Shri Santosh Kumar Gangwar,
Minister of State for Labour and Employment,
Government of India
Subject: On the impact of the employment crisis on women
We, the undersigned national women’s organisations in India are deeply concerned about the unprecedented increase in unemployment in our country. Women, especially those from marginalised and minority communities are in dire straits.
It is well acknowledged that India was facing one of its worse economic and employment crises before the implementation of the unplanned and hasty lockdowns in order to control the pandemic. Women workers were disproportionately impacted due to the hardships brought about by neo-liberal policies and governments were oblivious to their growing burden and penury. The Annual Periodic Labour Force Survey of the National Sample Survey Organisation, 2017-18 showed that the percentage of women in paid work had reached a historical low of 17.5 percent, with rural women facing a drop of almost 7 percent. Added to this is the continuing non-recognition of women’s work and the worsening working conditions of women in paid employment which are ridden by a permanent informality and lack of social protection.
This scenario has impacted women in at least two ways: first it has led to loss of paid employment for women workers; there has been an 8 percent increase in the share of women who have been forced out of the labour force into unpaid work because lack of job opportunities between 2012 and 2018. Second, since a large section of the workforce (i.e. more than 90 percent) was in vulnerable employment with no social protection, income and job security, loss of work of earning members in their families puts additional burden on them and have had a bad impact on their health and nutritional status. Further, gender pay-gaps have been increasing in India, with the largest gap being felt by women in casual work.
The full face of the structural discrimination and oppression faced by women workers has been revealed during the pandemic. The ILO showed in its first monitoring report on the impact of COVID pandemic that 140 million women workers would face a crisis of work as a result of the impact of forced lockdowns. Further reports stressed that the greatest impact would be felt by domestic workers, women in the retail business and other informal workers like those in piece-rated work, construction etc. Self-employed women have faced near ruination of their businesses due to the pandemic. Subsequently studies by the Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy have shown that the GDP has fallen by 23.9 percent and about 21.1 million jobs have been lost between March and August; about 4 in every 10 women have lost out on work. Families of migrant workers have faced special difficulties; children and women have even lost their lives on the long walk back home because of the lockdowns. Further, the closures and ‘work from home’ orders have resulted in an unimaginable increase in unpaid and care work; and increased instances of domestic violence.
In response, the Government has been singularly negligent to respond to the demands of women workers. The meagre economic measures and packages announced by the Finance Minister, makes almost no exclusive allocations for women workers. It does not provide them the required income support that is needed for meeting daily and monthly expenses. Further, the token allocations of Rs. 500 per month to Jan Dhan Account holders is an insult to poor women. Studies have revealed that the social expenditure of the government remains at almost the pre-lockdown levels and only about 43 percent of the funds allocated for MGNREGS have been disbursed so far. Further, the government has used the lockdown to initiate economic reforms and changes in labour laws which will lead to the exclusion of women from the world of paid decent work. Given the abysmal neglect of the government, women workers and their families have been forced into a cycle of indebtedness, where they will have to borrow at high interest rates from MFIs and other private agencies.
In the light of the deepening of the employment and economic crisis, the undersigned women’s organisations demand that:
- Enhance financial support substantially for social welfare measures and create a special package for women in informal employment.
- Provide financial support of Rs. 10,000/- to all especially those who lost their livelihood under lockdown and to all vulnerable sections of the society for the next six months at the least, which should be extendable depending on the progression of the pandemic.
- Give Rs. 10,000/- as monthly financial assistance to landless agricultural workers (60 million women)
- Revert MGNREGA as a demand driven Act and increase reservation to 50% for women; Increase per day wage to Rs. 600/- and ensure timely payment; Increase MGNREGS allocations and extend the scheme to all districts. Wages should be given to small and marginal farmers for even working on their own lands.
- Ensure 50 % reservation for women under Prime Minister’s Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyaan, with equal wage rate
- Ensure employment to all and financial assistance of Rs. 10,000/- to all unemployed in urban areas.
- Enact an Urban Employment Guarantee Act (UEGA) with provisions of 50% reservation for women, equal wage etc.
- 50% of the ‘rented houses’ announced by the PM for migrant workers should be reserved for women workers
SHGs & Women Farmers
- Waiving of interest and loans for SHGs taken before the lockdown; Provision of interest free loans to SHGs, women farmers, including those who are in poultry, fishing, dairy, etc. should be speeded up; Collateral free loan with high interest rates is nothing but to hoodwink the women
- Stop harassment of women by MFIs and their collection agents and middlemen. The decision of the Rural Development ministry of collecting all the outstanding loans from SHGs and orders to the SRLMs and banks to do the same, must be immediately withdrawn.
Mariam Dhawale - ALL INDIA DEMOCRATIC WOMEN’S ASSOCIATION
Annie Raja - NATIONAL FERDERATION OF INDIAN WOMEN
Kavita Krishnan - ALL INDIA PROGRESSIVE WOMEN’S ASSOCIATION
Poonam Kaushik - PRAGATISHEEL MAHILA SANGATHAN
Chhabi Mohanty - ALL INDIA MAHILA SANSKRITIK SANGATHAN
Mitali Gupta - ALL INDIA AGRAGAMI MAHILA SAMTI