As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions have lost their livelihoods causing colossal damage to the labour market in India and pushing millions to the verge of starvation and dire poverty. Women workers became the unwitting targets of sky-high unemployment rates. In light of the second wave of the pandemic, the disproportionate burden borne by women workers must be revisited and understood. For, it is only by learning from the past that we can overcome the obstacles in the path ahead.
Growing domestic work
Women have played a predominant role in the fight against COVID-19 on the frontlines since its early days. This has not, however, brought about a corresponding reduction in their household work. The shutting down of schools and daycare centres have particularly affected working women as the expectation of caring for children and family members falls more on the women who are compelled to work thrice as much unpaid work, more so if they have to care for relatives affected by the virus. Because of the increased household demands many women have been forced to reduce their working hours or to leave their jobs entirely.
There exists a severe gender inequality in various sectors such as education, health and politics. While India’s labour participation of women is 22%, it is over 50% for other comparable countries. According to the WEF Global Gender Gap Report, 2021, among 156 countries, India ranks 140. It fares even worse in ‘Economic Participation and Opportunity’: 151.
Even before the pandemic, the employment gap was significant. In comparison to 75% of men, only 18% of women were employed. The pandemic has further accentuated the gender inequality in India. Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt. Ltd’s data shows that while 61% of men remained unaffected by the lockdown, only 19% of women retained their jobs.
Those men who lost their jobs because of the lockdown found other means of employment albeit with less salaries and increased vulnerability. 33% of formal salaried men took to self-employment and 9% to daily wages. On the other hand, a very small portion of women (4%) chose self-employment while a meager 3% moved into daily wage work.
Rosa Abraham, Senior Research Fellow and Amit Basole, Associate Professor of Economics at Azim Premji University opine that the expansion of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and introduction of Urban Employment Guarantee Schemes targeting women can help solve the issue.
The reopening of schools and anganwadi centres is of prime need if women are to rejoin the workforce. Self-help groups and community kitchens can be set up that would act as a support system for women. The age-old constraints on the participation of women in the workforce need to be addressed in the National Employment Policy that is presently under work.
Gender inequality has poisoned our society for centuries which makes it extremely urgent that the lawmakers of our country take positive steps towards bringing the women at par with their counterparts on various fronts such as political and economic participation, representation and equal opportunities. It is pertinent that this issue be addressed at the earliest else the years of hard work of our founding fathers would go to waste.
This article has been written by Ruchira Sarma for The Paradigm.
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