Former PML-N MPA’s struggle for sanitary workers wins global recognition
Mary Gill bags Sweden’s prestigious Anna Lindh Award 2020 for fighting against taboos associated with sanitation work, improving workers’ quality of life.
Mary Gill, a former PML-N member of the Punjab Assembly, has won this year’s prestigious Swedish Anna Lindh Award in recognition of her committed efforts to improve the quality of life of sanitation workers.
Anna Lindh’s Memorial Fund Chairperson and former Swedish foreign minister Lena Hjelm-Wallén, in a press note, said, “We are very proud to award the Anna Lindh prize for 2020 to Mary James Gill for her insistent work for the most vulnerable groups, based on human rights.”
The credit for this global recognition goes to former Chief Minister Punjab Mian Shehbaz Sharif and former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif whose guidance and unflinching support have had a profound impact on Mary Gill.
Guided by the vision of the PML-N and working under the wings of Mian Shehbaz Sharif and Mian Nawaz Sharif, Mary Gill sought to fight the taboos associated with sanitary workers and to improve their standard of living through provision of better facilities, required PPEs, better service structure and inclusion in Social Security, EOBI framework etc.
The PML-N leadership understood the importance of essential workers, and due to its high regard for human rights and dignity of work, the leadership sought to disassociate the taboos linked with sanitation work. The leadership also sought to widen the EOBI, Social Security network to include more work groups and essential workers in its domain. The move was a way to increase the scope of welfare oriented schemes in Punjab and to elevate the quality of life of its people.
In 2017, a sanitary worker named Irfan Masih died while trying to open a clogged sewerage line in Umerkot, Sindh. The incident highlighted a fault line in the service and social structure for these essential workers and, without further ado, the PML-N leadership launched a full-fledged campaign for the safety of sanitary workers as well as bringing dignity to the sanitation work by fighting the cultural and social taboos associated with it.
Over 250 sanitation workers have died in Punjab over the years due to the absence of safety equipment. Taking notice of the plight of the workers, Mian Shehbaz Sharif ordered immediate implementation of the best practices and provision of high quality PPEs to all workers.
The leadership also stressed on the importance of the sanitary workers in Punjab government’s WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) initiative.
In 2015, while working as the coordinator for the Punjab Minority Advisory Council, Mary strived to strike down the discriminatory policy of hiring only “non-Muslims” for sanitation work. The policy was abolished on the instructions of Mian Shehbaz Sharif in the same year, making Punjab the only province where this discriminatory practice has ended.
From December last year, the PML-N leadership launched Dignity Awards for sanitation workers who risk their lives for us. The awards are meant to destigmatize the sanitation work and draw public attention to plight of these workers.
The efforts of the PML-N leadership have also been highlighted in the international press with coverage from leading publications, including the New York Times and BBC, lauding the achievements and the best practices adopted by the PML-N’s government in Punjab for improving the lives of sanitary workers.