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      Not Enough Paid Opportunities For Women In New Normal

      In its 75th year of independence, India has more women enrolling in schools, colleges and universities, even as the number of women joining the workforce is on the decline, shows data. And the Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated this pace with women, more than men, losing their jobs over the past year. Among them, many might never find their way back to work again.

      Prabhakar Singh, head (institutional business), Centre For Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), said: “The most disproportionate loss of jobs because of the Covid-19 first wave was among urban women, who account for nearly 3% of total employment but accounted for 39% of total job losses. Of the 6.3 million jobs lost, urban women accounted for 2.4 million jobs lost,” he said.

      Only silver lining: Women in white collar jobs in services sectors like technology, consulting and BFSI were not hit, said Anjali Raghuvanshi, chief people officer, Randstad India.

      In fact, the share of women in hiring increased in H2 of 2020 in BFSI, manufacturing and e-commerce sectors, shared Deval Singh, business head – telecom, IT&ITeS, media and government, TeamLease Services. For instance, BFSI witnessed a rise in women participation from 39% to 41% in 2020.

      But barring these segments, a high number of women seem to be dropping out of the workforce due to mental and physical health reasons, she said. The burden of domestic responsibilities thrust upon them by Covid-19, is also a reason.

      When it comes to semi-skilled and unskilled jobs, Sona Mitra, principal economist at the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE), said that men are taking over some of the jobs, earlier held by women.

      Example: the construction sector and MNREGA. The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2019-20 shows that the construction sector witnessed a decline of 26% in jobs between April and June 2020 as compared to April and June 2019 with women losing more jobs than men.

      “Generally, women used to take up work under MNREGA. But after many migrant workers returned to their villages, the number of men participating in MNREGA work has significantly gone up,” she added. In agriculture too women are being edged out by farm mechanisation with the exception of states like Punjab and Haryana where women are being trained for modern farming.

      Read the article here

      Reemploying India: How can we create the jobs millions of Indians need?

      Awdhesh Kumar Yadav says he thought he had a safe, steady job, but Covid-19 proved him wrong.

      He had been working for a street bookstore owner at Flora Fountain in Mumbai, starting with a daily wage of Rs60 in 1999. He had left his village in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, where his family practiced farming on one acre of land, and migrated to Mumbai to climb up the income ladder. Over two decades later, by early 2020, Yadav had started making close to Rs700 per day on the job and his monthly take-home income had increased to more than Rs20,000. The money, he says, had been sufficient to make ends meet every month.

      When the Covid-19 pandemic struck last year, in its wake came joblessness, financial constraints and fear. The bookstore closed down and Yadav was stuck at home with no work and no money. The only earning member of his family, comprising his wife and two school-going boys, the 40-year-old borrowed money from friends and boarded the Shramik train started by the government for migrant workers in May. He started farming in his village and remained there till October.

      When Yadav returned to Mumbai, he got back his old job, but nothing was the same again. “Pehle toh dhanda Rs5,000-Rs10,000 ka hota tha din mein, abhi toh bohot kam hai, sirf Rs2,000 to Rs2,500,” he says, referring to the steep fall in daily sales at the bookstore.

      For him, this meant a cut in his daily wages. He barely manages to earn Rs500 per day, which translates to about Rs15,000 per month. The wage cut continues to this date, and Yadav has no idea when the situation will improve, though he hopes it will, soon. At home, this has meant aggressively cutting corners. “No savings are possible with this income, not even a single rupee,” he says. At least this was better than so many others he knows, who lost their jobs and have since not landed another one.

      Covid-19 caused chaos in India’s jobs market: Rampant unemployment, changing nature of existing jobs, salary cuts, closure of offices, and diminished-to-no economic opportunities for daily wage and informal sector workers.

      While migrant labourers walking back to their villages after the lockdowns last year was perhaps the most stark image of economic distress, quarterly bulletins of the latest Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) highlight data on the continuing unemployment crisis. In the April-June 2020 data released in March this year, unemployment increased to 20.9 percent, from 8.9 percent during April-June 2019. Numbers for June-September 2020 released earlier this month indicate unemployment at 13.3 percent, up from 8.4 percent in June-September 2019.

      According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), there are close to 40 crore [400 million] people employed in India. While the unemployment numbers fell to a four-month low in July (see table ‘The Unemployment Problem’) in the wake of the ebbing of the second Covid-19 wave, “the number of salaried jobs, which are mostly better quality jobs, fell by 3.2 million [32 lakh]” compared to June, says an Economic Outlook report written by CMIE’s Mahesh Vyas on August 5. This was also 36 lakh short of the 8 crore salaried jobs before the second Covid-19 wave in January-March 2021.

      “India entered the second Covid wave in a soft situation as far as the labour market is concerned: Work participation was still low, unemployment was high and incomes were also significantly below pre-pandemic levels. So the changes in the job market since have been huge, and also complex,” says Amit Basole, director, Centre for Sustainable Employment, Azim Premji University. According to him, the economic distress caused by the pandemic is leading to a rise in agriculture or low-paying, non-farm occupations like casual labour or self-employment turning into fall-back sectors, which “is not a good sign”.

      The latest annual PLFS 2019-20 data, for instance, shows that the share of agriculture in employment increased to 45.6 percent in 2019-20, up from 42.5 percent in 2018-19. “This is the opposite of what we would want the case to be,” Basole says. “One hopes that this is temporary and will reverse itself when we get out of the pandemic.”

      A large section of self-employment in India is driven mainly by necessities more than aspirations, says Sona Mitra, principal economist, Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE).

      Venkat S (name changed on request), a 33-year-old Mumbai resident, was close to completing three years as a senior management professional at an international events company when the pandemic struck. Salaries initially reduced by 50 percent, and then by 75 percent in June 2020. There were delays of over 25 days in paying the remaining salaries too.

      “We did not get a single penny of incentives either. The owner of the company was clear that he will pay only when he has the money and there was no point following up,” Venkat says. There were no jobs available in the events industry for senior management roles. Finally in August 2020, along with two other colleagues, Venkat decided to launch his own company that conducted events, conferences and training programmes for corporations. At least this way, he says, they would have full control over whatever money they manage to bring in.

      In the past year, they organised 15 virtual events. Clients were from across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. “We are just meeting our day-to-day expenses right now and there are no revenues, but once international travel restrictions are eased, we hope that both work and revenues will pick up,” Venkat says.

      The PLFS 2019-20 report also highlights the discrepancies between money earned through salaries and self-employment. Average monthly earnings through salaries/wages was Rs17,600 for April-June 2020, which translates to roughly Rs587 per day. Average monthly earnings through self-employment for the same period was at Rs9,541, which is roughly Rs318 per day.

      “A large majority of the self-employed workforce in India has earnings below decent wage limits. It is a very thin segment of self-employed professionals and big entrepreneurs who have higher earnings,” says Mitra. According to her, the government has been pushing Startup India and Digital India by focusing on skill development of the youth, with an aim to push self-employment. “The demand-side problem of employment creation is at the lowest and still remains unacknowledged when it comes to policies,” she says.

      Even as 50 percent of the labour force is self-employed and policies continue pushing for more, it is important to create more and quality wage/salaried employment opportunities for the population, Mitra explains. “What happens is that while a few startups are successful for some time, it becomes difficult to sustain these successes. We have to create enough purchasing power and demand for these startups to be operational. And this purchasing power will only be created by wage employment opportunities. That is not being emphasised anywhere.”

      The pandemic has also deepened the problem of underemployment, where people have been forced to pick up any job available for survival, says Jayant Rastogi, global CEO of the Magic Bus India Foundation, a non-profit that runs one of India’s largest poverty alleviation programmes. “So now we have many talented inpiduals in sub-par jobs. This leads to a productivity issue in the market where we will have untapped potential going completely wasted,” he says.

      As part of their livelihoods programme that handholds adolescents and young job seekers through skilling and job placements, Magic Bus has worked with and trained close to 60,000 people from underserved backgrounds between 2015 and March 2021, about 25,000 of which came last financial year. The pandemic had led to a scramble and dire need for jobs and related skilling platforms.

      Rastogi claims they are looking at training over 100,000 people this year, with a focus on a minimum 70 percent job placements. The average salary earned is Rs11,000 to Rs12,000. Given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women, Rastogi ensures that at least 50 percent of people in their livelihood programmes at any point are women. Minhaj Khatoon and Vijaylakshmi are two cases in point.

      Khatoon, 21, was a teacher earning Rs4,000 per month in Hyderabad when she had to move to her hometown in the rural Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh in the wake of the lockdown last March. The eldest of three sisters and a brother, school closures meant she could not get any teaching job through the lockdown and even after that. “Koi jobs pe le hi nahin rahe the,” she says. No one was giving her a job.

      Her mother, a daily wage worker who got paid for the number of bidis she made, brought in some income. Khatoon was unemployed for 10 months, after which she finally landed a job in January as a computer operator following Magic Bus’s training programme. She now earns Rs8,000 per month. Khatoon, who could not study beyond class 12 due to personal and financial troubles at home, hopes she can take up her graduation studies soon, so that she can widen her employment prospects and “earn more money” in the future.

      Vijayalakshmi, however, believes that because of the crisis caused by the pandemic, even experienced people are settling for entry-level jobs and lower salaries. The 23-year-old from Singapeumal Koil, about 40 km from Chennai in Tamil Nadu, aspires to be an artist, but had to start looking for a job—any job—after her father and elder sister lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic and the family had to survive on the income earned by her mother, who is a tailor. Vijayalakshmi says she struggled to give interviews and understand what the job market wanted.

      In March this year, she landed a customer service executive role at Sutherland, a BPO company, with help from Magic Bus. Even as she travels an hour one way to and from Chennai, working the night shift, Vijayalakshmi has not stopped pursuing her creative career ambitions. She practices graffiti-making and is trying to land a gig as a radio jockey too. The Covid situation is likely to improve soon, she believes, and she wants to be ready to go after her dreams whenever opportunity strikes.

      “A number of youngsters have entered the labour market when it is in bad shape, which can have a long-term impact on their career trajectory and earnings potential,” says Basole of Azim Premji University. He explains that while the problem of job-readiness persists where youngsters have degrees, but not the relevant training and skills, a lot of the government skilling initiatives are focussed on the short term. “We need more imaginative programmes designed in partnership with the private sector, which creates the bridge between education and jobs,” he says.

      Rastogi agrees that it is essential to have an evidence-based approach where skilling is aligned with how the job market is shaping up. It is also important to find the balance between jobs in demand versus aspirations of the youth, and implement strategies accordingly, he says, “For example, there is a huge demand for General Duty Assistant roles in health care, but that job role is not an aspirational one for the youth, who are leaning towards sectors like IT, ecommerce, banking and financial services, retail etc,” he explains, According to him, youngsters also have to be guided and counselled about how to steer their expectations through market realities.

      Experts also call for an urban employment guarantee scheme on the lines of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) for rural areas that generates quality employment opportunities. “Employment guarantees cannot be the end to solving labour problems in India,” says Mitra of IWWAGE. “There have to be additional efforts in lifting industrial and manufacturing growth rates, and service sector opportunities for women and youth.”

      According to her, gender-sensitive employment policies, which take into consideration the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work on women, is the need of the hour. The PLFS 2019-20 shows that the gap between labour force participation of women and men continues to be significant. In rural areas, the participation rate (for people 15 years and above) is 33 percent for women as opposed to 77.9 percent for men. In urban areas, female labour force participation remained stagnant at 23.3 percent, compared to 75 percent participation for men.

      Mitra explains that Covid-19 resulted in many women leaving the workforce and not coming back, because in view of lack of quality employment, they chose to invest in house work and child care instead of working in low remunerative job roles with bad working conditions. “Women have to be incentivised to come back to work and have to be provided with some kind of package that gives them hope of earning decent wages in the next one year that will cover for their losses [incurred in the aftermath of the pandemic],” she says.

      This includes, according to her, targeted skill development across sectors and not just those that are traditionally dominated by women, universal child care facilities for working women, and infrastructure development in rural and low-income urban areas. “Right now, what the government is doing is ad hoc, coming in bits and pieces. We need to have one holistic policy,” Mitra says.

      Basole of Azim Premji University points out that unemployment and fall in incomes have also caused an increase in poverty and inequality. But this could be temporary if Covid-19 vaccinations pick up pace, confidence and demand come back, people return to work, and earnings are back to pre-pandemic levels. “Even if we set vaccination aside, it is not necessary that investments will come forth as needed and consumer demand will bounce back,” he says, explaining that apart from extending distribution of free ration until November, the government has not announced any other measures since last year. “There have been no cash transfers. MGNREGA allocations are also not what they used to be during pre-pandemic levels. So my opinion is that a big fiscal action is needed.”

      Read the article here

      Rural women’s mental health must be prioritised

      COVID-19 has also created vulnerabilities for women and their health needs, aggravating already existing inequalities.

      Loss of livelihood, food insecurity, and more household work, all due to COVID-19, have created a mental health crisis among rural women. It can no longer be ignored.

      Often, during extreme public health emergencies, such as pandemics, mental health concerns are deprioritised. The limited resources that are available are directed towards prevention, containment, and treatment of the disease. Like previous pandemics, COVID-19 has also precipitated a rise in mental health concerns world over, which have received only limited attention. The mental health crisis gradually unfolding in India’s hinterland during the pandemic has received little to no attention in the media or in public discourse.

      Lessons from past pandemics demonstrate that mental health concerns are further exacerbated in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), where poor socio-economic determinants add to the stress already exerted by the public health crisis. Pandemic-induced precautions to halt the spread of the virus, such as lockdown measures, have had devastating effects on the poor, and economic stress and uncertainty are debilitating for their mental and physical health. Research has shown that poor households, especially those in rural areas, bear an unequal burden of disease outbreaks. Most rural communities do not have access to adequate health infrastructure. And in case of a full-blown disaster, the limited care that they do receive is disrupted, aggravating existing disparities in receiving physical and mental healthcare.

      Disproportionate impact on women’s well-being

      Experiences from past disease outbreaks globally demonstrate the need for a gendered analysis of health emergencies. Gender disparities leave women and their health needs at the margins during health emergencies. The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa in 2014–16, for example, established the gendered impacts of a pandemic. Women were more likely to be infected by the virus due to their roles as caregivers and frontline workers. Additionally, women had lower decision-making power around the outbreak and their needs, therefore, were largely unmet.

      COVID-19 has also created vulnerabilities for women and their health needs, aggravating already existing inequalities. These include gender-based roles, economic insecurity, food insecurity, gender-based violence, household and work pressure, and unequal access to healthcare. These issues have had significant repercussions on the physical and mental health of women. A study on urban informal workers in India, echo these findings. Overall, the study found very high levels of mental stress among the workers, predominantly due to economic and health concerns. It also found that women experienced greater mental stress, possibly explained by the additional social pressures they face when all family members are at home.

      Experiences from past disease outbreaks globally demonstrate the need for a gendered analysis of health emergencies.

      The first nationwide lockdown in India between March and May 2020 had a devastating effect on millions of people, their livelihoods, and their income-generating activities. Given the scale of the crisis, it became vital to empirically understand the impact of the pandemic and the lockdown on rural communities, especially on already disadvantaged groups, including women and girls.

      Studies in India have shown that major concerns for rural populations included food insecurity and loss of income and livelihood during the course of the pandemic. The impact has been especially severe during state-enforced lockdowns. Additionally, the stress on women has been exacerbated as lockdowns have had a significant impact on women’s work within and outside the household. Primary work conducted by the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) at Leveraging Evidence for Access and Development (LEAD), and IWWAGE partners, shows that over 50 percent of women in rural households have reported an increase in their household work, especially during lockdowns. Primary studies conducted in Odisha and Chhattisgarh1 also showed that women reported being more stressed during the pandemic, and showed spikes in depressive symptoms during lockdowns.

      Food insecurity and limited nutritional intake, which have a strong correlation with physical and mental well-being, rose sharply. In Odisha, 83.5 percent of the women reported they were unable to access more food, while 78 percent reported that this was a major cause for their stress. This was worse for those living in extreme poverty. Households also witnessed a sharp decline in income, particularly among those that relied on migrant remittances. In Odisha, approximately 43 percent of women reported they were making only subsistence-level income, and any further shock such as medical expenses would plunge them into debt.

      Empirical evidence demonstrates that rural communities were severely impacted as the pandemic unfolded in 2020 and continues to do so in 2021.

      The strong link between poverty and mental health

      Pandemics are indiscriminate; however, they do not attack at random. COVID-19 has shown much higher mortality among the old and the poor. The economic fallout of the pandemic has also not been equally felt. The economic effects of the pandemic are likely to be experienced for many years to come, disproportionately affecting families and communities that are already suffering acutely, and consequently increasing health inequalities.

      COVID-19—the disease itself—will lead to significant mental health concerns for those who have been infected and have had to isolate, those who have had to strictly quarantine, who have lost family and friends, healthcare workers, frontline workers, and doctors. However, the extent of the mental health crisis will not be limited to the people directly impacted by the disease.

      What remains understudied though are the mental health impacts of the pandemic on women, and in the case of India, poor, rural women.

      Even before the world was exposed to COVID-19, multiple studies acknowledged the complex relationship between poverty and mental health. For a large number of people, the world was already an unequal and unfair place. The current pandemic has widened these pre-existing inequalities. While necessary, the multiple lockdowns have debilitated daily wage labourers, informal workers, migrant labour, and small and medium farmers and enterprises, further marginalising already vulnerable peoples. In LMICs, depression was already a leading cause of disability, in many cases strongly linked to poverty. Established research also shows that financial stress, constant exposure to violence, food insecurity, and inadequate access to social safety nets, all increase the potential of developing mental health conditions. Moreover, those with pre-existing mental health conditions are far less resilient to economic shocks, trapping individuals in cycles of poor mental health and poverty.

      What remains understudied though are the mental health impacts of the pandemic on women, and in the case of India, poor, rural women. Financial stress, food insecurity, exposure to violence which increased during lockdowns, and lack of safety nets are concerns that numerous self-help-group (SHG) women in our surveys raised as real and immediate issues, which led to their own increasing stress and anxiety levels.

      There is a need to address systemic vulnerabilities as part of the larger response to mental health concerns arising due to the pandemic.

      Mental health has received a limited amount of attention since the outbreak. World Health Organization (WHO) came out with guidelines on how to protect mental health during the pandemic in March 2020, and the Lancet advocated for multidisciplinary approaches to mental health responses during the pandemic. In India, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has also developed guidelines in collaboration with the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience, and has established a helpline for behavioural and psychosocial help.

      While these are good starting steps, a lot more needs to be done. In totality, these recommendations do not address the economic and social causes that may lead to mental health conditions. They are also largely ignorant to the fact that mental health cannot be divorced from the social environment in which individuals live. A woman struggling to feed her family due to a loss of income, which is the main cause of her stress and anxiety, will get little solace from a helpline. This is of course assuming she has the means to access a phone to make a call in the first place. There is a need to address systemic vulnerabilities as part of the larger response to mental health concerns arising due to the pandemic.

      Prioritising mental healthcare

      1. Treat it as essential rather than an afterthought

      In the short term, mental health services should be classified as essential, and the state should provide support to access these services—in the case of women’s groups, through SHG networks. While the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had put out a guidance note in April 2020 which included mental health concerns and advised that they should be seen as essential, the note focused more on providing medication. Moreover, the note is advisory, not binding. Mental health services should be an essential component of the government’s response to the pandemic. These services should be built into recovery policy—a policy document that outlines the processes and mechanisms to be undertaken to recover from the adverse effects of the pandemic—and be fully funded and available to all including the most marginalised.

      2. Raise awareness through self-help groups

      There is also a need to build the capacity of community-led institutions such as SHGs to deal with and handle mental health concerns. Knowledge and awareness on mental health should be built and help-seeking behaviour encouraged. A recently published paper has shown that SHG women were 27 percent less likely to suffer mental health issues as compared to non-SHG members, which demonstrates that India’s large SHG movement can play a pivotal role in mitigating the mental health crisis. SHGs are socially acceptable platforms where women can come together and support each other. Therefore, building their capacity to recognise and help women dealing with mental health concerns can provide an avenue for women to seek help.

      3. Generate evidence

      In the long term, we must generate evidence on the extent of the mental health crisis unfolding before us, so we can prepare to respond to it in an adequate manner. Currently, there is little evidence to show the extent of the mental health crisis unfolding in the country. Preliminary evidence from 413 low-income households in Delhi shows that 65 percent of women reported feeling depressed and 75 percent felt anxious or nervous about their situation. While this is a small sample in an urban area, it points towards worrisome trends. We need to find out more and must desegregate evidence to account for how the crisis is affecting different sections of the society differently. The impact of isolation, social distancing, and the loss of loved ones will stay with us for years to come. However, we must prepare and put in place resources to deal with our collective mental health concerns, which have only exacerbated in the second wave of the pandemic in India. A good place to start would be to generate robust evidence on mental health concerns across urban and rural India.

      COVID-19 has fractured communities and deepened pre-existing inequalities. The socio-economic impacts of this pandemic have been widespread and have threatened to reverse decades of developmental progress, especially for women and children. As we recover and rebuild our economies, we should keep the most vulnerable at the centre of our efforts and build back more equal.

      Read the article here.

      How Urban Job Guarantee Schemes Can Provide Livelihood, Equal Opportunity To Women

      Heena*, who is in her forties, works under Kerala’s Ayyankali Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme(AUEGS) in Ernakulam’s Maradu municipality. She has also worked under the national rural jobs programme when Maradu was a panchayat. Heena has supplemented the income of her family of five with the meagre earnings from these employment schemes, alongside other jobs. The fallout of the pandemic has exacerbated her difficulties, like it did for many of India’s urban poor. “I have a loan for an under-construction house, my husband is unwell; my eldest son is the only real earning member. An urban employment scheme such as this [AUEGS] is helpful for poor women like me, but it needs improvements,” she said.

      Since the onset of the pandemic and multiple lockdowns across the country, millions of people have been rendered jobless, have lost their savings and experienced reduced incomes and a fall in the quality of jobs. While the job loss has shifted to men during the second wave, the first wave saw disproportionate job loss among women in urban areas.

      In 2021, the number of employed women, globally, is estimated to be 13 million less than in 2019, while the number of employed men is expected to be the same as in 2019, said a July 2021 International Labour Organization policy brief. In India, only 15% of women employed in December 2019 were able to hold on to their jobs through the lockdown and afterwards as opposed to 60% of men, IndiaSpend reported. Urban women account for about 3% of total employment, but experienced 39% of total job losses in the first wave, according to a July 2021 report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.

      During the countrywide lockdown and the first wave of Covid-19 in April-June 2020, 26.6% of workers in urban India, and 40% of urban women, worked less than 36 hours a week, according to the Periodic Labour Force Survey 2019-20. In the previous quarter (January to March) 11.3% of urban workers had worked less than 36 hours.

      Under the circumstances, has the time come for an urban employment guarantee scheme that can offer social security to the urban poor, particularly women? What’s needed is an urban employment guarantee programme specifically targeted at women, which leverages existing administrative databases to expand the social security reach, experts have said.

      In this story, economists and researchers tell IndiaSpend how urban employment guarantee schemes can address the needs of the unskilled unemployed and educated unemployed, and how a well-designed scheme could be used as an opportunity to promote better facilities for women workers. We also list suggestions that can help design a gender-responsive urban employment guarantee scheme, based on a 2020 report by the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE), an action-oriented research centre, which facilitates women’s economic empowerment.

      Need for livelihood guarantee in urban areas

      In September 2020, media reports claimed that “discussions are at an advanced stage for a job programme aimed at urban and semi-urban areas” and that the Centre plans to extend the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme (MGNREGS) to smaller towns to tackle the fallout of the pandemic. MGNREGS provides 100 days of unskilled work for adult members of a rural household. In the same month, however, the government informed parliament (on September 17 and 22) that it neither plans to implement a national urban employment guarantee scheme nor extend the MGNREGS to urban areas.

      This was contrary to the recommendations of the Lok Sabha Standing Committee on Labour in an August 2021 reportthat noted that “there is an imperative need for putting in place an Employment Guarantee Programme for the urban workforce in line with MGNREGA”.

      India needs national policy commitment to prevent urban workers from falling into poverty, noted a September 2020 analysis by the London School of Economics and Political Science. A survey conducted in May-July 2020 found that nearly 70% of urban workers in India had no guarantee of a minimum number of days of work in a year, and more than two in three among them “would like to have a guarantee of 100 days of work, primarily to overcome the livelihood insecurity from COVID-19”, it said.

      “An urban employment guarantee makes even more sense during the pandemic when there is large unemployment,” said Amit Basole, economist, at Bengaluru-based Centre for Sustainable Employment (CSE). In normal times, the objection to such a programme usually is that urban labour markets are unlike rural markets, where people are out of work or underemployed for significant periods of time each year. But underemployment may exist even in normal times and such a programme can address that issue, he said.

      States that stepped in to check pandemic fallout

      Governments in OdishaHimachal Pradesh and Jharkhand initiated urban employment guarantee schemes in 2020, though these have no special provisions for women. The schemes were launched to fight the pandemic-related loss of income and livelihood in the urban population, high unemployment and migration of workers to their home state after the lockdown in 2020, according to a December 2020 report by IWWAGE.

      In February, West Bengal announced a 40% increase in daily wages–to Rs 202 (Rs 2 lower than the MGNREGS rate announced in March 2020)–for unskilled labour under its urban employment scheme, which was started in 2010.

      In Odisha, it is reported that 1.3 million persondays were generated for 350,000 urban poor, 40% of whom were women; while in Himachal Pradesh nearly three in four applications approved were of women. West Bengal did not specifically allocate work for women. “The number of days of engagement of an individual will be decided on the basis of experience and available opportunities of work,” noted a 2011 West Bengal government notification.

      Until March 2021, nearly 90% of 242,272 job card registrations in Kerala were by women. It generated 3.3 million persondays in 2020, the highest since the launch of the scheme in 2010 and 21% more than in 2019, according to the AUEGS data.


      Urban Employment Schemes In Indian States

      “E​​mployment guarantee means that work is provided on demand, and that funds are available to meet the demand at all times,” Jean Drèze, economist and social activist, told IndiaSpend, “For the guarantee to be effective, adequate efforts should be made to spread awareness of the scheme and ensure that the work application process is user-friendly.” Himachal Pradesh may be meeting some of these conditions partially, but they are certainly far from being met in Jharkhand and Odisha, Drèze said.

      In September 2020, Drèze suggested ‘decentralised urban employment and training’ (DUET), which could move towards a demand-driven urban employment guarantee. Later, in March 2021, he wrote that a women’s DUET “merits special consideration”. While it would reinforce the self-targeting feature of DUET–because women in relatively well-off households are unlikely to go for casual labour at the minimum wage–it would also promote women’s general participation in the labour force, he said.

      An employment guarantee for urban women, based on part-time work, may be feasible especially in smaller towns and “if it gives priority to women, the scheme would have much value in any case given India’s abysmal levels of female workforce participation in urban areas”, he added.

      The Kerala experience

      Kerala’s AUEGS, launched in 2010, prioritises work for women in urban households by setting aside 50% of the total jobs available for them. Designed like the countrywide MGNREGS that was launched in 2006, AUEGS aims to provide 100 days of employment in a financial year, but for urban poor households. It currently equals the MGNREGS wage rate of Rs 291 per day.

      The promise of 100 days of employment is not being met, however. “I hardly got around 14 to 15 days [of work] last year and have never got 100 days of work,” said Heena, under the rural or urban programmes. The workdays under Ayyankali scheme have been lower than received under MGNREGS, she added.

      While 85,208 women got some work under AUEGS, only 4,418 families received the full 100 days of employment in 2020-21, data show. Nevertheless, during 2021-22, AUEGS aims to provide 100 days of employment to 10,000 households.

      “Most of the workers are women from poor families and it [AUEGS] is a source of income even if it is only for a few weeks,” said Fatima*, another worker in Maradu.

      The scheme’s limited budget militates against providing more jobs, said an official in charge of the scheme who did not want to be identified. Kerala did generate 21% more persondays in 2020 than in 2019, as per AUEGS data, which the official said was due to an uptick in demand due to the pandemic, adding that government programmes had convergedwith the employment scheme to create more jobs.

      The scheme has been allocated Rs 100 crore for 2021-22, and an additional Rs 100 crore has been allocated for a proposed Ayyankali internship programme in private enterprises “where employment guarantee wages will be given to the entrepreneurs as subsidy”, according to the 2021 state budget speech.

      Both Heena and Fatima are also part of the Kudumbashree programme, Kerala’s women-centric poverty eradication mission, which has 4.5 million women members. In 2018-19, Kudumbashree brought together the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) and the Livelihood Inclusion and Financial Empowerment (LIFE), a housing scheme for the landless and homeless in Kerala, with the AUEGS, which made it possible to provide 90 persondays of employment for constructing houses in urban areas.

      “More people are demanding work since the pandemic than the number of persondays available,” Heena and Fatima said. If there are more people in a ward, there are fewer persondays to go around. “We last worked before the state assembly elections [in April] this year,” said Fatima, whose coffee vending stall in the municipal office went out of business due to the pandemic.

      Offering similar wages (Rs 291 per day) for the AEUGS and the rural jobs programme in Kerala is inadequate, workers said, even though the rate is among the highest in the country. “We need an increase in wages to manage the high cost of living,” said Heena. Typically, the low wages in Kerala’s context make both urban and rural jobs programmes unattractive for men.

      In 2019, the Anoop Satpathy committee recommended Rs 430 per day as the national minimum wage, which included an additional house rent allowance averaging Rs 1,430 per month (Rs 55 per day) for urban areas.

      Low wages combine with other factors to make AUEGS less effective than intended. “Though AUEGS was claimed to be on par with MGNREGS, the poor design and implementation along with the political and administrative apathy has dented its popularity and spoiled its potential to some extent,” noted an April 2021 analysis in the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW).

      The municipalities and corporations do not have enough autonomy to decide on projects suitable to the local context (depending on the region, population, type of jobs, etc.), said Jos Chathukulam, one of the authors of the EPW analysis and director of the Centre for Rural Management.

      It is possible to attract more workers to urban employment schemes–without disturbing the existing labour arrangements–if they are targeted at women and there is demand for labour appropriate for women, said Basole.

      Designing urban employment guarantee programmes

      From a gender perspective, an urban employment scheme must ensure gender parity in wages, proximity to the place of work, flexibility in timings, provision of childcare facilities, and fair and safe facilities at the worksite to support women, noted the IWWAGE report. Women would benefit if safety concerns in urban spaces are addressed well.

      “[When] a programme is not specifically targeted for women, they are likely to get pushed out of it when the demand is high,” said Rosa Abraham, senior fellow at CSE.

      Some of the works provided under AUEGS include cleaning of waterways, clearing and cleaning of roads, removal of plastic waste and lifting of heavy slabs, said Fatima, adding that sometimes men [colleagues] help with work that is physically demanding.

      Heena noted that sometimes when jobs are available in other wards in her municipality, workers are unwilling to go because the transport costs would make the income unviable.

      To ensure improvement in urban employment, a quota for women can be determined apart from creating multiple schemes, say experts. To determine a quota, the programme can consider the employment pattern in MGNREGS and take an average of women labour force participation rate in the last three employment rounds, said K.R. Shyam Sundar, professor at the Jamshedpur-based Xavier School of Management. In addition, the government could consider creating two schemes–one for the self-employed and the other for the wage employed–so that the latter space is not crowded, he suggested.

      But the roles of local elected bodies, state governments and the Centre–key to sustaining urban wage employment–must be clearly defined to ensure accountability. A 2019 CSE proposal to create a National Urban Employment Guarantee Programme suggested that the Urban Local Body (ULBs) should be entrusted with administering the programme, with state governments collating and approving the annual work plans and sending expense estimates to the central government. The current schemes run by most states are not large; these must be decentralised and given fiscal support by the Centre, said Basole of CSE.

      Source: Experts and IWWAGE report 2020

      Read the article in IndiaSpend here. The article has also been published by BloombergQuint and Business Standard. 

      What determines women’s labour force participation in India?

      Women’s participation in India’s labour force has been steadily declining since 1993-94 and India has one of the lowest female labour force participation rates among developing countries. Despite decades of policies and programmes aimed at addressing this issue, the figure has remained consistently low. It is alarming to note that women have been continuously dropping out of the labour market since the mid-2000s. Their participation has been declining despite rising Gross Domestic Product (GDP), increasing educational attainment, rising household incomes, and declining fertility.

      Utilising household-level data of Periodic Labour Force Surveys (PLFS) (covering the years 2017-18 and 2018-19), and NSSO’s Employment-Unemployment Surveys (EUS) (various rounds completed in 1993-94, 1999-00, 2004-5, 2009-10, 2011-12), this paper provides systematic evidence on the country’s gender gaps in employment and labour market outcomes.

      Since multiple factors influence their decision to undertake the paid market work, this paper tries to unpack the critical aspects of low female labour force participation in rural and urban India. We find that women have notably lower employment rates than men, even though their enrollment in schools and colleges has risen. We witness a U-shaped relationship between education and women’s labour force participation, which is strongly evident in the case of urban women. Women perform a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work and domestic work and face multiple constraints in society, limiting their mobility and labour market choice, forcing them to take non-wage employment or remain out of the labour force.

      Demographic and regional trends

      The study shows that the primary driver behind this decline has come from rural areas, with participation dropping by 24 percentage points since 1993-1994. By contrast, the participation of urban women during this period saw only a marginal decline, from 25% to 22.5%.

      The precipitous drop in the employment levels of rural women has been a major factor contributing to the decline of India’s female labour force participation rate (FLFPR). Rural women’s participation declined across all states during 2011-12 and 2018-19. A number of factors explain this phenomenon, including decreasing employment opportunities for women in rural areas.

      The NSSO’s data (1993-94 and 2011-12) also highlights that this decline is not limited to young women workers and that women’s participation has decreased substantially across all age-cohorts. This is especially true of those aged between 25 and 59, including India’s young women – the demographic dividend that is expected to join and remain in the workforce.

      Overall, the long-term trends from 1993 onwards suggest that women across both urban and rural areas have been increasingly contributing to domestic duties. Although these activities have large economic benefits not only for the households, but also the economy, this work often goes overlooked, undervalued and underreported.

      Social identities and labour force participation

      The female rural labour market has always been distinguished by the high participation levels of women from Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities. Across rural areas, these two demographic groups typically comprise the major share of the female labour force. In particular, women from ST or Adivasi communities show the highest participation rates among all social groups, closely followed by SC or Dalit women. This is attributed to generally high household poverty levels among these categories, and higher mobility and fewer restrictions on working, particularly for occupations that require manual labour.

      Although a decline in labour force participation has been witnessed across all social groups since 2004, the highest drop has been registered for ST women, followed by SC groups and Other Backwards Classes (OBCs) in rural areas. This trend has carried over into urban areas as well, with ST women once again experiencing the highest decline in this period. These changes stem from factors such as labour market discrimination, skill mismatch, lack of adequate jobs, and employer bias against women from marginalised sections of the society.

      Sectoral employment trends

      The period between 2011 and 2019 has seen the percentage of female labour in the agricultural sector fall from 62% to 54.7%. The percentage of women employed in industrial work during this period also saw a marginal decline, from 19.9% to 19%. Although the same period also saw the share of women workers in the services sector rise significantly, this growth has largely been confined to urban areas.

      Thirty per cent of women in rural India are performing low-skilled occupations, compared to 19% in urban areas. Within the agricultural sector, over 71% of women are engaged in low productive activities.

      The occupational structure of women’s workforce shows that most women continue to undertake marginal and vulnerable jobs, and that more than half work as self-employed. Of those who are engaged in self-employment, most are unpaid helpers and contributing family workers.

      Determinants of women’s labour force participation

      A multivariate analysis of the odds of a woman working in 2018-19 enables determination of several critical factors that significantly affect women’s participation in the labour force. The first is that higher household incomes are negatively linked to the labour force participation of women in both urban and rural areas. As the household’s income levels increase, the likelihood of a woman being in the labour force decreases. A similar relationship has been noted between women’s LFPR and the household head’s education, suggesting that women withdraw from the labour force once the household’s socio-economic status improves.

      Women’s own education is a major determinant of their labour force participation rate. There is a clear U-shaped relationship between female labour force participation rate and education. While women with no or primary education work more than those with higher secondary schooling, a woman with a graduate and higher degree has more than a 12% chance of being in the labour force in urban areas. Similarly, vocational training of all types raises the probability of labour market participation in both rural and urban areas, with on the job training having the highest effect.

      For urban women, marriage reduces the likelihood of their participation in the workforce by 17%. The presence of young children is also associated with lower participation, as women in households with children less than five years of age are less likely to participate in the labour force across rural and urban areas.

      The state’s social sector spending positively influences women’s LFPR across rural and urban areas. As such, the South of India has a higher proportion of women in the workforce than other regions in the country.

      Finally, social group and religion also play a dominant role in determining women’s paid work participation in India. Both are important correlates of female labour force participation, with SC/ST women and Hindu women being more active in the labour market than Muslim and upper-caste women.

      Our findings suggest that policies supporting women’s entry into the labour market, such as vocational and technical skills, can significantly impact increasing their participation and mitigating persistent inequalities in India’s labour market outcomes. The paper underscores the importance of a comprehensive and integrated approach and suggests investing in gender-responsive policies to break down women’s economic engagement barriers.

      Read the article here at Hindustan Times

      The Human Tide: Is awareness, education and employment among females changing the contours of society?

      With better educational opportunities comes better judgement of life and priorities, which can be seen in the trend of urban working women delaying pregnancies.

      For Gurugram-based Arushi Guliani, motherhood isn’t on the cards for a good few years. She does plan to be a hands-on mother one day, but for now, the pandemic has made her more conscious about saving for the future. The 30-year-old marketing manager says she might consider freezing her eggs for future prospects of getting pregnant, but for now, times are too uncertain to plan a baby. “I don’t want to be unsure of the times and circumstances when I bring up a child. Not all jobs provide the facility for women to work from home while raising a child, and a child demands time,” says Guliani, who has been married for four years. “One must save enough first to get a stronger hold on life, which will empower you to do other things,” says Guliani, who has her family’s support, as they have seen both pregnant women and newborn babies suffer in various ways due to the pandemic.

      Guliani’s concerns are not misplaced. The 2020-21 payroll data from Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation shows those in the 18-25 years age bracket were the worst affected due to the pandemic, as they saw a contraction in payroll addition. indicating they lost jobs and struggled to find new ones. No wonder, they are putting off weddings and pregnancies.

      Thirty-five-year-old Neha (name changed on request) had a daughter last year after nine years of being married. Neha says she didn’t want to rush into pregnancy after marriage because she was not ready financially and mentally to raise a child at 26, the age she got married. “I was focused on my career for the longest time because I knew a lot of investment was needed to build a solid foundation. Both I and my husband had the same level of unpreparedness initially, but when we made up our minds, we agreed mutually,” says Neha, who feels that more than anything a woman must think of the time she has invested in her career and must have her employer’s backing to take the plunge. “I had invested 10 years in my company and had that reassurance,” says Neha, who went on a maternity break for three months when she was stuck in Dubai during the pandemic where she had her daughter.

      Delhi-based Aarushi Mehra, who got married in June this year, plans to have a baby at least two years later, as she feels it is important to focus on one’s interests before getting in the family way. “The additional burden of financial worries is not fair on the parents and definitely not on the child,” says the 29-year-old.

      Prioritising careers

      Guliani, Neha and Mehra are among the many urban working women in the country who are prioritising their careers and financial security over becoming a mother. Until a few years ago, however, this was not the case. Getting married early and having kids in one’s 20s was the norm. Societal pressure, ticking of the biological clock, and lack of educational and professional opportunities contributed to early marriages and pregnancies.

      Today, few things have progressed while others remain unchanged. The pandemic, for instance, is making couples rethink about bringing children into the world, propelling them instead towards saving money. Plus, there is a positive push towards higher education for women. As per the 2019-20 All India Survey of Higher Education (AISHE), the Gender Parity Index (GPI) in higher education stood at 1.01 (the index was 1.00 in 2018-19), meaning that women were accessing higher education more than men. The share of women in higher education enrollment rose from 44% in 2011-12 to 49% in 2018-19, as per AISHE.

      However, educational opportunities don’t always translate into employment prospects. The pandemic itself has pushed a number of women in the informal sector out of work. In the formal sector, women’s share in new payroll additions, which had been falling since a long time, fell below 20% in August 2020, according to World Bank data. The data also stated that the female labour force participation rate in the country fell from 30.27% in 1990 to 20.8% in 2019, indicating that even though women pursued higher education, there were scarce opportunities for employment for them.

      With better educational opportunities, though, comes better judgement of life and priorities, which can be seen in the trend of urban working women delaying pregnancies. Twenty-eight-year-old Vinni Gautam, who got married in March this year, went for an abortion in early July. She and her husband decided against sharing this with their families so as not to disappoint them. Delhi-based Gautam, who is a massage therapist, says she was sure that at her age she would neither have been able to provide financial care to her child nor ensure a healthy lifestyle due to the pandemic and rise in pollution levels. “We want to settle things for ourselves first and don’t want additional responsibility at least for the next four-five years,” says Gautam, who has her husband’s backing.

      When they went for the abortion, though, Gautam says her doctor advised her against it, saying she must have a baby before 30 as that’s the right age to have one. Their families, too, expect a child soon. “People continue to emphasise on the right age, but while I was ready to get married early, I am not ready to take the responsibility of a child so soon,” she says.

      Expert-speak

      Medical experts have differing views on the subject. While some gynaecologists say couples opting for late pregnancies must go for a routine checkup and seek advice from doctors to ensure a healthy pregnancy later, others believe that the biological clock ticking is a myth.

      Rupali Goyal, IVF specialist, department of obstetrics and gynaecology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, shares that a number of women working in the corporate sector and even homemakers in their late 20s or early 30s approach her for consultation on late pregnancies. Goyal says freezing eggs remains the best option for women wanting a late pregnancy. Couples, however, must seek medical guidance early on if they plan to have a delayed pregnancy instead of waiting for their 30s to start planning and then finding out the complications, she says.

      “Couples must visit a doctor early if they plan to have a baby in their 30s to seek proper guidance, so that when they start trying, they succeed. The added work stress and obesity make it difficult for some to conceive in their 30s,” says Goyal, adding that contrary to popular opinion, freezing eggs is quite affordable for working couples and can be done for around `1-1.2 lakh.

      Delhi-based family and marriage counsellor Nisha Khanna says that in her experience, more than the pandemic, financial and compatibility issues between couples are reasons for late pregnancies today. “Mostly couples are too busy figuring out compatibility issues, and they don’t want to bring in a child. The pandemic has made the already pressing compatibility issue worse,” says Khanna. “In the last three-five years, delayed pregnancies have become common… and it is okay. There are so many options like freezing your eggs to ensure a healthy late pregnancy today,” she adds.

      Talking about biological barriers in late pregnancies, Neha, who got pregnant at the age of 34, shares that she conceived easily, but every woman’s body is different. “When my husband and I started trying for a baby, it didn’t take too long and I conceived pretty easily. I knew that another two years down the line, my body wouldn’t have supported pregnancy. I was slightly overweight and I knew that visiting doctors would make me more anxious about conceiving, so I visited only one gynaecologist who gave me practical advice,” she says.

      Mumbai-based author Meghna Pant, who had her two daughters in her 30s, agrees that health is key to keep the biological clock running smooth. “A healthy body helps in conception and managing the physical challenges after having kids. If your eggs are not viable, there are options like using donor eggs, adopting, surrogacy. Being a non-biological mother does not make you any less of a mother. It will not matter to your child whether you’re a surrogate, adoptive or non-binary parent as long as you’re a loving parent,” says Pant, who recently wrote the book The Terrible Horrible Very Bad Good News. The book is the story of Ladoo, a woman who uses a donor to have a baby, and will soon be made into a movie titled Badnam Ladoo.

      Pant asserts that one must be prepared to deal with the expenses of raising a child before planning to have one. “Babies are expensive propositions. Deliveries can cost `2-3 lakh. There are expenses like diapers, vaccinations, pre-schools not to mention other expenses. So yes, it makes sense to be financially secure.” However, more than money, children need love and time, she adds.

      In the long run

      It is yet to be seen how delayed pregnancies or couples having only one child will impact the Indian population in the long run. Data from countries that have restricted the number of children proves that it leads to negative growth in the number of young people and, in the case of China, results in an ageing population. In May, China’s National Bureau of Statistics shared that the country’s population grew 5.38% in 2020. However, the birth rate still continues to fall. In 2020, China’s number of newborns was 12 million, down from 14.65 million in 2019. Not surprisingly, China recently announced a three-child policy, five years after it relaxed its one-child policy to a two-child one, in order to avoid the unwanted demographic shift.

      India, which competes with China for the largest population statistics in the world, is experiencing a similar fate. According to World Bank 2019 data, India’s fertility and birth rates have dropped more than China since 1980. China’s fertility rate per woman in 1980 was 2.61%, falling to 1.69 children per woman in 2019, a drop of 35%. In India, it dropped from 4.82 in 1980 to 2.2 children per woman in 2019, a drop of 54%.

      With delayed pregnancies and couples opting for lesser children, India is likely to have a greying population in the coming decades. This is evident from India’s 2020 population projection report by the health ministry, which shows that the country’s population will not be as young as it was in 2011 by 2036. The proportion of people below 24 years of age will be 34.7%, down from over 50% in 2011, while the ageing population will increase from 8.4% (in 2011) to 15% in 2036.

      Yet child-control policies are being discussed and introduced in India. The UP Population Bill 2021 discusses the incentives for having one-two children—those with more than two children are likely to remain bereft of the incentives that include a rebate on utility charges, preference for government jobs, etc. Not just Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Karnataka, too, are discussing implementing the policy.

      According to the Population Foundation of India (PFI), the two-child norm affects marginalised sections of society the most, as they have lower access to adequate child and maternal healthcare services and so experience high infant mortality. “Any attempt to impose penalties is biased against the poor, the illiterate and socially disadvantaged groups in society, the same groups that have historically faced discrimination and neglect,” as per PFI.

      As per the PFI, the policy also adversely impacts women as there are instances of men deserting their wives to deny proof of a third child in order to contest local body elections, children being given up for adoption, and a rapid increase in sex-selective abortions and female foeticide. “As an outcome of the two-child policy, states such as Haryana and Punjab have witnessed highly skewed sex ratios with lesser number of women to men. As a result, women are sold as brides, forced into sex work, treated as slaves, abused physically and sexually, and eventually abandoned. The social norms in terms of son meta-preference (desire for a male child) have resulted in 21 million ‘unwanted girls’ in India in the 0-25 age group (as per the 2017-18 Economic Survey),” they share, pitching for girls’ schooling and basic education rather than imposing restrictive measures to tackle reducing fertility rates.

      Globally, countries like Vietnam and Nigeria have restrictive child policies, while Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Canada and Sweden have incentive-driven childcare policies in place.

      According to the 2019 World Population Prospects report by United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs, world population continues to grow, but at a slower rate since 1950 owing to reduced fertility. The report suggests that from an estimated 7.7 billion people worldwide in 2019, the global population could grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.9 billion in 2100. It also mentions India among nine countries—along with Pakistan, Nigeria and the US—where more than half of the projected increase in the global population up to 2050 will be concentrated. As per the report, India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country around 2027.

      According to another study—called Fertility, mortality, migration, and population scenarios for 195 countries and territories from 2017 to 2100: A forecasting analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study—published this year in Lancet, India’s population will peak at 1.6 billion by 2048, up from 1.38 billion in 2017. By 2100, India will be the world’s most populous country. However, its population would have declined to 1.09 billion by 2100, a drop of 32% from 2048.

      Global scenario

      Fifty-one-year-old Naomi Campbell shocked fans recently when she shared news of having her first child, a daughter, on social media. But she isn’t the only one, as celebrities around the world are opting to have children today in their late 30s, 40s and even early 50s.

      In India, too, the trend is catching up fast among the working urban population, but still comprises only a small fraction of the working women population as a large chunk of employed women in India work in the informal sector as maids, in agricultural farmlands, as vegetable sellers, etc. According to the 2021 study Evidence Review of Covid-19 and Women’s Informal Employment: A Call To Support The Most Vulnerable First In The Economic Recovery, roughly 90% of employed women in India and Africa are informal workers. In India, 29-31% of them work as contributing family workers. The study was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and SEWA Bharat (a federation of women-led institutions providing economic and social support to women in the informal sector).

      According to the 2019 Women in the Indian Informal Economy report—published by the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) and Institute of Social Studies Trust—the level of education is inversely proportional to the level of informality in the employment sector. The report found around 93.1% rural women in India engaged in informal employment in 2017-18, while 77.2% in urban areas were employed in informal sectors.

      Globally, though, informal employment is a greater source of employment for men (63%) than women (58.1%). According to the International Labour Office’s 2018 report Women and Men in the Informal Economy: A Statistical Picture, women are more exposed to informal employment in 89% of the countries from southern Asia and other developing countries. As for developed countries, the participation of women in the labour markets has been constantly on the rise. Data from the US Bureau of Labour Statistics suggests that women accounted for more than half of all workers within several industry sectors in 2018. The trend of late pregnancies, owing to better education and job opportunities, hence, remains more pronounced in developed countries and among women in formal job sectors.

      Population dynamics

      World population will grow to 10.9 billion in 2100

      India’s population will peak at 1.6 billion by 2048, up from 1.38 billion in 2017

      By 2100, India will be the world’s most populous country

      However, its population would have declined to 1.09 billion by 2100, a drop of 32% from 2048

      India’s fertility rate fell to 2.2 children per woman in 2019, from 4.82 in 1980

      In China, too, fertility rate fell to 1.69 children per woman in 2019, from 2.61 in 1980

      By 2036, the proportion of people below age 24 will fall to 34.7% in India, from over 50% in 2011

      Jobs scenario

      Share of women enrolled in higher education increased to 49% in 2018-19, up from 44% in 2011-12

      But female labour force participation fell to 20.8% in 2019, from 30.27% in 1990, indicating that job opportunities shrunk despite the rise in education

      Roughly, 90% working women are employed in informal sectors

      Around 29-31% of them work as contributing family workers

      Globally 58.1% women are employed in informal sectors compared with 63% men

      Global childcare crisis and the road for post-covid-19 recovery and resilience

      A year into the pandemic, we are no longer just worrying about progress on women’s equality coming to a standstill. We are now seeing the possibility of such progress being reversed. The devastating impact that Covid-19 has had on women’s livelihoods cannot be overstated. Globally, women tend to work in low-paying jobs and in the informal sector – precarious employment that has been upended by lockdowns and Covid-19 restrictions.

      Adding another layer to this burden, women’s unpaid care work is soaring. The childcare crisis is at a tipping point. Childcare must be addressed within our Covid-19 recovery plans both to advance gender equality and because it makes fiscal sense. In addition to reducing the undue burden of care, affordable and quality childcare frees mothers up to participate in the labour force and creates decent jobs for women in the childcare sector.

      Fiscal space is shrinking due to Covid-19 but limiting spending on care work would be short-sighted. When more women work, economies grow. Currently, gender gaps in labour force participation in OECD countries cost the economy about 15% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

      The evidence review on the global childcare crisis was produced in partnership with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) East Africa initiative, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, FemDev and the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) an initiative of LEAD at Krea University.

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      The study adopted a collaborative and iterative methodology, engaging team members from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IDRC, and IWWAGE, as well as childcare experts at civil society organisations, multilateral institutions, universities, and research institutes from around the world. A mixed-methods approach was used, including a desk review of available evidence, key informant interviews, and a virtual consultation with experts. Data collection and analysis took place between July 2020 and February 2021.

      The childcare crisis

      The review shows that only 8 percent of global economic responses have addressed unpaid care, including childcare, and two-thirds of countries have enacted no measures whatsoever. Since the onset of Covid-19, almost 90 percent of the world’s countries have closed their schools, affecting the education of 1.5 billion children and escalating the volume and intensity of childcare. And, unsurprisingly, women are taking on the brunt of this extra work: women in most countries are currently spending more than 30 hours per week on childcare, nearly the equivalent of a full-time job.

      The most marginalised of women are those hardest hit by this childcare crisis. Low-income women who lack access to time-saving technology are having to dedicate much more time than their high-income counterparts to home-schooling. Worst affected by the crisis are women in the informal sector with no paid leave, social protection, or ability to work remotely; women living in rural areas with limited access to time- and labour-saving equipment, public services, and infrastructure; women living in poverty; single mothers; essential workers; adolescent girls; and women who belong to minority racial and ethnic groups.

      Simultaneously, the female-dominated childcare sector risks collapsing. Rising poverty levels (resulting in parents’ inability to pay for childcare services), lockdowns, and fears of exposure to the virus have led to a steep drop in demand for both formal and informal childcare services. Childcare facilities are closing in droves, creating a longer-term reduction in supply of and access to quality and affordable childcare services and decreasing the number of jobs available in the childcare sector.

      The way forward

      This paper has recommended a range of policy solutions and measures available to tackle the Covid-19 exacerbated childcare crisis and pave the road for post-Covid-19 recovery and resilience with emerging examples from several countries and regions. These include, investing in gender-responsive public services, reopening schools and childcare facilities safely, increasing childcare support for households, shifting social norms around childcare, introducing or expanding family and health-related leave policies, increasing employer adoption of family friendly workplace arrangements and policies, collecting more and better data on childcare.

      Additionally, the authors make the case for improving the working conditions of care providers by improving public and private financing for the childcare sector, improving support to centre-based childcare workers and improving support to domestic workers, and guaranteeing care workers’ representation with employers and the state.

      Together, these recommendations are aimed at promoting a comprehensive childcare agenda and at recognising the provision of quality childcare as a societal responsibility – as opposed to women’s responsibility alone.

      This paper was produced in partnership by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) East Africa initiative, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, FemDev, and the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) an initiative of LEAD at Krea University.

      The study can be accessed by clicking here

      Rural Women’s Collectives Struggle To Survive Even As They Help Manage Covid Fallout

      Mumbai: Women’s self-help groups across India have been playing a crucial role in managing the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, even as they deal with members’ reduced incomes, which have caused unpaid dues to stack up over the past year, women across Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh told us in interviews.

      “Last year was quite difficult,” said Sushma Devi, 45, reliving the health and livelihood crisis in her village, Daru-kharika, in northern Jharkhand’s Hazaribagh district, since the announcement of the nationwide lockdown on March 24, 2020. “A lot of people returned from the cities; there were no jobs available; people did not have enough food at home.”

      For well over a year now, Sushma and other women in her village, all members of self-help groups, have been helping mitigate the impact of the pandemic by running community kitchens to feed poor families, distributing ration kits and setting up kitchen gardens for many households.

      These self-help groups consist of around 8-10 women who pool their savings and use the corpus to give credit to members to earn a living. They are promoted under the central Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana- National Rural Livelihood Mission (DAY-NRLM) launched in 2011 to empower women by providing them with easy access to credit. But in the last one year, they have gone beyond this role to do community work with funding from governments and non governmental organisations (NGOs), including tasks normally performed by health activists.

      Nearly 76 million women in rural India had taken up self-help initiatives that proved instrumental in managing the food insecurity and healthcare challenges posed by the pandemic, an October 2020 report by the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) said. Since March 2020, and as per July 21 data from the DAY-NRLM dashboard, these groups have manufactured nearly 170 million masks, 500,000 pieces of protective equipment and 500,000 litres of sanitiser. Through community kitchens, they also served more than half a million cooked meals to people from vulnerable communities.

      SHG members cooked over half a million meals for the poor

      The nationwide lockdown announced last year to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the economy and the food intake of poor Indians: Nearly half (44%) of the 3,994 people interviewed from 11 states in October 2020 for the Hunger Watch report said their income fell by half or quarter and 45% said their need to borrow money for food had increased.

      To help deal with this crisis, self-help groups helped rural communities by distributing food and ration supplies and creating awareness, said a preliminary report of a study by a group of scholars from various institutions on the lockdown’s short-term effects on rural communities. The study, supported by a research organisation, the International Growth Centre (IGC), is based on baseline interviews with 400 self-help group members from 80 gram panchayats in Madhya Pradesh and nine bi-weekly interviews over five months to November 2020.

      The study found that self-help group members provided support to community members in 70% of the gram panchayats surveyed. As of July 21, 2021, community kitchens run by these groups had served over 500,000 meals in 128 districts of 14 states. In 121 districts across 15 states, over 50,000 members ran vegetable delivery units.

      Since March 2020, on government advice, SHGs have also been engaged in spreading awareness about Covid-19 and since April 2021, they have also been dispelling myths about the COVID-19 vaccination drive. Through phone calls, pamphlets, wall writings and social media, the women created awareness on the correct method of handwashing, the importance of maintaining physical distance and addressing myths about the disease.

      Reduced incomes, increased debt

      However, despite increased activity, SHGs are having a hard time dealing with loss of income and rising debts as members deal with the economic impact of the pandemic, studies found.

      “Livelihood opportunities have been severely impacted due to the economic shock of Covid, especially [its impact on] non-farm livelihoods, in which a large section of women members of SHGs are involved,” said Nilanjana Sengupta, technical specialist at International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW). “Due to the fall in purchasing capacity, mobility restrictions etc., micro businesses of women have been negatively impacted.”

      Take the example of Mandla district of eastern Madhya Pradesh. It has a federation of multiple SHGs from neighbouring panchayats in Bichhiya block. (Usually around 300 SHGs with 3,000 members form a federation.) “With the lockdown and other restrictions, there was a slowdown of activity and that meant little to no income,” said Shashi Devi, president of the federation. “But, loans and interest amounts had to be paid. We made masks, sanitisers and supplied them to the panchayats. While it was not enough to deal with the crisis, the money proved to be a relief.”

      Though government agencies and NGOs purchased masks, sanitisers and other Covid-related products made by the SHGs, the demand for these diminished after the first wave. “The second lockdown was quite severe in rural India, and for the self-help group members,” said Nikhil Rathi, partnerships manager at Transforming Rural India Foundation(TRIF), a nonprofit organisation. “There was not much involvement in the production of masks and sanitisers as their supply in the market was high. There was not much demand for these goods in the public sector either.”

      No compensation for running kitchens

      While the women were paid for manufacturing these products, they said they were not compensated for running community kitchens. These community kitchens, run under the ‘Mukhyamantri Didi Kitchen‘ initiative to feed poorfamilies, were supplied with rice and dal. The self-help groups were given some money for other supplies and cooking fuel but were not paid for the work they put in, said Sunita Devi, secretary of the Jagruti Mahila Sangh, a cluster-level federation of 360 self-help groups in Dumarkudar village of Jharkhand’s Bokaro district. “We still have not got paid for running the community kitchens last year.”

      It would have helped the women if they were compensated for their efforts, she said, adding that when the government asked them to restart the kitchen in April but did not supply rations, they refused.

      Delayed loan repayments

      Over eight in 10 women said they could reach out to their self-help group in times of need, in an IWWAGE survey of 423 self-help group members from Odisha conducted in July 2020. The self-help group was the preferred avenue for women to access emergency loans, savings and gain information, the study found.

      Self help group members saw a higher borrowing rate (59%) against 42% women on average, a study of 15,000 women and 2,300 men from low-income households across 10 states conducted between October and November 2020 found. The report, published in May 2021 was conducted by Dalberg, a global consulting firm.

      But members have been struggling to return their loans taken from SHGs. “We loaned a little money to everyone, as per their needs,” said Sunita Devi. “But many members have not been able to earn much over the last year because of the lockdown and the restrictions during the second wave. We did write off some of the loan amount for those who were struggling and asked them to pay the remaining amount when and as much as they can.”

      “If earlier people could pay back in installments of Rs 500 per month, [in the pandemic] this fell to Rs 100-200 per month,” said Sushma Devi of Daru-kharika village. “We are not pressurising anyone as we understand the situation. But delaying payments also means more interest and higher interest rates.”

      Despite more women from SHGs being employed before the pandemic, as compared to women on average, they were hit harder, found the Dalberg study. More SHG women lost paid work, and, on average, they both lost a higher share of income and experienced a slower income recovery than all women, says the report.

      Given the adverse impact on the economy, there is an urgent need to think about new funding dedicated to crisis amelioration (perhaps through cash transfers), as well as an extended moratorium period or flexible repayment schedules for existing loans, Soumya Kapoor Mehta, head of IWWAGE told IndiaSpend.

      The Dalberg report also recommended that the DAY-NRLM programme focus equally on supporting SHG women’s own economic recovery and resilience as it does on engaging SHG members in community response.

      Discrimination, lack of mentorship and transparency

      Over the years, the self-help group model has been hailed for improving household incomes, increasing women’s negotiation power and agency. But researchers say the scheme’s growth has been limited by cases of discrimination, lack of transparency and mentorship.

      “As things stand, self-help groups are formed by community resource persons who mentor the group for some time, usually four weeks, and then move on,” said Bidisha Barooah, senior evaluation specialist at International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie). “[However] when new members join, they often do not receive the high quality training imparted to the original set [of members]. Of course, peer learning happens but if we want to accelerate quality improvement then refresher training is needed.”

      The current system wherein critical information percolates to self-help groups through cluster-level federations and village organisations leads to the exclusion of some women from government schemes especially those related to livelihood opportunities, said Nilanjana Sengupta of ICRW. Usually, NRLM officials share scheme-related information at cluster-level federation meetings, whose members are supposed to discuss this in the village organisation meetings, whose members take the information further on to their respective SHGs, Sengupta explained. “In our formative research in Madhya Pradesh, we found that some of this information does not percolate in this systematic manner and certain leaders keep that information to themselves or their own friends and relatives,” she said.

      Also, limiting SHGs to the credit/thrift role does not always give women more agency because they end up as mere channels for fund flow to families, said Sengupta. “Integrating a gender lens within the structures and operations of the NRLM is the critical way forward,” she added.

      Leading from the front, self-help groups have played a critical role in providing resilience for households during the pandemic and going forward, there is a heightened need for strengthening their links to institutions and creating a supportive ecosystem for them, Kapoor Mehta of IWWAGE told IndiaSpend, “The state needs to focus on improving their access to entitlements related to food, water, health care, childcare and boost their livelihoods and employment prospects by incentivising SHG led enterprises through public procurement of products of women’s collectives, or by providing subsidized input support.”

      Read the article here at IndiaSpend and at Scroll.in.

      Gender-based violence – Causes and consequences

      Violence against women and girls has long been a barrier to their equal participation in and contribution to society. Any and every form of violence against women – physical, mental, verbal, psychological or emotional – is a violation of their human rights, has severe and long-term impacts on survivors, their families and communities, and also affects social and economic development (García-Moreno et al., 2015; UN Women, 2020). There are multiple ways in which violence is experienced by women, several contexts in which it occurs, and thus, its costs and consequences are widespread (Day et al., 2005).

      The issue becomes even more complicated when we account for the fact that it is not just men who inflict violence upon women but women as well, who can equally be perpetrators. This becomes relevant in a traditional society such as India’s where violence against women is not merely a gender issue. For far too long women have been responsible for the suffering of other women, especially in domiciliary settings where the triggers for violence are often women’s handling of domestic chores and responsibilities, increased mobility or greater financial independence. In this blog, I talk about what feminist literature has to say about the violence inflicted on women and girls by the opposite gender, and whether it has any correlation with women’s participation in the labour force along with their desire to be economically independent.

      The ameliorative hypothesis on violence (Xie et al., 2012; Heirigs and Moore, 2018) is the most well-understood and logically coherent theory on the subject suggesting that as societies become more equal, violence decreases. The improved status of women relative to men, greater gender equality and a higher ratio of women to men in the labour force would in theory break traditions and reduce stereotypes that support the domination of women by men. This would lead to lower rates of violence against women, and ultimately empower women.

      However, evidence on violence supports the backlash hypothesis. It argues that improvement in women’s relative socioeconomic status actually increases their rate of victimisation – a sharp contrast to the ameliorative hypothesis. With initial reductions in gender inequality in a society, men tend to find means to reassert their diminishing patriarchal power and authority and resist the increased power of women (Avakame, 1999). A narrowing gender gap as women advance in status and break down their traditional gender roles, acts as a threat for men and results in the ‘backlash effect’ (Xie et al., 2012). Given the setup of the Indian society and its strong patriarchal norms, men are conditioned to retain the identity of a provider, protect women of the household, and control decision-making in the family such that women conform to roles defined by traditions. The backlash hypothesis is particularly found to have more significant influence on domestic violence and intimate partner violence rather than on stranger violence or violence by known or unknown offenders (Xie et al., 2012).

      Yet another argument that predicts women’s victimisation is the one offered by the lifestyle and routine activities theory. This theoretical strand of the literature suggests that absolute increases in women’s labour force participation are associated with increase in their victimisation by strangers and known others (Xie et al., 2012). Although the result predicted by this theory is similar to that of the backlash hypothesis, the reason is different. The lifestyle theory states that an increase in women’s labour force participation puts them at heightened risk of victimization by strangers due to greater exposure at work or in other out-of-home activities. The routine activities approach focuses on women’s changing activity patterns to determine how vulnerable they could be. In establishing the theory, Xie et al. (2012) also argue that while women’s access to resources (indicated by gains in education, income) can help them protect themselves from victimization, greater labour force participation increases exposure to victimization.

      Historically and globally, women have experienced violence, irrespective of their age, wealth status, class, race, ethnicity, caste or religion, and even across settings – inflicted by their partner, children, family members, members of the neighborhood, community or workplace (UN Women, 2020). Among the many costs of violence against women – borne by the survivor, her household and society over time – is her participation in the labour force. A woman’s decision to join the labour force is a rational decision wherein she attempts to either maximise her own utility function or her households’ total welfare (Mehrotra and Parida, 2017). She compares the net benefit of joining the workforce to the net benefit of not doing so while also accounting for the cost of joining. The prevalence of violence against women in public spaces, public transport, neighborhood or at the workplace and the possibility of being abused contribute negatively to this equation, adding to the cost of participation in the workforce (Chakraborty et al., 2014; Satyam and Pickup, 2018). As a result, women are discouraged and make suboptimal labour supply decisions.

      The malaise of inflicting violence against women and girls becomes more pronounced and relevant in India as we look closely at the reasons for women’s declining labour force participation over the last three decades. Research from various country settings has established that the fall in women’s labour force participation rate can be attributed to factors like – availability of care for children, elderly and specially abled; role of women in domestic and kinship settings along with long-standing patriarchal norms; occupational segregations and poor growth in female-friendly jobs; lack of infrastructure; concerns around safety and mobility; and sociocultural barriers and social identities (Chaudhary, 2021). In some way or the other, all of these play a role in the Indian context. An OECD report from the G20 Osaka Summit in 2019 stated that women in India are less likely to be employed than in other G20 countries, next only to Saudi Arabia (Satyam and Pickup, 2018).

      In recent times, India’s female labour force participation rate has declined from 31.2 per cent (Employment-Unemployment Survey, 2011) to 23.3 per cent (Periodic Labour Force Survey, 2017), while the country-wide rate of crimes against women and girls has tripled from 18.8 per cent to 57.9 per cent during this period (as per National Crime Records Bureau).

      IWWAGE is undertaking a state-level analysis to determine how women’s labour force participation rate has changed with the incidence of crimes against women between 2011 and 2017. It uses the ‘Crime in India’ statistics produced by the National Crime Records Bureau and looks at crimes that might serve as barriers to work, in this case, those that prevent women from stepping out to work and paint a perception of lack of safety. These include rape, kidnapping and abduction, sexual harassment and molestation.

      A detailed report will be released soon. Watch out for the second part of this blog where I would unpack the report’s findings.

      Neelanjana Gupta, Senior Research Associate at IWWAGE, is an economist with interest in evidence-based solutions to challenging questions of public policy. She works on areas of human development and social inclusion.

      References

      Avakame, Edem F. “Females’ labor force participation and rape: An empirical test of the backlash hypothesis.” Violence Against Women 5.8 (1999): 926-949.

      Chakraborty, Tanika, et al. “Crime and Women’s Labor Force Participation.” (2014).

      Chaudhary, Ruchika. Working or Not: What Determines Women’s Labour Force Participation in India? IWWAGE, 2021.

      Day, Tanis, Katherine McKenna, and Audra Bowlus. “The economic costs of violence against women: An evaluation of the literature.” United Nations (2005): 1-66.

      García-Moreno, Claudia, et al. “Addressing violence against women: a call to action.” The Lancet 385.9978 (2015): 1685-1695.

      Heirigs, Mark H., and Matthew D. Moore. “Gender inequality and homicide: a cross-national examination.” International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice 42.4 (2018): 273-285.

      Mehrotra, Santosh, and Jajati K. Parida. “Why is the labour force participation of women declining in India?.” World Development 98 (2017): 360-380.

      Satyam, Nishtha, and Francine Pickup. “To Reverse Decline of Women in Labour Force, India Must Make Its Working Spaces Safe.” The Wire (2018).

      UN Women. “COVID-19 and Violence against Women and Girls: Addressing the Shadow Pandemic.” Policy Brief 17 (2020).

      Xie, Min, Karen Heimer, and Janet L. Lauritsen. “Violence against women in US metropolitan areas: Changes in women’s status and risk, 1980–2004.” Criminology 50.1 (2012): 105-143.

      Gender Samvaad held to focus on women’s collectives in responding to COVID-19

      Gender Samvaad is an attempt to create a common platform for generating greater awareness on NRLM’s interventions, and the impact of its gender operational strategy, across the country.

      The Second Gender Samvaad was organised by the Ministry of Rural Development’s Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NRLM) and the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) at LEAD. This edition of the Gender Samvaad, held virtually, focused on the best practices of various states and from women’s collectives under DAY-NRLM in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, particularly the second wave that has disrupted the lives and livelihoods of many people.

      Senior officials from the Ministry of Rural Development, including Shri Nagendra Nath Sinha, Secretary, Rural Development; Smt. Alka Upadhyaya, Additional Secretary, Rural Development; and Smt. Nita Kejrewal, Joint Secretary, DAY-NRLM presided over the event. The Chief Guest for the event was Smt. Aparajita Sarangi, Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha). Presentations were made by three State Rural Livelihood Missions (SRLMs) on how they were addressing the COVID 19 crisis.

      Gender Samvaad is an attempt to create a common platform for generating greater awareness on NRLM’s interventions, and the impact of its gender operational strategy, across the country. The Samvaad focuses on highlighting best practices and the lessons learnt in implementing gender-responsive interventions, with a focus on hearing voices from the states and the field.

      Smt. Aparajita Sarangi, MP lauded the efforts of the State Rural Livelihoods Missions (SRLMs) and women’s collectives in curbing the impact of COVID-19 through a range of interventions. Smt. Sarangi stressed upon developing a gender focussed recovery plan, where women’s needs are at the centre of such efforts. She proposed to focus on enhancing women’s capacities, leadership and encouraging them to be a part of local governance mechanisms; ensuring that every woman is financially secure and has a bank account to avail the slew of government direct benefit transfers; strengthening women’s enterprises by providing low-interest credit support, particularly through the latest measures announced by the Ministry of Finance in extending the emergency credit line for borrowers; ensuring food security and nutrition for women and girls; and finally, in order to bounce back better and stronger from the pandemic, ensuring last mile coverage of vaccinations.

      Two compendiums were released on this occasion. This included a compendium on the DAY-NRLM’s efforts towards strengthening Food, Nutrition, Health and WASH through State Missions and community institutions. It highlighted the work being done on key themes under the POSHAN Maah such as breastfeeding, complementary feeding, the importance of early identification of severe acute malnutrition and promotion of nutrition gardens for diet diversity. The second compendium captures stories of resilience from rural India during the COVID related pandemic in 2021, and how SHGs responded to the needs of women during and after the second wave.

      Shri Nagendra Nath Sinha, Secretary, Rural Development spoke of DAY-NRLM’s continuous efforts towards mainstreaming the vulnerable in its institutional architecture by linking them to formal financial institutions, initiating micro-enterprises at the individual or group level, focusing on women’s health and nutrition and establishing and strengthening institutions at the village level which vulnerable women can approach for grievance redress.

      Smt. Alka Upadhyaya stressed reviving and strengthening women’s self-help groups post-pandemic through sustainable livelihood planning. For this, she laid emphasis on both forward and backward linkages for better economic returns, as well as on ensuring social security for SHG women to mitigate future economic shocks.

      Smt. Nita Kejrewal gave a background to the Gender Samvaad and spoke of the relentless work being undertaken by SRLMs to provide relief measures during the second wave of COVID while also accommodating the myriad needs of women and girls.

      Smt. Soumya Kapoor Mehta, Head, IWWAGE moderated a panel discussion where senior State Government officials from the states of Bihar, Kerala and Meghalaya shared their insights on how women’s collectives responded particularly to the second wave of COVID, through innovative practices such as home delivery of food and cash. Community resource persons from the same three states shared what they went through during the second wave and highlighted the role that their SHGs played in helping them recover.

      Read the coverage here.