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Employment Trends of Rural Women

Employment Trends of Rural Women

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-1-  Role of women and women’s organization.

GS – 3- Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

In news:

  • A survey by the Azim Premji University, of 5,000 workers across 12 States shows that,
  • 52% were women workers.
  • women workers were worse off than men during the lockdown.
  • Among rural casual workers 71% of women lost their jobs after the lockdown.
  • Data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) also suggest that job losses in April 2020, as compared to April 2019, were larger for rural women than men.

Crisis of regular employment:

  • Various data suggests that rural women face a crisis of regular employment.
  • In other words, when women are not reported as workers,it is because of the lack of employment opportunities rather than it being on account of any “withdrawal” from the labour force.
  • This crisis of regular employment will have intensifiedduring the pandemic and the lockdown.
  • A second feature of rural women’s work, brought to light by gender-disaggregated dataat the household level in villages is that women from all sections of the peasantry, participate in paid work outside the home.
  • A third feature is that younger and more educated womenare often not seeking work because they aspire to skilled non-agricultural work, whereas older women are more willing to engage in manual labour.
  • A fourth feature of rural India is that women’s wages are rarely equalto men’s wages, with a few exceptions. The gap between female and male wages is highest for non-agricultural tasks — the new and growing source of employment.
  • Typical woman’s work day involves — economic activity and care work or work in cooking, cleaning, child care, elderly care— that is exceedingly long and full of drudgery.
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Exploitative working hours:

  • In the FAS time-use survey, the total hours worked by women (in economic activity and care) ranged from 61 hours to 88 hours in the lean season, with a maximum of 91 hours (or 13 hours a day) in the peak season.
  • No woman puts in less than a 60-hour work-week.

How did the lockdown affect employment for rural women?

  • A rapid rural survey conducted by FAS showed that in large parts of the country where rain-fed agriculture is prevalent, there was no agricultural activity during the lean months of March to May.
  • In areas of irrigated agriculture, there were harvest operations(such as for rabi wheat in northern India) but these were largely mechanised.
  • In other harvest operations, such as for vegetables, there was a growing tendency to use more family labour and less hired labour on account of fears of infection.
  • Put together, while agricultural activity continued employment available to women during the lockdown was limited.
  • Employment and income in activities allied to agriculture, such as animal rearing, fisheries and floriculture were also adversely affected by the lockdown.
  • Our village studies show that when households own animals, be it milch cattleor chickens or goats, women are inevitably part of the labour process.
  • During the lockdown, the demand for milk fell by at least 25% (as hotels and restaurants closed), and this was reflected in either lower quantities sold or in lower prices or both.
  • For women across the country, incomes from the sale of milk to dairy cooperatives shrank.
  • Among fishers, men could not go to sea, and women could not process or sell fish and fish products.
  • Non-agricultural jobscame to a sudden halt as construction sites, brick kilns, petty stores and eateries, local factories and other enterprises shut down completely.
  • In recent years, women have accounted for more than one-half of workersin public works, but no employment was available through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) till late in April.
  • The first month of lockdown thus saw a total collapse of non-agricultural employment for women.
  • In May, there was a big increase in demand for NREGS employment.

Effect on health and nutrition:

  • The lockdown reduced employment in agriculture and allied activities and brought almost all non-agricultural employmentto a standstill.
  • This led to the burden of care work for women.
  • With all members of the family at home, and children out of school, the tasks of cooking, cleaning, child care and elderly carebecame more onerous.
  • Managing household tasks and provisioning in a situation of reduced incomes and tightening budgets will have long-term effects on women’s physical and mental health.
  • The already high levels of malnutritionamong rural women.
  • This is likely to be exacerbatedas households cope with reduced food intake.

What is needed:

  • One of the new sources of women’s employmentin the last few decades has been government schemes, especially in the health and education sectors, where, for example, women work as Anganwadi workers or mid-day meal cooks.
  • During the pandemic, Accredited Social Health Activistsor ASHAs, 90% of whom are women, have become frontline health workers , although they are not recognised as “workers” or paid a regular wage.
  • Considering this, a redrawing of the rural labour marketby including the contribution of women is needed.
  • While the immediate or short-run provision of employment of women can be through an expansion of the NREGS, a medium and longer term planneeds to generate women-specific employment in skilled occupations and in businesses and new enterprises.
  • In the proposed expansion of health infrastructure in the country, women, who already play a significant role in health care at the grass-root level, must be recognised as workers and paid a fair wage.
  • In the expansion of rural infrastructure announced by the Finance Minister, specific attention must be paid to safe and easy transport for women from their homes to workplaces.

Source:” The Hindu“.


Assess the trends in rural employment of women. How has the on-going lockdown affected it? Suggest measures to develop sustainable rural employment for women.