An award ceremony was organised to acknowledge the services of sanitation workers and to recognize the efforts of volunteers associated with a campaign to bring dignity to this work on Thursday.

The event, held under the aegis of the Centre for Law and Justice (CLJ), is the second time such “Dignity Awards” are given to sanitary workers to mark the Punta del Este Declaration on Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere 2018. Workers from all four provinces participated in the ceremony.

PTI MPA Sadia Sohail Rana, former PML-N MPA Saira Iftikhar, PTI MPA Sadia Taimur, TV journalist Ajmal Jami, IMRF Chairman Samuel Pyara, social worker Kashif Nawab and others were also present on the occasion.

"Sanitation is essential for any group of humans living in a fixed habitat - but no one wants to do this labor. Our study finds that sanitation workers find challenges in occupational safety and health and employment security.

Social stigma and discrimination attached with sanitation is further rearticulated in religious overtones which are unchecked in government policies, unnoticed in academic writings and not picked up by civil society organisations," said CLJ Founding Director Mary James Gill while addressing the ceremony. 

“Sanitation work is an essential service but these workers are disrespected to the level of dehumanizing. Deaths are routinely taking place in the sanitation sector but because these workers are dehumanized; hence, their death does not matter to most of us in society,” she said.

The Indian caste stigma attached to sanitation labor still survives in Pakistan and is recast as work for “non-Muslims”, particularly Christians in the Punjab region. There are various menial work categories, but it is only the janitorial work where Christians are overwhelmingly represented and “locked”; the very phenomenon begs for an explanation.

Discussing the overlapping of caste based hatred in religious overtones, Pakistan Ulema Council Vice-Chairman Allama Zubair Abid said there was a need to acknowledge the hard work of sanitary workers and give them due respect. He said Islam attached dignity with cleanliness and hard work. “Who is more civilized? The one who is spreading garbage, or the one who is collecting and cleaning it. We stand with sanitation workers because our religion also preaches promotion of cleanliness,” he said.

Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) Vice-Chairman Shaikh Imtiaz said that sanitation workers were facing a challenge of hatred during their work and the agency was also working to deal with this challenge. He said the Sweepers Are Superheroes campaign is a unique contribution and would go a long way in bringing dignity to the workers.

“Sanitation workers stand tall in all weathers. It makes us proud of you. They are our heroes as well,” he added.