Delhi’s AQI Women Ambassadors clear the air in Delhi’s construction industry

With artful campaigns, Mahila Housing Trust reshapes construction habits


March 15, 2024

/ By / New Delhi

Delhi’s AQI Women Ambassadors clear the air in Delhi’s construction industry

Women ambassadors associated with the Mahila Housing Trust (MHT) are raising awareness about air pollution ( Photo: MHT)

In the slums of Delhi, a quiet revolution is unfolding as a group of Air Quality Index (AQI) women ambassadors associated with the Mahila Housing Trust (MHT) are raising awareness about air pollution and demonstrating its real-time impact in the underprivileged quarters of the capital.

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In the unrecognised and impoverished settlements of Delhi, including Bakkarwala, Gokulpuri, Sawda Ghevra, and Bhalaswa, a group of women are making a significant impact on their community’s well-being. They are not only addressing the critical issue of air pollution but also empowering their fellow community members, especially women working in the construction industry.

Laxmi, a 30-year-old resident of Bakkarwala Colony located in west Delhi, is one of these women, who are called AQI Ambassadors or Air Quality Index and have been trained by Mahila Housing Trust, an Ahmedabad-based organisation trains women from poor settlements to spread awareness of air pollution in their communities as well as collect real-time data on pollution.

MHT study reveals that 94 pc of female construction workers refrain from discussing air pollution ( Photo: MHT)

MHT study reveals that 94 pc of female construction workers refrain from discussing air pollution ( Photo: MHT )

Laxmi, along with other AQI Ambassadors, teaches construction workers about air pollution measurement and its health implications. Every morning she leaves early with mini Air Quality Index (AQI) monitors in hand, on a mission to educate and raise awareness about the health risks associated with severe air pollution.

So far, Mahila Housing Trust has trained over 75 women in Delhi, which figures amongst the cities with the worst air quality in the world.

“Many women in my community face extensive exposure to severe air pollution, residing in confined homes with minimal ventilation. Some work as construction labourers, where they are exposed to dust, sand, and cement, making them vulnerable to pollution,” Laxmi tells Media India Group.

“Each day, I host community meetings in my area, educating people about air pollution and its significant impact on their health. I initiate the meetings by recording AQI. Though everyone can find the AQI level in the news, we cheque AQI on the spot and explain simple protection methods,” she adds.

A 2022 MHT study reveals that 94 pc of female construction workers refrain from discussing air pollution, fearing job repercussions amidst Delhi’s polluted environment, and the construction sector ranks India’s second-largest employer after agriculture, with a 49 pc female workforce.

“I used to run a small stationery shop, and despite hearing about pollution in the news, I didn’t truly believe that Delhi’s air was so bad until I read the AQI monitor for myself,” Mumtaz Begum, another AQI Ambassador, tells Media India Group.

“I engage with contractors on each site, ensuring a daily practice of spraying water on sand, gravel, and bricks twice a day. Additionally, I emphasise covering unused materials with tarps. It is a commitment to mitigating dust and pollution. I extend this awareness to fellow women, advising them to dress their children in full-sleeved clothing and discouraging them from playing in the sand. It is about fostering a collective responsibility for a healthier environment, not only in the workplace but also in the well-being of our families,” she adds.

The work of Mumtaz Begum and Laxmi seems to be bearing fruit as they say there is an increasing awareness amongst the construction workers and other residents of the slum colonies about air pollution and the extreme harm that it cause to human health.

“In conversations with women in construction, I often hear expressions of newfound confidence. They tell them that now they are far more confident. They say they assert themselves with the contractors, insisting that they will work only if the conditions are proper. It’s a transformative shift, empowering us to prioritise our well-being in the workplace. This change not only enhances our own safety but also contributes to reshaping the dynamics within the industry. The acknowledgement of our worth and the insistence on favourable working conditions mark a significant step towards creating a more equitable and secure environment for women in construction,” she adds.

According to the AQI Ambassadors, MHT and community action groups educated 100,000 construction workers, promoting safer work sites through posters, street plays, and art. Surveys showed 82 pc of workers have begun to wear masks and 13 pc construction companies have begun implementing pollution measures.

The Delhi government has also collaborated with MHT to promote the Green Delhi app, a pollution-fighting tool, launched in 2020. GDI Partners, a social impact consultancy, improved the app’s effectiveness and trained AQI ambassadors.

Veena Bhardwaj

Veena Bhardwaj

“I am deeply committed to empowering women within our community to become master trainers and AQI Ambassadors. These remarkable women play a pivotal role in raising awareness among construction workers and fellow community members about the profound impact of air pollution on their health,” Veena Bhardwaj, Programme Manager at MHT, tells Media India Group.

“Choosing Delhi as our starting point was a deliberate decision, considering it currently holds the disheartening rank of the most polluted city among 254 cities in India as of January. The escalating pollution levels in the national capital, coupled with the associated health risks, have been a prevalent subject of discourse for several years. We believe that beyond implementing measures to mitigate pollution, fostering awareness is imperative, especially in unrecognised settlements in the area, to effectively tackle this pervasive issue. Our initiative in Delhi serves as a crucial stepping stone, and we envision extending our efforts to other cities as well. By addressing the pressing issue of air pollution at its roots and empowering communities through awareness, we aim to create a lasting impact on the overall well-being of our society,” she adds.

The efforts of the AQI Ambassadors associated with the Mahila Housing Trust in Delhi are not only transforming construction practises but also empowering women and communities to take charge of their health and environment. With increasing awareness and tangible results such as a significant rise in mask adoption and the implementation of pollution control measures, the impact is palpable. As they continue to expand their reach and advocate for cleaner air, these initiatives serve as a beacon of hope for a healthier, more sustainable future, not just in Delhi but potentially across other cities as well.



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