Approximately 20,000 community health workers in the Indian state of Haryana have been on strike for the past three weeks. Known as Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs), they are part of a workforce of over one million women across India who are at the frontlines of public health care in both rural and urban areas.
Despite performing critical tasks related to community care, including preventive, reproductive, maternal and child health measures, ASHAs are not recognized by the government as public sector workers. Instead, they are classified as “volunteers,” a precarious category that does not afford these women basic labor rights, including a minimum wage, sick leave, and pensions.
The ongoing strike in Haryana is part of a lengthy struggle waged by ASHA workers for recognition and fair compensation. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have mobilized and participated in five countrywide labor actions and several state- and local-level protests and strikes.
ASHA workers in India are not alone. Other countries in South Asia have seen similar struggles by community health workers on issues ranging from their status as government employees, wages, and protection mechanisms to problems related to sexual harassment and safety.
Community health workers in India, Pakistan, and Nepal have now joined together to release a Charter of Demands calling upon governments and international agencies to recognize and uphold their rights. Beginning with the declaration “Community health work is work!” the document has been supported by the international labor bodies Global Union Federation and Public Services International.