Reset rural job policies, recognise women’s work -Madhura Swaminathan
As India emerges from the lockdown, labour market policy has to reverse the pandemic’s gender-differentiated impact
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on women’s work, but as official statistics do not capture women’s work adequately and accurately, little attention has been paid to the consequences of the pandemic for women workers and to the design of specific policies and programmes to assist them.
A survey by the Azim Premji University, of 5,000 workers across 12 States — of whom 52% were women workers — found that women workers were worse off than men during the lockdown. Among rural casual workers, for example, 71% of women lost their jobs after the lockdown; the figure was 59% for men. Data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) also suggest that job losses in April 2020, as compared to April 2019, were larger for rural women than men.
The pre-COVID-19 situation
To comprehend the effects of COVID-19 on women workers, we need to begin with the situation before the pandemic. I draw here on the experience of the last 10 years with village studies conducted in collaboration with the Foundation for Agrarian Studies (FAS).
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. If we examine data from time-use surveys, that is, surveys that collect information on all activities undertaken during a fixed time period (usually 24 hours), the picture changes radically. There are no official time-use survey data: the National Statistical Office did conduct a time-use survey in 2019 but the results are not available (a previous pilot survey was conducted 20 years ago). I use detailed, village-level time-use surveys from Karnataka, with data for 24 hours a day for seven days consecutively over two agricultural seasons in 2017-18, to illustrate the ground-level situation. Taking time spent in economic activity (or what falls within the production boundary in the System of National Accounts or SNA) 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, although there were seasonal variations in work participation, almost all women came within the definition of “worker” in the harvest season.
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The Hindu, 4 July, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/reset-rural-job-policies-recognise-womens-work/article31984168.ece
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