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Female gig workers in India protest for fair treatment

Urban Company mobile app

Women gig workers in India are using WhatsApp to organize secret meetings and advocate for their rights.

Thousands of female employees from Urban Company joined the All India Gig Workers' Union for a nationwide protest in July. 

Urban Company is an app-based beauty and home care service provider.

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This event marked the first nationwide labor action by female gig workers in India, where men have traditionally dominated.

The protest was prompted by grievances over unfair response and rating requirements, leading to the deactivation of their accounts. 


Historically, women have been largely absent from trade unions in India due to the informal nature of their work.

But it’s changing as more women join unions and collectives focused on platform workers' rights.

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The platform economy promised women greater flexibility, dignity, autonomy, and earnings.

But it has also brought concerns such as low wages, lack of protections, limited flexibility, and opaque algorithmic management.

Research by ActionAid highlighted that algorithms tend to discriminate against women, particularly those with unpaid care responsibilities. 

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India's gig economy is rapidly growing, with nearly eight million workers in 2020-21 and an expected expansion to 24 million workers by 2029-30.

Women remain a minority

But women remain a small minority, primarily concentrated in beauty services, domestic work, healthcare, and education.

For instance, Zomato reported that women comprise only one percent of its workforce, while over a third of Urban Company's 45,000 contractors are women. 

Single mothers like Manju Goel, who worked at an Amazon warehouse, have begun to advocate for better conditions and workers' rights through WhatsApp and unionization efforts.

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Organizing in sectors like home care and beauty is particularly challenging due to lower visibility and fewer opportunities to connect than ride-hailing and delivery services. 

Urban Company workers began discussing their concerns in WhatsApp groups before discreetly meeting in small groups to stage protests outside the company's offices. 

Some concessions were made, but the struggle continued.

Women gig workers are becoming more politically engaged, with some states like Rajasthan imposing surcharges on online transactions to fund welfare benefits for gig workers. 

However, a significant gap still exists between advocacy and actual legal change. 

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