2020 is increasingly becoming a year everyone would want to forget. The whole world is reeling under the impact of the Corona virus. Even the most developed countries such as USA, UK and Germany appear to be clueless in their response to this pandemic.
Rapidly, the health crisis has metamorphosed into an economic crisis. According to the ILO, globally in the first quarter of 2020 itself about 130 million full times jobs were lost. Indian economy, already suffering from decelerating economic growth, has been hit hard. Grappling with the significantly lower economic activity, loss of employment and savings, India is expected to have negative economic growth rate for the first time in last forty years.
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Against this hapless backdrop of global pandemic and external as well internal economic challenges, the Prime Minister of India gave a clarion call for Atmanirbhar Bharat to galvanise the growth across various sectors of the economy. The structure of the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” was envisaged to be standing on five pillars viz. economy, infrastructure, system, demography and demand. The main objective of this mission being “making 130 crores Indian self-reliant” so that the country as a whole can fight back the Covid -19 onslaught.
However, in the hurly-burly of the unprecedented concoction of raging pandemic and limping economy, the government of India has overlooked a very significant aspect of growth which could put a spoke in the wheels of Atmanirbhar Bharat ie the women citizens.
It appears that women as an economic agent failed to make the cut in the self-reliance Indian movement. The comprehensive road map of Atmanirbhar Bharat has mentioned “women” just five times, the most noteworthy mention being – “now all the occupations are open for women & now women can work in night with safeguards.” However, no funds have been earmarked for creation of any such safeguards to facilitate their entry into labour market. In India, where women face discrimination from womb to grave, not having a targeted approach for women’s economic empowerment could further widen the already existing gender disparities in the country.
The Gender Gap
World Economic Forum has been tracking gender-based inequalities since 2006 with an annual “The Global Gender Gap Report” accounting for yearly progress made by the participating countries by assigning ranks on four dimensions-gender inequality: economic, education, health and political. In the 2019 report, WEF reported that it will take just about 257 years to bridge the gap in terms of economic participation and opportunity between men and women.
While, India has made progress on certain dimensions, there is not much to celebrate about India’s approach towards achieving gender equality. The rank of the country on the overall global gender gap index is 112 among 153 countries. With a gender equality index score of 66.8 out of 100, India still have mountains to climb before we could see substantial changes on the ground.
In the domain of economic participation and opportunity, India’s performance has been abysmal and the country is, in fact, amongst the five worst preforming countries in the world. Interestingly, India is the only country where the economic gender gap is larger than the political gender gap.
Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan is about making the country economically vibrant, however, in the presence of such glaring inequalities, the mission will fall flat if it fails to create special instruments for enabling women’s economic participation.
Progress over time
The above figure shows the development over the decade of the global gender gap index and its sub-indices. Overall, in the last ten years India has bridged the gender gap by 5.3 percentage point. The country has made significant strides in closing gender gap in education with a score of 96.2 out of 100. Unfortunately, India is backsliding in decreasing the gender inequality in economic participation domain.
There is a pressing need to question why the achievement of higher education levels is not translating to higher economic participation among Indian women. Various researches have pointed out that the labour force participation rates (LFPRs) of women in India are not only low but have been declining systematically over the years. This could have serious implications for the India’s development agenda and thus needs immediate attention.
The sub index of economic participation and opportunity captures gender inequality across five indicators vis. Labour force participation rate, Wage equality for similar work, Estimated earned income, Legislators, senior officials and managers, and Professional and technical workers. The economic gender inequality is deep rooted in the Indian society and further unpacking of these sub-indicator highlight various sore-points.
In the last ten years, across all the indicators, the gender gap has become wider which is a clear testament that women as an economic agent continues to remain on the fringe of economic power. Out of the five indicators under the sub index “economic participation and opportunity” the highest gender disparity is recorded for legislators, senior officials and managers, which is defined by ILO as “ratio of women to men employed in senior roles” which means jobs are still segregated by gender and women in India are still constricted by the glass ceiling. Unfortunately, even in the 21st century, Indian women workers are getting less wages as compared to their male counterparts for similar work and we are able to close only 55.5% of gender wage gap in 2019.
The perpetually low participation of women is idiosyncratic to Indian labour market. Women’s participation in market work is an indicator of their status in a society. Paid work offers more opportunities for women’s agency, mobility and empowerment, and it usually leads to greater social recognition of the work that women do, whether paid or unpaid. However, in India despite high economic growth, high female education levels and declining fertility rates, conditions which have translated into more women entering into labour force in many countries, the proportion of female participating in labour market is declining every year. According to NSS employment and unemployment survey, the labour force participation rate for women of working age has declined from 42 percent in 1993-94 to 27 percent in 2011-12.
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The call for action
Owing to prevalent socio-cultural and economic norms where males are celebrated as bread winners and women’s prime responsibility is attending to the household duties, women in India are already struggling to have their fair share in the economy. The current COVID-19 outbreak is threatening to undermine India’s achievement in closing the gender gap.
The stimulus package of Atmanirbhar Bharat is lacking a gender lens as women are completely missing from the discussion. The scheme promises to give INR 500 per month to 20 crore Jan Dhan women account holders, however this amount is very low to provide any kind of protection.
Indian women are already overburdened by the unpaid household and care work and now, due to growing child care demands, staggering growth and lurking recession, women may soon shut out of participating in the economy. Thus, there is a need to create a special programme and policy which can help women workers overcome the pandemic and its after-effects. Atmanirbhar beti will lay a strong foundation for atmanirbhat Bharat. From Beti bachao, Beti padhao, now its time to progress towards Beti Ko Atmanirbhar Banao.
Jyoti Thakur is a post graduate from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Ms. Thakur currently is Guest Faculty, Department of social work at Gautam Buddha University and pursuing PhD in Development Studies at Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru . Earlier she has worked with various institutions such as TISS as research assistant, and with Praja Foundation as project officer. Her area of interest includes Gender and women issues, Labour, Migration and displacement, violence against women. She can be found on Twitter.
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