuri and Sawda Ghevra areas as part of an extensive awareness campaign on air pollution.
While the women admitted to facing the wrath of air pollution at construction sites, they were afraid to act on it. Of the 400 women surveyed, 75% admitted to feeling sick and uncomfortable when the air quality was poor, and 73% reported having either asthma, coughing, skin allergies, or breathing difficulties.
As part of the awareness campaign, hundreds of women were targeted with suggestions to make changes at their workplaces and homes. A key aspect of this drive was Air Quality Index (AQI) ambassadors – women construction workers who were trained to understand AQI in their surroundings and inform people about the impact of air pollution.
Over eight months, the organisations trained about 75 women to become AQI ambassadors and read special AQI monitors. They also conducted a mobile storytelling workshop and informed women about the Green Delhi app, which they can use to complain about illegal construction activities or violations at their workplace. These ambassadors now tour the streets of Delhi to teach women construction workers about AQI mapping. “Women and children are among the first to bear the brunt rising from poor air quality, leading to immediate implications on health and livelihoods. Our women AQI ambassadors in Delhi are leading the change towards better air quality and building a more sustainable future,” MHT said in a statement.
Zareen, an AQI ambassador shows her kit (Image courtesy: Help Delhi Breathe)
“We organise rallies, distribute pamphlets, go to each woman in the colony to make them understand that air pollution is a real thing,” says Zarina, an AQI ambassador and a resident of Sawda. Her team helps women construction workers understand AQI, what its different levels mean, and what they can do to combat it.