Sharp drop in the number of working Women; can Nirmala Sitharaman help?

The share of working women has dropped alarmingly in recent years. Among other things, child care, commuting and safety concerns have kept them away. But the Govt appears clueless

Representative Image (social media)
Representative Image (social media)

B Sivaraman/IPA

Indian women are not getting jobs though they are ready to work. Even among those women who are already working, the number of those who have suffered job losses in recent years is historically unparalleled.

As early as in April 2017, a World Bank Working paper titled ‘Precarious Drop’ had raised an alarm. Based on NSSO reports and the Census reports, the report claimed, “female labour force participation in India dropped by 19.6 million women from 2004–05 to 2011–12. Participation declined by 11.4 percent, from 42.6 to 31.2 percent during 1993–94 to 2011–12. Approximately 53 per cent of this drop occurred in rural India, among those ages 15 to 24 years”.

In just eight years two crore women dropping out of employment is no joke! Any government should have acted on a war-footing to reverse the trend. But Modi government, which took office in May 2014, didn’t even acknowledge the problem, leave alone acting upon it. So the female labour force participation further had a free fall during the 5 years of Modi’s first term to hit a historic low of 27 per cent in 2018.

These studies were followed by a spate of reports from reputed think tanks and research centres like Oxfam, autonomous research institutions like Azim Premji University, ICRIER, NCAER, LSE, and even UN agencies like UNDP and UN Women, which were equally shocking. But there was absolute silence from the Modi government!

Modi now boasts of appointing India’s first woman finance minister but neither Modi nor Nirmala Sitharaman have opened their mouth on the crisis of Indian women yet. The BJP Election Manifesto declared that, “We would formulate a comprehensive ‘Women in Workforce’ roadmap focused on dramatically increasing the female workforce participation rate over the next five years. Will they walk the talk?

In the election year itself, the CMIE, based on its surveys, showed that in a single year of 2018 alone women lost 8.8 million jobs—6.5 million in rural India and 2.3 million in urban India.

Why not introduce a job-loss allowance of 80 per cent of the last drawn wages three years for workers who lose their jobs as being practiced in many countries in the West?

According to the NSSO PLFS report, which Modi tried to suppress before elections but now has been forced to release without any change, among women who had completed secondary school education, the unemployment rate had shot up from 9.7 per cent in 2011–2012 to 17.3 per cent in 2017–2018 among rural women and for urban women from 4.0 per cent to 19.8 per cent.

Now Global corporate consultancy firm McKinsey has come up with another alarming report in June that up to 12 million Indian women might lose jobs in India due to automation in both tech industry as well as in manufacturing by 2030. What contingency plans does Modi have to cushion this catastrophic tech impact on women?

Child care burden is mainly responsible for many women leaving the workforce and so also are security concerns. The 2017 Maternity Benefit Act was too late and too little to address the problem of women giving up jobs due to childbirth and child care. It was supposed to cover only 8 per cent of the Indian organised sector workforce and left out 92 per cent of the unorganised and informal workers.

Commuting is a severe problem for working women and school girls. Nitish Kumar followed Jayalalithaa’s model of giving free bicycles to school girls and drastically brought down drop-out rate among school girls. But the BJP which was thumping its chest for ruling 15 States in India failed to extend the successful experiment of their own ally in other BJP-ruled States.

Delhi government of Arvind Kejriwal has declared its intention to allow free travel for women in Delhi Metro and bus services, a radical move to increase work participation of women. But instead of emulating the move in the states ruled by them, BJP has ridiculed the move as vote-catching exercise.

The Congress-led State government in Karnataka declared in December 2018 that girls in the State would get free education in government educational institutions up to postgraduate level and then the Rajasthan government followed suit in January this year, and since then Punjab government has also made a similar announcement. Despite Modi’s high-flown Beti Padhao! slogan, why are the BJP-led State governments not coming forward to emulate this and even declare that they would bear the educational cost for girls even if they study in private schools?

Sadly, when it comes to women’s welfare, even the usual jumlas of Modi are missing!

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