COVID-19 Pandemic Interviews

Apr 22

Jalvat Shezhadi, Instructor at the Labour Education Foundation (LEF), Pakistan


Jalvat Shehzadi of the Labour Education Foundation (LEF) in Pakistan has been running a course with a group of women factory workers in Lahore and Faisalabad. Due to restrictions because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the course is being run entirely using cellphones and WhatsApp. Jalvat speaks about the process:

What course are you running for the workers?

It is a course on workers’ rights. I started off talking about the Coronavirus pandemic, and what the situation is at the moment. Then I moved on to the national constitution and the legal framework for workers’ rights in Pakistan. Next, I addressed rights according to the ILO and other international labour bodies, so that we could compare the situation in Pakistan with what is happening in other countries.

Who has taken part?

Women who are machine operators, packers, washers and clippers in factories in Lahore and Faislabad. I actually started off with a list of 47 names, but many did not have a smartphone, or even access to one. So we eventually had ten women in the group.

And the whole course has been done onWhatsApp?

Yes. Most of the women are not literate, or they read and write very little. Their knowledge of technology is also small, so we can’t use a platform like Zoom or BlueJeans. But we could use both audio and visual on the phones.

How did it work?

I prepared presentations in Punjabi and Urdu  – I made small videos on the different topics using myself, to show to the women. Then I would ask them questions on the topics, to see if they had absorbed the information. Sometimes I would write questions on a page and take a pic of it, to show on WhatsApp, and then they would reply with a pic of their own. Each session would be around 45 to 50 minutes. If any woman wanted to make further contact or ask questions, they had my details. It lasted five weeks, from 2 to 30 October 2020.

What time did you run the course?

It would be at 9 pm at night. Because this is the time when the home is quiet, the food would have been made and eaten, the children would be in bed, there would be no chores. At this time of night, no female can go out, there’s no tension about the children, the women are relaxed and they learn more.

What has been your impression?

I really enjoyed running the course a lot. I have been at LEF for the past 20 years, and run many courses on gender and other topics. Due to corona, we had to change the way we have been operating. And even for those who have been allowed back to factories to work, if they take time off to attend a course, they get a salary cut, so it is difficult for them. Which makes me think that this is a very useful way of holding courses, without the workers worrying about losing pay.

What is difficult about running courses this way?

As mentioned, many women do not have access to smartphones, even their husbands don’t have them. And then data can be a problem. And even if I buy them data, connectivity can be a problem – sometimes the signal is bad. These are technical challenges.

There can also be personal challenges for the women – sometimes the children at not in bed and asleep at 9 pm, and the course requires some silence and attention.  It’s difficult if others also require attention. Also, many families sleep in one room, so the women have to make sure not to make too much noise.

But then there is also gender-based discrimination. In Pakistan, it is very difficult for a male to accept a female sitting in one place, with headphones on, researching and learning something. This is difficult for a male. They are not willing to support women. Also, learning is easier for men in Pakistan – most have a cell phone, are to some extent literate, and have no burdens at home. They have more attention to spend on learning

All of this was also difficult for me, but I took it in a very light way – you have to be patient.

What is good about the course, and working online generally?

I have been very excited about learning how to do this, and the women are already asking for more courses. I am looking at one on gender and discrimination. I attended my first webinar this year, and I can see so much potential in using these different technical tools for other projects. IN some cases, I would consider using this method even after Covid-19, as it can be cheaper and you can reach more people more quickly.

What tips could you tell other teachers using Whatsapp?

You must be very patient with the process!  As a teacher, I was initially worried about how I would actually manage. But one must persevere – the group I worked with overcame their challenges and are now experienced.  They want to learn more topics, and hopefully, they can go on to teach other women. I can give them responsibilities because I prepared these women.

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