Sidra Altaf is an independent photographer and documentary filmmaker. Having done her BA (Honors) in Business Administration from University of Greenwich, Malaysia, Sidra came back to her hometown Karachi aspiring to show the world through her...
Things changed for Hassena when she started working in a textile factory, 6 days a week, 12 hours a day.
For Hassena, managing work and family were two separate and challenging tasks. To help her with this, her elder daughter pitched in, compromising her studies, so she can take care of her younger sibling while Hassena is away at work.
But given the social and economic challenges of these labour class workers, it was not enough. Hassena would not have been able to put up with her work routine if it wasn’t for her whole support system; her family, neighbors, friends.
In life, we all need a support system to keep the balance of life. For Hassena, her support system was knitted/weaved between the people living in that building.
Her landlady, Farzana bhabi (Land Lady) not just supported Hassena during financial crisis but also looked after her kids when she was away working in the factory. As there was no relative of hassena living in Karachi. Hassena told me that whenever there is load-shedding in her area Bhabi cooks’ food for them, when children go to school in the morning bhabi makes sure to take care of Amna and Erum in her free time, bhabi’s daughter teaches Erum at home since Erum has quit school due to the responsibility of her youngest sibling.
From lunch time to evening snacks, to washing their clothes while Hassena was on bed rest after the birth of youngest Amna; bhabi made sure that Hassena’s children are well taken care of and that Hassena is well supported during her tough times.
Hassena’s husband, Anwar works at a utility store nearby where they live. That store is run by their very good friend and well-wisher, Mansoor bhai.
Anwar’s earnings are not enough and with rising inflation and tough social conditions, a household of 7 cannot survive on his earnings alone. Before his shop work, Anwar use to work in the same textile factory where Hassena works now. But when Anwar fell severely ill, Hassena took his place in the factory.
Unfortunately, our government isn’t paying heed to the lives of female factory workers. Hassena salary is PKR 22,000 and, in this amount, running a minimalistic household is very difficult. Without her neighbor's support, it is tough for her to survive. A year back Hassena’s elder son Abdullah got into an accident and needed an urgent surgery. Hassena and her husband had insufficient funds to pay for this surgery.
The labour workers living in the slums of Karachi are not able to access their basic needs. Women working in the textile industries in Karachi constitute 30% of the workforce. Economic collaboration among women working in the textile industries of Karachi is crucial in ensuring women's economic empowerment, which increases self-esteem and raises their respect among other people in society (Wolf, 2018). Therefore, economically empowered women will change the societal view of women, which will open doors for other women to engage in economic activities, which will help reduce the poverty levels of women working in the textile industries.
Hassena shared that incident with a very heavy heart “Mansoor bhai covered all medical expenses of Abdullah, he didn’t ask us anything in return. Abdullah was in so much pain he rarely eats anything but Mansoor bhai use to visit us daily to cheer him up and play with him. Now Mansoor bhai is like a family to us he comes home often to check up on us. Many times, he helps us to pay the tuition fees of my children. During Covid when my husband was at home, he still pays him a bit so we could arrange daily groceries. Usually, he comes on Sundays and have chai with us.”
While she was sharing her memories with me, her elder daughter entered in room carrying a tray of Samosa, potato chips and tea. Hassena politely nodded her head towards her daughter, praising her and continued her story.
“In challenging times my HR manager Amina helped me a lot during my son’s surgery specially. There were overhead expenses for the hospital and medicines for Abdullah, she helped me to pay these overheads. She was also willing to give me an advance salary but I refused as I need my salary at the start of each month which is important to fulfill our daily necessities.