When it comes to street vending, the amount of investment and skills required is low, which makes it a relatively accessible opportunity for women to earn their livelihood. Due to the lockdown enforced by the government because of COVID-19, the street vending sector has been severely impacted and the women street vendors bore the brunt of it. There are approximately 4 crore street hawkers in India – of which 1/3rd consists of women, who support their families to provide an extra cushion of income. About 82 per cent of the workforce of India is working in the unorganized sector according to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO). The National Women’s Commission emphasizes that 94% of women are employed in the unorganized sector.
Women street vendors mostly use pavements or streets to sell their goods while men use pushcarts. Also, women street vendors earn less than men. In India, a large section of women are employed in low-paid informal sectors that promise meagre wages and result in maximum exploitation. The Ministry of Urban Employment and Poverty Alleviation reports that the overall average income of men is Rs 70/day while the average income of women is Rs 50/day. In India, the informal sector contributes to 7% of the country’s GDP. According to the International Labor Organization, COVID-19’s impact on the informal sector is equivalent to 195 million jobs lost.
The global female labour participation rate stood at 48.7% in 2018 and the corresponding figure for India stood at 26.97%. With a large informal workforce and continuous gender inequality, the COVID-19 pandemic is spiking pre-existing disparities and simultaneously revealing vulnerabilities from health to economy. This has impacted women severely both economically and socially – they have lost jobs as they are unable to set up their unit on the streets which is their only source of income and they are socially traumatized with extra household burdens, violence by men at home and sexual harassment.
According to the Periodic Labor Force Survey (2017-2018), 54.8 per cent of women workers are involved in non-agriculture, 72.3 per cent of them have no written job contract, 50.4 per cent of the salaried workers are not eligible for paid leave and 51.8 per cent are not eligible for any social security benefit. The study shows that the street vendors are the part of ‘low circuit economy’, with a turnover of Rs 80 crore per day. The National Hawkers Federation estimates that 50% of the vendors sell food while at least 35% of fruit and vegetables are sold by vendors in urban and remote areas.
92 per cent of women work informally in low-income countries as compared to 87 per cent of men who do the same. The contributions of family workers, who are considered unpaid, make up 28.1% of the informal jobs of women, compared with 8.7% for men. The informal sector is the only source of income for the majority of the poor and the impact due to COVID-19 has been felt by most households. Its effects are deeper and long-lasting among the vulnerable and marginalised sections. This will result in an adverse long-term impact of social and economic empowerment of women and lead to an increase in their vulnerability.
There are approximately 4 crore street hawkers in India – of which 1/3rd consists of women.
The street vendors are facing poor working and social security conditions which expose them to various safety and health problems. Such vendors are vulnerable to harsh weather conditions in addition to poor access to sanitation and water. Often expected to play three roles — wife, mother and employee — this triple burden affects their health. The closure of schools has increased the burden on women parents due to discriminatory gender norms, which in turn restricts their work and economic opportunities. Case in point – when the Zika outbreak started the amount of unpaid women’s work increased exponentially.
Access to Healthcare
According to the International Labor Organization, around 85% of street vendors have to face health hazards which includes various diseases like high blood pressure, increased depression, increased blood sugar, migraine, etc. Such conditions have a significant effect on women and girls. Due to the pandemic, the government focus is on preventing the spread of the virus which resulted in the restrictions of other critical services due to weak health infrastructures. One such aspect being the lack of antenatal care for pregnant women that leads to more risky births and maternity mortality. In general, basic treatment or treatment for chronic diseases which women may experience is not guaranteed.
Domestic abuse, intimate partner violence and aggression in the public place have now greatly increased with COVID-19. Women all over in different countries live with abusive partners in isolation. Many women have no access to information about how to obtain help or how to quarantine separately. 35% of women around the world have already witnessed some form of gender-based violence in their lives according to the World Health Organization. For certain crisis situations, these numbers have drastically increased up to 70%. In India, since the lockdown started, the National Commission of Women has urgently warned about the rising number of domestic violence incidents.
Access to Food, Water and Sanitation
A large number of people are likely to suffer from starvation and malnutrition as the pandemic continues worldwide. The main reason is due to the less availability of food, closure of markets and price hikes and this has severely impacted women and girls as they don’t have enough to eat to fulfil their daily basic nutritional level.
There are no basic handwashing facilities for 2 out of 5 people worldwide and more than half the world’s population has no access to safe sanitation facilities. Apart from the connection between the right to water and other human rights, such as the right to health and the right to life, COVID-19 highlights the essential threats to human rights in the continent. Not everybody can access preventive steps (including water, soap and sanitation products) in the same way. Women and girls, particularly in the marginalized and vulnerable population groups, frequently fail to access health infrastructure and services which in turn increases their risk of infection.
According to the International Labor Organization, COVID-19’s impact on the informal sector is equivalent to 195 million jobs lost.
From the abovementioned facts and information, we can find that women street vendors are on the receiving end of a devastating crisis. Even with the existence of the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 – the act is not implemented in all the states yet. Where the act is implemented, the number of beneficiaries is less and in turn, women beneficiaries are even less. Street vendors are an integral part of the economy and specific focus should be given to them. Funding should be allocated by the state. They are being denied from relief so states should take responsibility – so that every street vendor gets due certification under the Street Vendors Act, 2014.
The Pradhan Mantri Street Vendor’s Atma Nirbhar Nidhi scheme was launched by the Prime Minister, aiming to benefit over 50 lakhs vendors who had their business operational on or before 24 March 2020 – valid till March 2022. The vendors will be able to apply for a working capital loan of up Rs 10,000 which is repayable in monthly instalments within a year. But this scheme may not work unless the process of activation is done fast. Implementation of the act should start by all states and should be documented properly. Street vendors should be protected and included in all social programs, especially women.
Featured image used for representational purpose only. Image source: StreetNet International