Editorial 1st May, 2024

International Labour Day: Are Positive Trends About Women In Workforce Really Indicative Of Gender Equity? .

In a 2023 concurrent evaluation study conducted in our intervention districts in Haryana, we found some interesting insights on adolescent and young boys and girls’ perceptions about gender-based discrimination. Majority of adolescents reported thinking that taking care of children and the elders, earning money, cleaning the house, doing laundry and cooking should be the responsibilities of both men and women of the household. Corresponding to these indices is the 2023 Periodic Labour Force Survey Report findings that indicate the female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) in the country has significantly increased to 37 percent. Yet, in what is a clear contrast to these seemingly favourable shifts in mindsets and employability rates, the World Inequality Report 2022 observes that 82 percent of the labour income in India is pocketed by men as opposed to a meagre 18 percent by women. 

Despite what might look like more liquidity in the job market, especially with the booming gig economy and a more apparent emphasis on work-life balance in a post-pandemic era, women’s labour in India continues to be seen as only for supplementary income and the fight for the equity of wages looks far from over. On one hand, we have been seeing millions of underpaid women health workers ranging from ASHAs to auxilliary nurses fight for better wages and working conditions. Meanwhile, in recent times the gig economy with its empowerment gimmicks, has played a major role in furthering the volatility in career and financial security for women. News reports have time and again pointed out how several gigs would make lucrative offers to the employees, calling them partners or champions to show respectable status, guaranteeing easy sanction of loans, medical benefits, attractive incentives, etc. Yet, these employees find themselves cheated, when they are denied honorarium, incentives and even health insurance often just because they did not meet daily targets or got a lesser rating. 

82 percent of the labour income in India is pocketed by men as opposed to a meagre 18 percent by women. 

With more women joining more gigs that offer easy money, we may be witnessing the feminisation of the workforce. This also means that wage regulation and benefits offered are easily taken off the table, because with women barely making any money to start with, the stakes are really low anyway. 

Women’s underpaid labour is not a problem that exists by itself. The deplorable working conditions that ASHAs have been exposed to, which has only got worse over the years, have put them at the risk of health complications like anaemia and malnutrition. Protesting against unfair regulations and working conditions in the informal sector have reportedly led several women workers to develop mental health concerns.

Additionally, reports have also carried anecdotes of pregnant women workers turning up to protest in harsh weather conditions. These challenges also impact the women’s families just as how, often, the improvement in the financial, physiological and physical well-being of women directly improves the well-being of their families. This status of underpaid and overworked women labour force in our country is also indicative of the corroding moral fabric of our society: A 2015 study found that only 34 percent women engaged as ASHAs belong to the general caste category while the majority belongs to structurally marginalised caste and tribe groups.

Indicators of structural and systemic inequities like caste, class and religion also play an important role in determining the financial improvement of status of women in India. While women by themselves are lagging behind in income equity, women with disabilities, women from structurally lowered caste communities, etc. find themselves doubly or triply oppressed due to their identities. 

Positive shifts in people’s attitudes towards gender-based roles and responsibilities or a visible increase in the FLFPR definitely aren’t the only indicators of the improvement in the status of women. As practitioners of gender equity invested in rising against gender-based violence of all kinds, including financial violence, it is the need of the hour to critically look at policies, schemes and systems for women in labour not just in terms of their engagement but also based on equity of wages, improved working conditions and health status. 

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