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Focus: GS-III Indian Economy


  • A survey found that women workers were worse off than men during the lockdown as, among rural casual workers 71% of women lost their jobs after the lockdown, while 59% of the men lost their jobs.
  • Data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) also suggest that job losses in the times of pandemic was larger for rural women than men.

The pre-COVID-19 situation

  • According to national labour force surveys, a quarter of adult rural women were in the labour force (or counted as “workers” in official data) in 2017-18.
  • Taking time spent in economic activity and using the standard definition of a worker as one who spent “major time” during the reference week in economic activity, time-use data show that almost all women came within the definition of “worker” in the harvest season.

Crisis of regular employment

  • Data suggests that when women are not reported as workers, it is because of the lack of employment opportunities rather than it being on account of any “withdrawal” from the labour force.
  • Data also suggests that women from all sections of the peasantry, with some regional exceptions, participate in paid work outside the home.
  • Data also suggests that in rural India younger and more educated women are often not seeking work because they aspire to skilled non-agricultural work, whereas older women are more willing to engage in manual labour.
  • Also, women’s wages are rarely equal to men’s wages, with a few exceptions.
  • Counting all forms of work — economic activity and care work or work in cooking, cleaning, child care, elderly care — a woman’s work day is exceedingly long and in a time-use survey, women work for 13 hours a day in the peak season. When households own animals, be it milch cattle or chickens or goats, women are inevitably part of the labour process.

Lockdown and jobs

  • Survey showed that in large parts of the country where rain-fed agriculture is prevalent, there was no agricultural activity during the lean months of March to May.
  • In areas of irrigated agriculture, there were harvest operations (such as for rabi wheat in northern India) but these were largely mechanised.
  • In other harvest operations, such as for vegetables, there was a growing tendency to use more family labour and less hired labour on account of fears of infection.
  • Put together, while agricultural activity continued, employment available to women during the lockdown was limited.
  • Employment and income in activities allied to agriculture, such as animal rearing, fisheries and floriculture were also adversely affected by the lockdown.
  • Non-agricultural jobs came to a sudden halt as construction sites, brick kilns, petty stores and eateries, local factories and other enterprises shut down completely.

Government Opportunities

  • One of the new sources of women’s employment in the last few decades has been government schemes, especially in the health and education sectors, where, for example, women work as Anganwadi workers or mid-day meal cooks.
  • During the pandemic, Accredited Social Health Activists or ASHAs, 90% of whom are women, have become frontline health workers , although they are not recognised as “workers” or paid a regular wage.

Way Forward: A new road map

  • In thinking of the potential workforce, we need to include women from almost all sections of rural households and not just women from rural labour or manual worker households.
  • While the immediate or short-run provision of employment of women can be through an imaginative expansion of the NREGS, a medium and longer term plan needs to generate women-specific employment in skilled occupations and in businesses and new enterprises.
  • In the proposed expansion of health infrastructure in the country, women, who already play a significant role in health care at the grass-root level, must be recognised as workers and paid a fair wage.

-Source: The Hindu

February 2024