Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Housing

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > Chapter 32: A decent place to live > Housing


In China and Indonesia, most export factory workers live in crowded dormitories inside factory zones. In other places, such as Mexico and Kenya, workers must find or build their own houses, often in areas without electricity, running water, safe transportation, or other services. Workers in other countries live in similar conditions and share the same problems: they have jobs but do not have a decent place to live.

a woman speaking in a room with bedding on the floor and a clothesline overhead.
Six of us share this room in a boarding house. More than 100 women live here, but there are only 4 toilets, and there is never enough water. We have to carry water from a public well down the street.

Many factory workers can barely afford to pay for a place to sleep. But to stay healthy, you need to live in a place where you can bathe and use the toilet, drink plenty of clean water, store and prepare food safely, keep dishes and utensils clean, wash and dry clothes, and sometimes just relax.

a woman speaking.
We have been successful at winning more benefits in the dormitories. Our employers know they are violating the law, that workers have a right to clean, safe living quarters. We write letters and petitions, and because there are so many people in each dormitory, we can get from 1,000 to 2,000 signatures really fast. We send them to the brands, the corporate and factory management, and the union. When we win, we feel empowered!
Building a housing coopertive

The St. Peter Claver Free Zone Women’s Group was organized by women workers in Jamaica’s export factories as a place to share their experiences, both at home and at work, with other workers. We offer counseling on labor issues as well as psychological and mental health issues, classes, and workshops. As women began to trust us and the other workers they met, the group has become stronger and more involved.


As time passed we began to take action on some of the issues that were the biggest concerns for women. One of these issues was housing. The export factories do not provide housing and the boarding houses in the area were not trustworthy or safe for women. We asked for funds from the Canadian International Development Agency to organize a housing cooperative for women. The project is so successful that we now have several boarding houses around the export processing zone. Our boarding houses are affordable, clean, and safe for women. They are also places where women can connect with other workers. We hold our workshops and classes there, too.

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