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Impact of Centre-based Quality Childcare on Maternal Employment & Early Childhood Development Outcomes

India has low Female Labour Force Participation (FLFP) and this has ramifications on women’s economic empowerment and India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The issue is compounded by time-poverty endured by women, masking the burden of unpaid work, a part of which is unpaid care for the children and the elderly. Often, social protection and child development programmes in India, and globally, target a certain population in isolation, ignoring unintended consequences – for example, child nutrition programmes often prescribe interventions without considering the demands these impose on a woman’s time. At a household level, this translates into exacerbating time poverty for women and deprives children of direct care in early childhood. At the state level, this results in disjointed or siloed social protection policies and diluted programmes for women’s empowerment and child development. “Centre-based Quality Childcare: A Case for Public Investment for Improved Maternal Employment and Early Childhood Development” is a three-part series of papers.

The series is a commentary that emphasises the inter-connectedness of labour, women’s empowerment, and child development policies and programmes. It elaborates on this inter-connectedness’s criticality in planning and implementation to actualise the additive effects (positive feedback loops) and alleviate exposure to risk factors and unintended consequences (negative feedback loops), especially at the critical points in the life cycle of a woman (childhood to adulthood). More specifically, this first paper in the series maps the pathway on how accessible, affordable and quality centre-based childcare can support women by reducing and redistributing the unpaid care work, thereby alleviating time poverty to a certain extent and improving the quality of care for children. It brings together evidence of how public provision of centre-based childcare has had positive impact on the two outcomes of interest – maternal employment as well as various aspects of early childhood development for children under six years of age.

Impact of COVID-19 on Rural SHG Women in Odisha

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns to curb the virus have had far-reaching impacts globally. The situation in India has been particularly difficult, with the country recording over 8.9 million cases as of November 2020. The nation-wide lockdown announced on 24 March 2020 had devastating effects on millions of people, their livelihoods and income generating activities. Given the scale of the crisis, it becomes imperative to focus on the impacts on already disadvantaged groups, and more specifically, on women and girls. Experiences from past disease outbreaks globally, demonstrate the need for a gendered analysis for preparedness and response.

This report presents findings from the study, ‘Impact of COVID-19 on Rural SHG Women in Odisha’, conducted by the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) and Project Concern International (PCI). The main objectives of this study were to (i) study the overall impacts on women’s well-being during and post the lockdown period, and (ii) understand SHG participation in COVID-19 response activities. Overall, the study demonstrates that rural women in Odisha have had to contend with rising stress and anxiety, loss of income, and an increased load of household work. Concomitantly, the SHG movement has proved to be an immense source of strength and support for women. The report concludes with a set of recommendations to strengthen the SHG platforms and state- run gender initiatives, and to invest in digital tools as these have proved to be a means through which women have kept in touch with family and friends in difficult times.

Digitisation of Self-Help Groups in India

Self Help Groups (SHGs) have progressively become a key focal point for empowerment of women by mobilising them and bringing about a change in their condition in India. Digitisation and the use of technology in the processes followed by SHGs can have significant streamlining effects, particularly in addressing pain points. Digitisation can deliver extensive benefits by, for instance, reducing complexities in monitoring and evaluation of SHGs, minimising inefficiencies and inaccuracies in resource allocation, mitigating information fragmentation among stakeholders, bridging capacity constraints through training and literacy-based initiatives, and so on. The National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) and its state chapters, prominent stakeholders in the ecosystem, have made significant headway in digitising processes for SHGs.

The landscaping assessment aims to serve as a roadmap for State Rural Livelihoods Mission (SRLM)-backed programmes in successful digitisation of all processes associated with SHGs. This report highlights the current initiatives undertaken within the technology space and maps the trajectory of digitisation that various promoting agencies have followed. It seeks to inform the key gaps that exist within the current NRLM/ SRLM-backed digitisation initiatives. The report further identifies programmes within the ecosystem that have successfully bridged these gaps; it also highlights key focus areas that remain to be addressed within the ecosystem. In terms of mapping the readiness of SRLM programmes to carry out successful digitisation, findings suggest that most programmes face the ‘phase’ issue, that is, they have a clear trajectory of the digitisation phases to adopt but are faced by a limitation of resources and ability to embrace a multi-focus approach to digitisation. The SHG ecosystem’s approach to addressing these focus areas will determine the success of digitisation initiatives and ensure their self-sustenance in the long run.

Women in Agriculture

This section draws from an ongoing Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) and Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) study that aims to understand the impact of structural transformation in agriculture on female employment over time, by assessing the role of women farm managers. This study uses data from the India Human Development Survey (2004-05, 2011-12) to understand the rise in female farm management, its variation along demographic dimensions, and the differences between cultivator households managed by men and those managed by women.