Millennium Post

Let women work!

As unemployment hits its highest, participation of women in workforce drops to mere 27%

Let women work!

A massive mandate is no license for indifference or callousness in the governance of social crises, like the unprecedented labour force participation crisis haunting Indian women. The next month in the run-up to the presentation of the full budget on July 5 by Nirmala Sitaraman will reflect whether this message has sunk in with Modi Government 2.0.

The work-life crisis encountering Indian women is multifaceted. At one level, their share in the labour force is alarmingly declining. Even among that one-quarter of women who come into the labour force, a very high share is encountering unemployment and women are not getting jobs even when they are ready to work. Even among those women who are already working, the number of those who suffer job losses is historically unparalleled. In short, it is an all-round crisis of women's work-life.

Women dropping out of the labour force is nothing new but, in recent years, it has reached the level of a social emergency. Over the last couple of years, many international agencies, think-tanks, corporate research agencies, reputed academic centres and leading media houses have been warning about the intensifying employment crisis among Indian women. It was as early as in April 2017 that a World Bank Policy Research Working paper titled 'Precarious Drop' had raised an alarm. Based on NSSO reports and the Census reports, the report stated that "female labour force participation in India dropped by 19.6 million women from 2004-05 to 2011-12. Participation declined by 11.4 per cent, from 42.6 to 31.2 per cent during 1993-94 to 2011-12. Approximately 53 per cent of this drop occurred in rural India, among those aged 15 to 24 years".

In just eight years, two crore women dropping out of employment is no joke! Any government should have acted on a war-footing to reverse the trend. But our government didn't acknowledge the problem, leave alone acting upon it. So, the female labour force participation had a further free fall to hit a historic low of 27 per cent in 2018.

These studies were followed by a spate of reports from reputed think-tanks and research centres like Oxfam, autonomous research institutions like Azim Premji University, ICRIER, NCAER, LSE, and even UN agencies like UNDP and UN Women, which were equally shocking. But there was absolute silence on this from one source: the government!

The government now boasts of appointing India's first woman finance minister but neither the PM nor the FM herself has discussed the crisis of Indian women yet. The BJP Election Manifesto declared that "We would formulate a comprehensive 'Women in Workforce' roadmap focussed on dramatically increasing the female workforce participation rate over the next five years." Will they walk their talk?

During the election campaign cacophony, multiple warnings by numerous specialised agencies could have been lost in the din. In the election year itself, CMIE, based on its surveys, showed that in the single year of 2018, women lost 8.8 million jobs – 6.5 million in rural India and 2.3 million in urban India. Why not introduce a job-loss allowance of 80 per cent of the last drawn wages three years for workers who lose their jobs as being practised in many countries in the West?

According to the NSSO PLFS report, among women who had completed secondary school education, the unemployment rate had shot up from 9.7 per cent in 2011-2012 to 17.3 per cent in 2017-2018 among rural women and for urban women from 4.0 per cent to 19.8 per cent. Perhaps, the Modi magic is helpless in increasing job opportunities for women!

Now, global corporate consultancy firm McKinsey has come up with another alarming report in June this year that up to 12 million Indian women might lose jobs in India due to automation in both tech industry as well as in manufacturing by 2030. What contingency plans does our government have to cushion this catastrophic tech impact on women?

Childcare burden is primarily responsible for many women leaving the workforce and so are security concerns. Why not declare a working women's hostel and a crèche for every panchayat?

The 2017 Maternity Benefit Act was too late and too little to address the problem of women giving up jobs due to childbirth and childcare. It was supposed to cover only 8 per cent of the Indian organised sector workforce and left out 92 per cent of the unorganised and informal workers. Why not transfer Rs 60,000 to the bank account of every unorganised sector working woman who has delivered a child as the equivalent of six-month wages?

Commuting is a severe problem for working women and school girls. Nitish Kumar followed Jayalalithaa's model of giving free bicycles to school girls and drastically brought down drop-out rate among school girls. But BJP, which was thumping its chest for ruling 15 states in India, failed to extend the successful experiment of their own ally in other BJP-ruled states. Recently, the Delhi government of Arvind Kejriwal has allowed free travel for women in Delhi metro and bus services – a very radical move to increase work participation of women. But instead of emulating the move in the states ruled by them, the BJP could only ridicule the move as vote-catching exercise.

The Congress-led state government in Karnataka first declared in December 2018 that girls in the state would get free education in government educational institutions up to postgraduate level and then the Rajasthan government followed suit in January this year, and since then, the Punjab government has also made a similar announcement. Despite the government's high-flown 'Beti Padao' slogan, why aren't other state governments coming forward to emulate this and even declare that they would bear the educational cost for girls even if they study in private schools? Sadly, when it comes to women's welfare, even the usual jumlas are missing!

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

B. Sivaraman

B. Sivaraman

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