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Atmanirbhar Bharat, PM Garib Kalyan Yojna riddled with gender bias: Top academic

Prof Vibhuti Patel
By Simi Mehta, Ritika Gupta* 
As India has crossed 3.4 million coronavirus cases, these extraordinary times have created conspicuous situations both at personal and professional places for women. There have been rise in the cases of domestic violence and intimate partner violence within households. Also, there has been an increase in the layoffs and loss of jobs for women in professional places.
Women are finding their homes as spheres of anxiety and fear. Even before the pandemic, research had shown that progress towards gender equality had been slow across the world, there were large gender gaps in women’s employment caused by childcare burdens, inadequate employment, public and private spending on services like education, etc. Globally, Covid-19 has adversely affected the livelihoods of both men and women but it has been harder on women as compared to men.
With this background, a lecture on Gender Implications of Covid-19 organized by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi.
Vibhuti Patel, former professor, Advanced Center for Women's Studies, School of Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, who was the key speaker, stated that in the past as well, gender implications of pandemics and epidemics had been hardly discussed. She said, the term ‘social distancing’ was itself a highly controversial term because it has a painful legacy of the caste system in India.
Prof Patel underlined, women workers have been disproportionately affected by job loss, reduced working hours, and bankruptcy. If we see data from 2000 to 2019, there has been a continuous decline of workforce participation of women in the Indian economy from 30.4% to 23.4%.
According to her, gendered differences during Covid-19, women who were employed had to juggle work from home and household responsibilities. As care work was stereotyped as a woman’s domain around the world, they tend to spend two to ten times more time on unpaid care work than men. In India, 94% of women are employed in the unorganized sector, involved in work which lacks the dignity of labor, social security, decent and timely wages, and in some cases, even the right to be called a worker.
She said that, as reverse migration is happening, not all migrant workers left for their hometowns. As there was a lack of public health services they were doing community services like running community kitchens, looking after the sick and elderly as this was more economic in the times of lockdown.
She added, there is an increase in volunteerism to help the needy, especially from the students. They networked with the supply chains so the essentials could reach the households. According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, only 24.05% of pregnant women and 17.47 % of newborns were registered between April 1 and June 10. We do not even know if the rest even survived or they gave birth at home or whether the newborns received vaccinations and adequate medical care.
Prof Patel continued, there has been a 24% increase in the export of agrarian goods but women are still not given equal wages. They are not even registered as workers or farmers. Women eat at last or eat the leftovers due to which they receive less nutrition. Reproductive health was completely neglected. During the lockdown, most of the private nursing homes closed down due to which highly inadequate public services have been treating Covid-19 patients.
As a result, she said, women’s access to reproductive and maternal health care has been severely hampered. Due to the lockdown, there has been a switch to online classes. More girls dropped out of schools and colleges and there was an increase in forced and underage marriages. NSSO has already revealed stark gender gaps in computing ability. Violence against women escalated due to social isolation.
Why are Fortune 500 companies not showing the same level of enthusiasm as for marathons when it comes to helping migrants or raising gender issues
Prof Patel underlied, there has been gender bias in government relief programmes like Atmanirbhar Bharat and PM Garib Kalyan Yojna. Women have been completely neglected in these programmes. Meanwhile, there have been major concerns of the women’s rights organizations for ensuring delivery of reproductive health services, sanitary kits, menstrual health supplies, and mental health care, need to fight increased child marriages and gender-based violence.
She said, to combat gender inequality we need to encourage equitable sharing of the domestic task through allowances for time off and compensation for all workers, implementation of legislation and policies for equal access to information, public health education, and resources in multiple languages.
The migrant workers should be assisted with cash transfers as the informal economy is heavily dependent on them, without whom sectors like manufacturing, construction, etc. would come to a standstill, she said, wondering, why have Fortune 500 companies not been showing the same level of enthusiasm as for marathons when it comes to helping migrants or raising gender issues.
Samapti Guha, professor and chairperson, Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, TISS, Mumbai, highlighting that 9.09% micro-enterprises are led by women in India, said these enterprises are usually survival-type and not opportunity-driven in their working. This means they lack financial resources and even social capital because of societal pressure as they are usually based out of their homes.
Most of them, said Prof Guha, are not even registered so they do not have any credit history. She suggested that there should be skill training for women, not only for job employment but for self-employment as well.
Urvashi Prasad, Public Policy Specialist, Office of Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog, asserted that there is a need for a dedicated unit in the government which collects metrics concerned with women. She said that gender is multi-faceted: it is about health, education, labor force participation, and attitude towards women.
She said that, apart from rolling our legislations and policies for women, we also need to focus on its implementations where we presently lack. There is a need to work on capacity building and knowledge management, adding, there is a need for a change in attitude towards women via campaigns.
Dr Indu Prakash Singh, facilitator, CityMakers Mission International, said that there was a lack of action from the Union government towards the migrant crisis and in their way of managing the pandemic. Dr Singh added, states which were open to civil society interventions faired well as compared to others.
Maitreyee Hanique, Senior Fellow, IMPRI, pointing towards lack of data, said, there have not been any attempts by the government to provide genderwise data of those who have been affected by Covid-19. During recession, women are the first to lose their jobs and also get less pay. The government even went ahead to dilute labour laws in the pandemic. The government has announced a host of initiatives which are detrimental to women’s concern and spirit of democratic government as a whole.
She claimed, Kudumbashree Programme in Kerala has been able to manage the Covid-19 crisis better because women, in general, connect better with the community, adding, there is a need for more women-focused legislations like MGNREGA, which does not differentiate in the wages between men and women.
Prof Govind Kelkar, Chairperson, Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), IMPRI, and Executive Director, GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation, Gurgaon, who also chaired the event, summarized the discussion saying there is a need for policies and programs to reduce the amount of unpaid care work.
According to Prof Kelkar, only talking about the change will not help, we need to bring it in our practice so we need more studies and research on how to reduce this unpaid care work. Employers or state-funded provisions should provide childcare and tax policies should encourage both personal and professional spheres of work of women.
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*With Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi

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