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Major award for nun who helps domestic workers

Sr. Jeanne Devos acclaimed for her achievements

Virginia Saldanha, Mumbai

September 20, 2012

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A Belgian nun who has spent the past 48 years in India has received a prestigious award for her work with domestic workers. Sr. Jeanne Devos was awarded the Ramakrishna Bajaj Memorial Global Award for her "outstanding contributions to protecting the rights of domestic workers" at the 28th Priyadarshni Global Awards in Mumbai on Tuesday. The award was presented to the nun by federal health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. The Priyadarshni Academy was established to recognize and honor Indian talent. Awards are also presented every other year to achievers from around the world in different disciplines. In her acceptance speech, the Immaculate Heart of Mary nun highlighted some of the problems associated with domestic work, such as the trafficking of women and children, low wages, absence of strong legislation to protect them and physical and sexual abuse by employers. Despite a serious back problem arising from an injury suffered more than 20 years ago, the nun travels across the country establishing domestic worker groups that are coordinated nationally by the National Domestic Workers Movement. Sister Devos began her work in the early 1970´s, when bishops in the Chotanagpur region of Bihar state expressed concern at the number of tribal girls leaving their homeland to work as domestics in big cities. The bishops then commissioned a survey which resulted in the birth of the Domestic Workers´ Movement. The sister was at that time working in Dindigul in Tamil Nadu but moved to Mumbai where she came in to closer contact with the world of domestic workers. Her work put her in touch with hundreds of girls in Mumbai, Delhi, Bihar, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Sister Devos launched Bombay Houseworkers Solidarity in 1985 at the request of tribal bishops in Bihar and neighboring Madhya Pradesh state. The movement aims at achieving social justice for housemaids. The nun has also launched a national campaign in collaboration with similar organizations in various Indian cities to get these women recognized as workers and not “housemaids or servants.” Related reports Advocates welcome ILO Domestic Workers Convention
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