Undermined, Invisibilised and Silenced: Covid-19, community health workers and state negligence in India

Author(s): Prachi Sharma
Final project
Year of publication:
Supervisors: Vinita Chandra
Women's labor, Security, Violence, State, COVID-19, Community health workers


The Government of India (GoI) employs approximately one million women as Community Health Workers (CHWs) or ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers. These women, considered to be honorary workers operate on incentives without social security and are at constant risk of violence. CHWs gender and precarious labor conditions place them as one of the least prioritized cadres by the state. Their security concerns are invisible in official data indicating the culture of silence around the issue. As per the Sexual Harassment Law in India, each employer is mandated to institutionalize an Internal Complaints Committee (ICCs) to address harassment complaints. In a decade of this law being introduced the ICCs are reported absent or rarely functioning in case regarding CHWs. Lack of security among the CHWs is a denial of their human rights, disregard of women's labor and the state is to be held accountable for this. This research proposal aims to explicate the root causes behind the devaluation of women's healthcare labor that leads them to be at risk. The key question to explore is why a state, that deployed a female cadre to empower its healthcare, neglecting their need for a safe environment. The primary objective of this paper is to critically situate the state as an employer through a feminist intersectional lens. It aims to provide a feminist labor analysis of the working conditions of women in the public health system of India. It will offer a detailed interrogation into the everyday concerns of CHWs, and explore the structural reasons for state negligence. Finally, it intends to delve deeply into their everyday security concerns, reach the root cause of the neglect by the state and propose the development of a framework that ensures a secure working environment for one million CHWs.