Posted by Priyanjali Roy Chaudhury
In November 2018, Niti Aayog, under the leadership of the Narendra Modi government, published a report listing out a comprehensive national Strategy for New India, which defines clear objectives to reach by 2022, when India celebrates its 75th year of independence. It is a detailed examination of key problem areas in India, the situation today, progress already made, and a way forward in order to achieve the objectives stated.
New India at 75 consists of forty one chapters, falling under four sections. The section on Inclusion deals with the much needed task of investing in the capabilities of Indian citizens, dealing with issues of health, education, and those who are traditionally marginalised.
Chapter 32 of New India at 75, talks about Gender, focusing on the aim of enhancing female labour force participation to at least 30% by 2022-2023. It also talks of creating an environment within India, which consists of equal opportunity for women, absent of structural and institutional barriers. It is estimated that if women did as much formal work as men, India would experience an additional 1.4 per cent GDP growth.
India is listed as one of the most unsafe countries for women, consisting of a range of problems such as honour killing, acid attacks, backward traditional mindsets, unequal access to education, and societal norms. The current female labour force participation rate (LFPR) is 23.7 per cent (26.7 per cent in rural areas and 16.2 per cent in urban areas). The declining trend is particularly strong in rural areas, where it has gone down from 49.7 per cent in 2004-05 to 26.7 per cent in 2015-16.
India is listed as one of the most unsafe countries for women, consisting of a range of problems such as honour killing, acid attacks, backward traditional mindsets, unequal access to education, and societal norms.
This low percentage can be attributed to a number of things. Women are believed to ‘belong at home’. They are encouraged to take care of children and housework, and not venture outside the home in search of a job. This age old belief still exists in many households today. Due to this, women either work part time, or do not work at all.
It is also due to this mindset that a girl child’s education is not given importance- the number of girls studying has risen from 39% to 46%, 2007 to 2014; however this has not led to a subsequent rise of the female work force. While some of the fall in women’s workforce participation is explained by higher rates of higher education enrollment, indicating that more young women are in higher education rather than working or looking for jobs, the data also points to a fall in working rates for older women.
It is also important to note that a lot of the work that women do is often invisible, confined to the informal sector, and thus not included in any statistics. The work usually goes unrecognized as it is unremunerated or poorly remunerated. Apart from being the driving force behind men, providing them with subsistence in order to allow them to do their work, women also help in fields, homes, or other such areas, which do not get counted. At the all India level, women are confined mainly to the large, informal sector. On average, 66 per cent of women’s work in India is unpaid, compared to 12 per cent of men’s.
Niti Aayog, in its report has also mentioned the reasons as to why this labour force is low, and has not been able to rise. Workplaces usually have constraints such as inflexible work hours, lack of child care facilities, and no safety precaution,- which prevent women from taking up employment. A woman is only ‘allowed’ to work if she is also able to manage the household and her children alongside, and thus flexibility and facilities in a workplace are of uttermost importance.
Another reason stated is that there is a lack of opportunities to work part time, or to re-enter a workforce after a break. Employers find it more beneficial to employ men, as they feel they are more reliable, and will yield more benefits.
The only way to combat this constraint is through a change of mindset, and by providing women with the necessary facilities to be able to get back on their feet. A change of policy within companies is also needed, in order to ensure equality throughout the recruitment process, as well as the employment duration. Gender sensitisation workshops should also be held, in order to make to work environment more conducive for women. Niti Aayog’s recommendations include improving asset ownership an economic security for women, creating conducive environments for women to work in agriculture, and other such fields, enhancing skill through education, and ensuring the safety of women.
The only way to combat this constraint is through a change of mindset, and by providing women with the necessary facilities to be able to get back on their feet.
The BJP government has started to work on a comprehensive policy, in order to increase the participation of women in the workforce, and empower women. This is in the form of a number of schemes introduced, which include tax incentives for companies which employ women, liberal policies, and safety facilities. These schemes are-
Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme
This scheme, introduced in 2015, aims to generate awareness and improve the efficiency of welfare services intended for girls in India. It aims to address the issue of the declining child sex ratio image, in the 161 chosen districts. Analysing the affect it has had after three years, one can definitely see an increase in the number of getting secondary education, and a more balanced sex ratio in some districts; however, this scheme has also faced its own share of problems. There has been inefficient allocation of funds, and release of funds- out of INR 368 crores allocated, only INR 291 crores were released (Times of India). There have also been implementation challenges in a number of selected districts, especially in Punjab and Haryana, with problems such as non compliance, and infrequent task force meetings.
In order for this scheme to reach its too potential, it is vital that the on ground work is headed by local female workers, who are adequately trained in community outreach programmes. This is important as it helps girls of that area feel more comfortable, and thus, families might be more willing to make a change.
This scheme was intended to support women affected by violence in private and public spaces, within the family, community, and the workplace. Women facing physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and economic abuse, irrespective of age, class, caste, education status, marital status, race and culture will be facilitated with support. This scheme was brought about because of the increase in gender based violence in India.
However, a report in the Hindustan Times, talks about how the One Stop Centres that have been set up till now, lack a few amenities, and can be further improved. Currently, the centre can accommodate five victims, irrespective of the demography of the district. Thus, the capacity of all these shelters must be increased, according to the population of that district.
Also, the case workers and staff must all be properly trained in this field, and there must be an adequate number of workers in order to be able to deal with all the cases. Lastly, greater measures need to be taken in order to protect the identity of the women, which s vital in encouraging women to approach these centres, and seek out the help they need.
This programme aims to increase the self-reliance and autonomy of women by enhancing their productivity and enabling them to take up income generating activities. It provides skill development to poor and asset less women in traditional sectors, in order to give employability to women.
Mahila E-Haat is an initiative for meeting aspirations and needs of women entrepreneurs. It is an online marketing platform for women, where participants can display their products. It is an initiative for women across the country as a part of ‘Digital India’ and ‘Stand up India’ initiatives.
Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017
An Act to protect the employment of women during the time of her maternity n entitles her of a maternity benefit, which is paid leave, in order to take care of a child. However, the amendment excludes informal sector women workers, who constitute 93% of India’s workforce. This means that the women have to leave the children at home, usually under the care of an older sibling. This compromises the health, care, and security of the child, and also affects educational and employment opportunities of the older sibling, often a girl, who is then withdrawn from school in order to provide this care- encouraging the never ending cycle of poverty and gender inequality.
Although all the solutions stated in this report are satisfactory, it does not address the one key issue: the mindset behind the low female participation, and education. This can be solved be not only educating girls, but also educating their parents, and their brothers- on why it is important to increase the female labour force. Marriage should not be the aim of education, which in turn may also lead to a decrease in a number of other such social evils, such as dowry, and domestic violence.
Also, the report does not address a key concern for women already part of the labour force- the wage gap. According to the latest Monster Salary Index (MSI), the current gender pay gap in India stood at 19 per cent where men earned ₹46.19 more in comparison to women. The median gross hourly salary for men in India in 2018 stood at ₹242.49, while for women it stood at around ₹196.3.
Although the report does make a distinction between urban women and rural women, it does not take other identities into account. Women are not a homogeneous category, and are part of different castes, classes, and religions, all of which influence the kind, and amount of work that they do. This point is not addressed, but is a vital aspect of women in India, and needs to be talked about in order to break barriers, and allow a greater number of women into the work force. The action plan talks about implementing policies within companies, keeping in mind caste identities. However it does not talk about dealing with the stereotypes that come along with a caste identity, which often influences an employer’s choice.
Among men, caste and religion make no real difference to workforce participation rates. But among women, Muslim women have the lowest (LFPR) while among Hindu women; forward caste women have the lowest LFPR, implying that social norms and religious conservatism might play a role in women being “allowed” to work. Dalits still remain largely in casual labour. Overall, it has been seen that Dalits are more likely to participate im the labour force than non SC/STs. 20 per cent of Dalit women were engaged in casual labor as opposed to 8 percent of non SC/ST women. But women in India are generally excluded from regular jobs and from non-farm enterprises, with only about 3 and 5 percent women being employed in the two types of employment respectively. Given these small proportions, there is little scope for variation and Dalit women are not significantly more disadvantaged.
Existing schemes, as thought out as they may be, have often failed to achieve their objectives, due to ill implementation. To combat this, the ground level support staff should be adequately trained, and funds should be correctly allocated. Schemes and policies are always thought out in relation to what the need of the hour is, but it is also vital to take into account multiple identities of individuals, in order for the scheme to be accessible to the people that it is meant for.
New India at 75 lists out a promising strategy in order to increase women labour force participation, and ensure equality in India; however its implementation is yet to be seen. Policies (of the government and within companies) have been made, but their implementation is not up to the mark, often leaving the objective unfulfilled. It is yet to be seen if India can achieve its goal of gender equality by 2022.
Priyanjali is an aspiring sociologist who is in between degrees, and is working at Niti Aayog. You can find her on Facebook.
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