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Pandemic: Unpaid work by women has made them 'as vulnerable as the unemployed'

By Our Representative 

Speaking at a webinar organised by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, and Counterview, on the State of Earnings in India: The Crisis of Inequality Amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic, Dr Anjana Thampi, assistant professor, Jindal Global Law School, Sonepat, talking about the today’s “worst downward spiral”, has regretted, the years leading up to the pandemic have shown a sinking in wages.
The workforce of India being an extensively heterogeneous lot, the majority of the salaried or the daily wage segment earn less than the median income that is 10,000. Caste and gender also play a pivotal role in demonstrating the earning of an individual, Dr Thampi said.
As a considerable section of women who are a part of the workforce and work in their family fields are not paid, and thus do not participate in the decision-making process. In addition to this, the female segment in the workforce is very less. That is 18-19% and has been declining significantly since the 1980s.
Workers from the disadvantaged castes also represent more in the jobs that pay less and can be replaced by automation but are not. The years leading up to the pandemic have shown a sinking in wages. The workers in the bottom have been hit the worst since they already had very little savings.
During the lockdown the unemployment peaked. Delayed payment of wages and nonwage has also been seen at a large scale. Issues like food and nutritional security also surfaced majorly due to the absence of income sources for many.
Keeping the status of economic inequality, 2020 was a good year for the wealthiest people of the country. The combined net worth of these billionaires increased by a staggering 35%. While 1.7 lakh people lost their jobs every hour in April 2020, according to Oxfam.
Economic inequalities are combined with the stark disparities in access to essentials. 905 million people did not have access to piped water and 287 million did not have access to toilets. One-fourth of the population lived in single-room dwellings while 5% of the population lived in dwellings with more than 5 rooms. Disparities in access to online education and economic distress can increase the number of dropouts and worsen access to employment opportunities.
Dr Priyanka Chatterjee, assistant professor, Department of Economics and International Business, School of Business Studies, Sharda University, taking the discussion ahead, said that the status of employment in India was already not in a good shape prior to the pandemic. The gender lens to the access of paid work was also discussed. A majority of unpaid work being done by women, makes them as vulnerable as the unemployed.
The surveys conducted to study the status of employment, have all stated that the ratio of unemployed women working at home has increased considerably in the pandemic. The workforce had been hit worse in the first wave of the pandemic than the rural. 
Women in independent sector earn as much as one-third of men's pay and are unable to access basic infrastructure to run and hold small scale business
The construction and manufacturing sector being hit the worst in the pandemic, the recovery has not been as well as anticipated, since the third wave has hit the rural areas also, along with the urban. Unemployment from the construction sector has been the most, along with the manufacturing sector, with the service sector having to through the least unemployment.
According to a Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) report,13.3 million people lost jobs in the construction sector, 8 million in the manufacturing sector, and contrastingly 20 million in the service sector that has a sizably small share in the labour market. The reason for this situation in the service sector is the nature of the unorganized service sector.
The construction industry being shut from the day of the commencement of the lockdown, has led to the unemployed men and women from the industry to shift to independent work. But statistics have shown that self earners are equally economically vulnerable if not more. Women in the independent sector earn as much as one-third of the men's pay and are unable to access basic infrastructure to run and hold small scale businesses.
Answering questions from Dr Simi Mehta, CEO, IMPRI, regarding the gender roles and how and when can we expect a paradigm shift in the areas of divided unequal income, Dr Thampi said that the acknowledgement and active concern that these issues have been and are receiving is a move towards change.
As compared to the previous times when these issues were not a part of the public dialogue. In addition, to accelerate the process towards more equitable income and access, better policy frameworks need to be implemented. Concerns regarding the working status of the ASHA workers and their honorarium were also discussed. The need to institutionalize the credit facilities by the banks was also mentioned.

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