Collective brainstorming to imagine a feminist labour collective

[By Siddharth de Souza and Siddhi Gupta] In early July 2021, as a group at FemLab.Co, we explored how to think about the connections between feminism, feminist design, and labour collectives that emerged in our work as researchers, lawyers, activists and designers. As part of this exercise, we were interested in discussing the ways in […]

How a women’s organization in Kerala stood up for the right to sit

[By Anila Backer A P] It hasn’t always been easy for women to attain and enjoy their rights. When we look back into history, most of the fundamental human rights have been won by women by protesting, taking to the streets in strikes and boycotts and fighting in the courtrooms. This is particularly true for […]

Women in Digital – the organization that has trained thousands of female coders in Bangladesh

[By Jamil Wyne] Greater inclusion in the technology sector – specifically ensuring that women and other under-represented groups can find gainful employment within it and make meaningful contributions to the sector – is predicated on building computing capacity of these demographics. Teaching coding skills, and broadening individuals’ exposure to digital industries writ large is a […]

Ethical consumerism: Gig economy’s road ahead

[By Brinda Gupta] “PM Modi announces a 21-day nation-wide lockdown as COVID-19 toll touches 12” read the headlines of the Hindu newspaper on March 24th, 2020. Offices indefinitely closed, shops shut, and gatherings banned. People pushed into their homes, unknown of what will happen next. A mask, a sanitizer, and a six-foot distance became the […]

No Woman’s Land: Female Cab Drivers On Indian Roads

[By Pallavi Bansal] The traditional taxis have always remained heavily male-dominated, but female drivers have always posed a serious threat to the long-established ideas of patriarchy and masculinity. “If you are driving, I need to check my insurance,” “Will you be able to reverse the car? And what about parking? Do you need me to […]

The future of development innovation and finance is feminist

[By Ramona Liberoff] Over more than 25 years of working in innovation and impact, I came to two conclusions: the first is that our public and international finance system needed significant reform for a more just world. The second is that despite the welcome appearance of female leaders like Christine Lagarde and Kristalina Giorgieva, the […]

“The support has to come from home”: Evidence-based assessment of platform work in India

[By Sreelakshmi Ramachandran] When considering the strategies for India’s economic rebound, it is imprudent to overlook the potential of the wider digital economy, as this all-pervasive technology has altered urban landscapes and living in the last decade in the country. An explosive combination of cheap handsets, lowest data costs in the world and rapid advances […]

Another kind of silk road

[By Arvind Saraf] Surat, a bustling city on the west coast of India, had been manufacturing silk and cotton since the 1700s. Entrepreneurs (including my family) poured in from all over India from the 1970s onwards, setting up their garment businesses. The city now has more than 40,000 power looms, about 400 dyeing and printing […]

Re-thinking a crippled society – Part II: Inclusivity

This is the second part of a three-part series by Soumita Basu, a social-development-practitioner-turned-entrepreneur. When she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, Soumita’s views on society transformed. This experience made her realize how much is wrong with our society and the way we organize it. Join her reflections on re-thinking productivity, inclusivity, and entrepreneurship. Slipping […]

The case for care as essential infrastructure

[By Sharmi Surianarain and Kate Boydell] Picture this familiar sight: the political leader in a hard-hat on a construction site, promising public investment in basic infrastructure o create new jobs and unlock wider growth. It’s a photo-op and sound-bite we can expect to see repeatedly in the months ahead as governments around the world seek to reboot […]

What does the abandoned public toilet tell us?

[By Chinar Mehta] Abandoned public toilets have become a familiar sight in India. Long power cuts and acute water shortages have rendered thousands of them unusable. While the burden of maintaining the toilets falls on the sanitation workers, the sanitation system remains institutionally disconnected from the water or electricity system. Across India, the continued challenges to […]

Automation of the Readymade Garment Sector in Bangladesh: Who is paying the price?

[By Mohammad Sahid Ullah and Rawshon Akhter] Alaya Akter, a first-generation garment worker in Bangladesh, began her apparel career as an operator assistant in the early 90s. She lost her job at the age of 48 due to automation at her factory last year. She is no exception; several thousands of Readymade Garment (RMG) workers […]

Superbrands, super evil?

[By René König] For FemLab.Co I spoke to Linnea Thompson. Her article ‘Crowdsourcing as a platform for digital labor unions’ with Payal Arora served as an early inspiration for our project and she now works as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) specialist for the Norwegian fashion retailer Varner. Our conversation helped me to overcome some of […]

Man or machine? Eliminating manual scavenging in India and Bangladesh

[By Sally Cawood and Amita Bhakta] Manual scavenging – the hazardous removal of human waste from drains, latrines, septic tanks and sewers by hand or with basic tools – persists as a form of caste-based slavery in South Asia. Across India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal, men, women and children from low-caste, religious and ethnic minorities […]

Re-thinking a crippled society – Part I: Productivity

This is the first part of a three-part series by Soumita Basu. Soumita is a social- development-practitioner-turned-entrepreneur. When she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, her views on society transformed. This experience made her realize how much is wrong with our society and the way we organize it. Join her reflections on re-thinking productivity, inclusivity, […]

Centered but invisible – On the contradictions of service design at Urban Company

[By Sai Amulya Komarraju] Ting! A beauty worker checks her mobile. A ‘lead’ appears on her mobile screen from the platform service aggregator she has registered with. She accepts it, calls the customer through the platform that has helped her become a microentrepreneur, confirms the request and location of the customer and rides off to […]

Is feminist design a solution to platform workers’ problems?

[By Pallavi Bansal] Imagine a scenario in which you do not get shortlisted for a job interview – not because you are underqualified – but because the algorithms were trained on data sets that excluded or underrepresented your gender for that particular position. Similarly, you found out that you are consistently paid less than your colleagues […]

Tilting towards equality: Can nudges improve gender inclusion?

[By Helen Smith and Sharmi Surianarain] In the fight for greater gender equality and inclusion, governments, NGOs and other stakeholders are increasingly recognising the power of nudges to change human behaviour. The results are promising. Ever heard the question: “Would you like fries with your burger?” or “Do you want to supersize that drink?” You’ve […]

There’s little shine on these bangles for those who make them

[By Usha Raman] The touristic imagination of Hyderabad city is marked by a few dominant images: the aromatic and spicy biryani, the 15th century structure known as Charminar, the historic pearl trade, and the stone-studded bangles of Laad Bazaar. Even as many visitors to the city stop on their way to the airport to pick up […]

Coders’ dilemmas: The challenge of developing unbiased algorithms

[By Samarth Gupta] The 21st century has seen the rapid rise of algorithms to control, manage, analyze, and perform any number of operations on data and information. Some believe that decision-making processes can be significantly improved by delegating tasks to algorithms, thereby minimizing human cognitive biases. As Tobias Baer argues: “The rise of algorithms is […]

Beyond access: Towards meaningful connectivity

[By Teddy Woodhouse and Chenai Chair] In addition to her full-time job as an invoicing agent with a community Wi-Fi service provider, Heny sells mangoes. Fortunately for her, she’s able to use the public Wi-Fi network at her work to post pictures and announce the latest shipments of new produce to would-be customers. Heny is […]

When women’s employment equals family disgrace: A Case from Rural India

[By Renza Iqbal] Fariha, 19 years, belongs to a middle-class family. Though her family could afford to get her a smartphone, it was not deemed necessary. Fariha’s first smartphone was gifted to her by her husband. She sought her husband’s approval before installing WhatsApp on her phone. She had been married off soon after her […]

The future of ‘dishonourable’ work

[By Payal Arora] I was a waitress for three and a half years at an Indian restaurant in San Francisco in the early 1990s. Having been brought up in a privileged family in Bangalore, the ‘waiting’ on people was a novel experience for me. I was excited though as it was my first job abroad […]

“Side hustle” is not a swear word: How to make gigs work for young Africans

[By Sharmi Surianarain and Julia Taylor] Across the African continent, the concept of a “side hustle” is not new. Slow job growth, accompanied by a high number of labour market entrants, has meant that young people have for a long time been engaging in informal ‘side’ work to make ends meet. Young people in African […]

Platform drivers: From algorithmizing humans to humanizing algorithms

[By Pallavi Bansal] I remember getting stranded in the middle of the road a few years ago when an Ola cab driver remarked that my trip had stopped abruptly and he could not take me to my destination. Frantic, I still requested him to drop me home, but he refused saying he cannot complete the […]

Unionized by phone ─ circumventing the male gatekeepers

[By Chinar Mehta] Clashes between corporations and union representatives, where pro-corporate forces indiscriminately arrest members to bust the union, are common, as was the case with the Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union in 2017. Management used various tactics to suppress the demands according to the workers, including slapping conspiracy charges on many union leaders and firing […]

Digital pessimism: Can we break out of the negativity loop?

[By René König] A few years ago, when I was in Cape Town, South Africa, I quickly learned that Uber rides were the best way to navigate the city. They seemed relatively affordable, quick, comfortable, reliable, and safe. But I was a little conflicted about my choice, being well-aware of the long list of scandals […]

Savari: Sharing more than a ride

[By Sai Amulya Komarraju] Picture this: 9 women cramped into an auto (three-wheeler vehicle in India), taking a savari (‘ride’ in Hindi) to their workplace. Two women in saris on either side of the autowallah (driver), three on the seat at the rear actually meant for people to occupy, three on the little wooden slab […]

From unbanked to fully digital? A look behind Bangladesh’s online money transfers

[By Mohammad Sahid Ullah] COVID-19 has shown how some states, when motivated, can institute compassionate, sweeping and radical changes that remake society and its relations between workers and their organizations. However, integrating novel interventions into our everyday life demands that we think beyond the reactive impulse to address chronic problems. When technology is used as […]

Making opportunities inclusive for first-time digital users

[By Shrinath V] A couple of years ago, our house help came in early. She brought her daughter with her. The daughter was working at a nearby fashion store as a salesgirl after her graduation. The previous night, she had arrived home from work, distraught and weeping. The mother could not understand what she was […]

Women resellers in India’s gig economy: From access to confidence

[By Achyutha Sharma] Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a lot of conversation around the gig economy that will impact how we view labour and the skilled workforce globally. In India, both the ‘gig economy’ and the gig workers have always existed and been pervasive, especially in the unorganised sectors. From […]

The street sweeper and her missing gloves

[By Usha Raman] The two women walk down my street at around 7 a.m. every morning, noticeable in the navy-blue knee-length coats they wear over their sarees, and the colourful bandannas that cover their heads. Bhagya (name changed to maintain anonymity) has large kaajal-rimmed eyes and she flashes a bright smile if she happens to […]

Platformizing women’s labour: Towards algorithms of empowerment

[By Pallavi Bansal] As the fifth-born daughter to a poverty-stricken couple in a small village of Karnataka, Rinky would consider herself fortunate on days she wouldn’t have to sleep on an empty stomach. Her parents pressurised her to take care of her younger brother while they struggled to make ends meet. As the siblings grew […]

Domestic work in Africa: Essential but precarious

[By Sharmi Surianarain & Julia Taylor] “I was working three days a week as a house cleaner. When the first person was infected with COVID-19 in Kenya, my boss told me not to report to work anymore. I have tried calling and they don’t answer my calls. l stay in the slums of Kawangware and […]

Landless labourers? Busting the myth of the migrant in the construction economy

[By Shweta Mahendra Chandrashekhar] I was born in Lonavala and brought up in Pune, both places located in the western region of India. Some of the vivid memories I have of my childhood include visits to numerous tunnel construction sites in India (Pune-Mumbai Expressway, Konk­­an Railway, Delhi Metro). My father’s infrastructure firm has been in […]

Making the law speak: Empowering workers through legal engagement

[By Siddharth de Souza] One of the most telling images of the past few months since the Government of India announced a lockdown has been the exodus of people on the move, from cities where they had made a home, through work, through children’s schools, and through social relationships, back to the home that they […]

Research that hurts – On the practice of care in fieldwork

[By Rawshon Akhter] Many ethical concerns connected to fieldwork are already a matter of established and routinized practice. For example, the privacy of respondents is protected by anonymizing their identity. In recent decades, we have further pushed these methodological norms. Ethnographers grapple with their legacy of an extractive culture, making a compelling case for ethical […]

Gendered data dilemmas and feminist design

[By Payal Arora] From media headlines such as “Why Do Women Make Such Good Leaders During COVID-19?” to the “Rise in Domestic Violence during Lockdown,” COVID-19 has acquired a deep gendered dimension, albeit a seemingly schizophrenic one. Women particularly in low-income communities are at once framed as leaders and victims – positioned at the forefront […]

Design for one: Centering the inadequacy of technology

[By Chinar Mehta] The first computer in my own home, years ago, was kept in the only room with air conditioning; my parents’ bedroom. The tangle of wires positioned my parents as the authority in the household – there was nothing we could do on the “personal” computer that could escape their notice. Few of […]

Should researchers be activists?

[By René König] For the longest time, scientists were idealized as objective observers of the world. Today, this ideal appears not only somewhat naïve, it is also increasingly regarded as not desirable. Instead, scientists are expected to be active members of society and vice versa; science is seen to be in need of becoming ‘democratized’, […]

Beauty gig work in the time of Covid-19

[By Sai Amulya Komarraju] In late March 2020, India declared a nation-wide lockdown, restricting the movement of people and services considered as non-essential in an effort to restrict the spread of Covid-19. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clarion call of “Jaan hai tho jahan hai” (loosely translated as health is wealth) was an effort to justify […]

Hanging by a thread: The unraveling of the garment industry in Bangladesh

[By Mohammad Sahid Ullah] Around 4.1 million workers of the Bangladeshi apparel industry that exports ready-made garments to more than 165 countries across the world is facing a severe crisis amid the COVID19 epidemic. Many of them continue working in factories, to meet shipment deadlines, defying the government shut down order. Meanwhile, many factory owners […]

Technology for a social cause: TikTok and Asia’s mobile-first nations

[By Payal Arora] What does collective organizing look like in the digital age? Can we leverage on TikTok, the most downloaded app in 2020, to humanize the millions of informal laborers as they face unprecedented levels of precarity and help mobilize a global social conscience? Are there new geopolitical partnerships arising across governments, INGOs, the […]

Building on empathy: can we broaden the conversation?

[By Usha Raman] As India imposed a near-complete lockdown in March, accompanied by social distancing recommendations, things began to fall apart for the millions engaged in daily wage labour across multiple sectors. To them, the sudden absence of work meant the inability to pay for shelter and food, the barest needs to sustain oneself in […]

And so we begin, by organizing ourselves…

[By Payal Arora & Usha Raman] On January 27 2020, the team for ‘Feminist Approaches to Labour Collectives: Organizing Digitally in South Asia,’ a three-year grant funded project by the International Development Research Center (IDRC) Canadian agency, got together in Hyderabad, India, to launch this project. The goal for the meeting was to draw up […]


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