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Gujarat's poorer female participation in MGNREGA, widely considered a catalyst for rural transformation in India

Female participation rate in India in MGNREGA
By Our Representative
Recently released data has suggested that, in 2014-15, the participation of Gujarat women in the Government of India’s premier rural guarantee scheme of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), at 43 per cent, is higher than just seven other major Indian states out of 21.
The seven states with lower proportion of women in the MGNREGA compared to Gujarat are – Uttar Pradesh 24 per cent, Jammu & Kashmir 26 per cent, Jharkhand 32 per cent, Odisha 34 per cent, Bihar 37 per cent, West Bengal 41 per cent and Haryana 42 per cent.
Relatively poor participation of women in Gujarat, widely considered a “model” for other states to follow, has come to light despite the fact that a just-released report, “MGNREGA: A Catalyst for Rural Transformation”, concludes that, on the whole, the scheme has led to “significant enhancement in their self-esteem, power within the household and control over resources.”
By this standard, MGNREGA has been able to empower the largest number of women, with a female participation rate of 92 per cent, followed by Tamil Nadu 86 per cent, and Rajasthan 68 per cent.
At the same time, the report concedes, it is possible to explain relatively overall poor participation of Gujarat workers, which has been a matter of concern among activists and activists. It believes, “Gujarat has invested heavily in its infrastructure, which allows rural workers to commute to nearby towns, reducing reliance on MGNREGA.”
According to the report, “Less than 20 per cent of rural households participate in MGNREGA in Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Maharashtra, while over 40 per cent of house- holds in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu participate… Lack of participating households reflects either low demand (as in richer states such as Gujarat) or poor administration (as in states such as Bihar).”
Authored by Sonalde Desai, Prem Vashishtha and Omkar Joshi, the report, which has prepared for the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCEAR), Delhi, and the University of Maryland, says, “For nearly 45 per cent of the women workers in MGNREGA, this may be their first cash earning activity.”
The report adds, thanks to MGNREGA, “in 2004–05 about 79 per cent of women from female participant households had cash on hand. But by 2011–12 their access to cash had gone up to 93 per cent.”
Pointing further towards the fact that in 2004-05, just nine percent of the women in this group had a bank account in 2004–05, the report says, “This proportion had risen to 49 per cent by 2011–12, far outstripping all other groups, among whom less than 30 per cent have a bank account.”
Comments the report, “Given the emphasis of the programme on making direct bank payments, this is not surprising. But it also reflects a tremendous increase in women’s financial inclusion.”
The report underlines, “The growth in women’s ability to freely seek health care rose from 66 per cent to 80 per cent in female participant households, whereas for all other households it rose by barely 10 percentage points.” It adds, “In 2011– 12, women from households in which women worked in MGNREGA were the most likely to feel free to visit a health centre alone.”
The report says, “Many of the female MGNREGA participants were either not employed in 2004–05 or employed only on a family farm or in a family business. MGNREGA provided them with a unique opportunity to earn cash in- come, which was instrumental in empowering them.”
The MGNREGA also led to “growth in women’s ability to freely go for health care”, the report states, with their percentage rising from 65 to 80. However, it adds, For all other households it rose by barely 10 percentage points.”

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