Sweepers Are Superheroes

Sanitation workers face horrific work conditions, social stigma and extreme poverty in Pakistan and Covid-19 has further made them vulnerable. In 2017, #SewperHeroes campaign was launched in this context to ensure dignity, safety and employment security for sanitary workers in Pakistan.
The research conducted in 2019, shows their workplace is life-threatening and threat of unemployment is used to force the workers in these horrifying work conditions. It was also found that the most vulnerable groups are forced into this occupation with the attached social stigmas of untouchability, that they are born low and deserve social distancing.
The campaign strives to highlight the plight of these workers and seek public support for implementation and reform of labor laws and policies, and thereby ensure better rights and conditions for these heroic workers.
The campaign believes that sanitation workers are our heroes because they make themselves vulnerable to disease and injuries just to make our live cleaner. Hence, we combine the words “Sweeper” and “Superhero” to form #SewperHeroes, the title of our campaign and our workers. The sanitation workers focused by this campaign include various categories of waste disposal workers including but not limited to sewermen, street sweepers, garbage collectors, and domestic sanitation workers.
As for now the #SewperHeroes campaign has prepared a one-of-its-kind research report on the working conditions of sanitary workers in Lahore. The report titled “Shame and Stigma in Sanitation” was launched in December 2019.
The campaign also does advocacy with policymakers and political leaders to seek better legislations and institutional practices to protect the rights of these workers. The campaign has also built a network of sanitation workers who keep us updated with their situation and happenings on-ground as well as work with our volunteers to ensure better workplace safety and wellbeing of all the workers.

Our Story

The campaign was started by a group of volunteers from the civil society and academia, who came together after being moved and inspired by certain events. The campaign derives its inspiration from two events.
First is the London’s Thames Water Utilities Ltd., which started an advertisement campaign in 2018 by the title of “Sewper Heroes”, which aimed to highlight the heroism of London’s sewer-men and how they perform this humiliating work to keep London running smoothly. The campaign was using slogans such as “It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.” and Tweets like “These ‘Sewper Heroes’ are on the sewage front line everyday helping #FightTheFatberg. We’re so proud of them dealing with the horrors they face beneath the streets and the great work they do to prevent blockages!” Thus, the volunteers behind this campaign decided to start Pakistan’s own #SewperHeroes Campaign.
The second inspiration for this campaign is Irfan Masih, a sanitary worker from Umar Kot who was overcome by toxic manhole fumes while trying to save his colleagues who had also fallen unconscious inside a manhole. Adding salt to injury, when Irfan was rushed to the hospital, the doctor refused to treat him because he was covered in filth. Eventually, Irfan Masih succumbed to the poisonous gasses he had inhaled. This is one of several incidents reported round the year that provide a glimpse into the sort of occupational health and safety risks that the job of a sanitary worker in Pakistan may involve. (You can read more about Irfan Masih’s story on this link: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-40203982)

Programs

Safety against COVID-19

Since the breakout of Corona Virus pandemic, we launched our drive to provide Personal Protection Equipment to the #SewperHeroes. While everyone is working to protect themselves from being infected, these workers remain most vulnerable due to the nature of their work. Donate now get these workers the safety gear they deserve.

SewperHeroes Advocacy Group

As part of our effort to improve the workplace safety of these workers, we have formed an advocacy group which meets with policymakers and politicians on a regular basis to advocate for the rights of these workers including legislation reform, improved safety practices and quality of life.

Social Media Campaign

#SewperHeroes campaign derives a great degree of its support from social media. We work with a network of influencers and followers to raise public awareness about the issues of sanitation workers. Moreover, we also try convince the general public to treat sanitation workers with greater respect and gratitude.

Organizing Sanitation Workers

#SewperHeroes campaign also works with sanitation workers to help them form labor unions, associations and other forms of labor organizations. This empowers them to work for their own rights rather than rely solely on outside help.

Study Group

The campaign also formed a network of academics who study the issues of these workers at a social institutional and technical level, and devise evidence-based solutions to improve the lives of SewperHeroes.

Volunteers

#SewperHeroes Campaign is led by several volunteers from the civil society, which includes people like Mary James Gill (former parliamentarian), Salman Sufi (social activist), Sarwar Bari (activist and head of Pattan Development Organization), Irfan Mufti (social activist and Deputy Director of South Asia Partnership Pakistan), Rabia Ghani (Social Activist and Project Manager at Pattan Development Organization), Asif Aqeel (Journalist and Historian), Raheem-ul-Haque (Research Fellow at Center for Public Policy and Governance at Forman Christian College), Charlie Clarke (Engineer at Thames Water London), Syed Akbar Hussain Shah (lawyer), Ali Imran (lawyer), Barrister Maryam Salman, Abdul Salam Rathore (Documentary Filmmaker), and Madiha Julien Tallat (lawyer).