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      It’s time to compensate women’s unpaid labour

      The Supreme Court of India, in January 2021, ordered an insurance company to pay a higher claim amount, owing to the ‘unpaid work’ done by a deceased homemaker. The court’s judgement also clearly stated that it is important to overcome the problematic idea that homemakers don’t contribute economic value to a household. In a similar vein, recently, an upcoming political party’s seven-point manifesto attempted to recognise the contribution of women’s unpaid work through monetary compensation.

      These are welcome developments for women’s movements—which have long argued for the recognition of women’s unpaid labour. However, they have also raked a debate around the issue of monetising ‘housework’. These debates gained momentum with the release of the time-use survey (TUS) last year, which suggests that Indian women devote almost 10x more time performing unpaid domestic and caregiving work than men.

      When women put in time, energy, and effort to provide care or perform domestic chores—such as fetching water or lighting a stove—it (potentially) takes them away from paid work, restricts their participation in social and political activities, and reduces their leisure time.  Furthermore, it can even result in drudgery, which adversely impacts health.

      Indian women devote almost 10x more time performing unpaid domestic and caregiving work than men.

      Evidence suggests that the burden of managing these responsibilities often forces women to take up part-time, low-quality jobs in the informal sector, because of the flexibility they offer. Many also have to engage adolescent girls in helping with household work. In other words, the unpaid work performed by women fundamentally alters their opportunities.

      One way to address this issue is to attempt to assign value to unpaid work, but how do we go about doing that?

      The challenges with measuring and compensating women’s unpaid work

      1. Measuring unpaid work

      The first challenge lies in measuring and assigning value to unpaid work. Scholars are divided on whether a value can be assigned to unpaid work at all, particularly when it comes to care-based work, which usually involves emotions. Can the care provided by a parent to their child be valued in terms of a market wage? This argument extends to unpaid domestic work performed by women, which is heavily dependent on social norms.

      This anecdote highlights the inextricable link between unpaid work performed by women and persistent social norms.

      Even if we were to try to measure and evaluate women’s unpaid work, the methodology and framework to calculate this is inadequate. Most methodologies to calculate unpaid work use an imputed cost approach. This approach assigns a market wage to the time spent by women, based on the hourly market wage rate for that work. There are two key problems with this. First, it ignores the smaller, laborious processes that go into planning, supervision, and budgeting, as well as the emotional labour that is spent. Second, the market value of the number of hours spent on unpaid care work also depends on the opportunity cost of that time. So, it can range from zero (if a woman’s best alternative to doing that work is leisure), to a high monetary value (if the woman was to be employed in a high paying job). However, since housework is repetitive in nature, it is necessary that tasks are calculated, quantified, and monetised appropriately. Useful tools for this purpose are time-use surveys. But even time-use surveys have limitations, as they may not capture household and care work adequately, thereby leading to a convoluted monetising exercise.

      2. A binary view of labour

      Housework is conventionally categorised into ‘economic’ and ‘non-economic’ categories, depending on notions of productivity. This creates a binary conceptualisation of labour. Labour that is productive and accounted for and labour that is not considered productive and is unaccounted for.

      India’s first time-use survey, conducted in 1998-99, highlighted for the first time such ‘unaccounted for’ activities undertaken by women, including childcare. However, these unaccounted for activities remained categorised as ‘unproductive’. There are arguments to be made that childcare is productive as it builds future citizens, and the time devoted by women to care duties may otherwise have to be paid for (say, if the child was in a crèche), had the mother not undertaken them.

      3. Identifying what counts as work

      Women often undertake unpaid tasks such as weeding fields, tending to cattle, cutting grass, and so on. Typically, this is all considered to be household work, despite it being productive. It is in this way that women become silent input providers, in a chain of production that heavily relies on their work. This work goes unreported and unaccounted for because often, women themselves do not consider these tasks to be work since they receive no payment for it from their families.

      Women often undertake unpaid tasks such as weeding fields, tending to cattle, cutting grass, and so on | 

      What makes counting for these unpaid but productive hours more difficult is that they overlap with other household chores and care duties that women are charged with. In just the space of an hour, women may do both sets of tasks, and so when a time-use survey enumerator calls and asks them to account for the number of hours of work they put in, there are no neat divisions.

      4. The perception that housework is women’s work

      Another large concern is related to the perception that housework is ‘a woman’s job’. Compensating housework or unpaid work might further perpetuate this stereotype and could help solidify it. In a situation where women are already rapidly disappearing from the labour force, institutionalising patriarchal conceptions like this may not help bring more women into paid jobs.

      5. Confusion around who provides compensation

      Perhaps one of the most pertinent questions is: Who should provide monetary compensation for unpaid housework performed (primarily) by women? About a decade ago, there were demands that asked husbands to pay wages to their wives for the housework they performed. However, while the Ministry of Women and Child Development at the time mulled over the demand, it remained halted at the proposal stage. Critics argued that proposal also meant that the onus of housework ‘by definition’ fell upon the housewife, conversely implying that the man was the ‘owner’.

      However, a carefully formed, state-supported policy (instead of a simple transfer of money from husband to wife within the household) could be a viable solution.

      So, where do we go from here?

      The first step must be to think of methods that assign appropriate values to domestic work and care work, not just because women deserve a salary for their labour, but because it is important to reclaim dignity of such work.

      In addition to this, here’s what can be done to help:

      • Use time as a valuing measure. This can help produce extended labour statistics, account for the millions of missing women in the labour force, help formulate labour market policies especially for women, and help the government account for the non-market household economy.
      • Consider a state-supported gender-neutral income transfer at the household level. However, this transfer should be bereft of any gendering to avoid stereotyping women into specific roles within the household.
      • Universalise maternity entitlements and childcare as a public good. This would allow Indian women to move away from the immense burden of care work. It would also benefit children and young women who drop out of school to help their mothers carry this burden.
      • Invest in public infrastructure, services, and data systems. Investing in water, sanitation, roads, energy, and health services could significantly reduce women’s work-load. Investments in data systems (regular TUS, for example) should complement labour force surveys and capture and make visible the work that women undertake in an economy.

      Therefore, before attempting to monetise or assign a value to women’s housework activities, it is essential that steps be taken to reduce and redistribute such work. These are important, not only to recognise the burden of unpaid work that women bear, but also to ensure women their rights and a sense of social justice.

      Read the coverage here.

      Budgeting for women

      The Finance Minister’s speech in the Union Budget 2021-22 acknowledged the role of frontline workers in battling the pandemic throughout the last year and expressed gratitude for their efforts. It is important to note that almost all of these frontline workers are women and budget announcements have an important impact on the lives of women.

      Gender-responsive budgeting in India was adopted in 2005 and since then, there have been steady budgetary allocations to different programmes specific to women and in women-related programmes, which are usually part of the gender budget statement of the annual budget documents. This year has also not been an exception. However, it will be important to note that the pandemic year witnessed hardships for women in terms of food and nutrition security, a crisis of employment and livelihood opportunities, increased burden of unpaid work on women and also increased incidence of violence. It is in this backdrop that we look at the provisions made for women in this budget.

      Two significant announcements that directly impact women’s labour-force participation were made by the FM in her speech.

      The first was to universalise water supply facilities through the Jal Jeevan Mission in both rural and urban areas and allocating a massive Rs 50,000 crore to the programme. This allocation needs to translate into the reality of providing clean drinking water facilities across households in the remotest parts of the country. This is a welcome step that has the potential to reduce women’s time spent on collecting water. The recent time use survey 2019 shows that women spend on an average up to 55 minutes daily to fetch water for household. Having provided a steady source of water supply has immense potential to reduce this time and cater to the urgent need to improve household infrastructure for women.

      The second announcement pertained to extending the coverage of social security benefits for gig and platform workers. This is important in the current context as these are emerging avenues of women’s employment in urban India. The IWWAGE report shows how attractive these opportunities are for women and extending the social security coverage makes the sector even better. The budget allocations under the social security schemes for workers show an increased allocation of Rs 3,100 crore under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Rojgar Yojana — a programme launched as a new scheme to encourage new employment in post lockdown period by providing a fixed share of wages into the EPF funds. While this may be important, the budget does not provide extra allocations for social security of gig and platform workers separately.

      However, in the wake of the pandemic and its unequal impact on women, an analysis of the gender budget (GB) reveals certain underwhelming trends. The GB stands at Rs 1,53,326 crore for 2021-22 BE. Last year’s allocation was Rs 1,43,461 crore (BE). As a proportion of total expenditure, the current allocation has fallen to 4.4 per cent from 4.7 per cent last year. In the same vein, the allocations to women specific-programmes, reported in part A of the GB statement fell from Rs 28,568 crore last year to Rs 25,261 crore – a decline of almost 12 per cent. Allocations to the Ministry of Women and Child Development also show a decline of 18.5 per cent since last year.

      While the quantum of allocations to most important programmes for women reported in Budget 2021-22 show a status quo or a decline, few accounting changes and a couple of interesting allocations towards women could be located. The announcement of Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0 clubs the erstwhile umbrella ICDS, Poshan Abhiyan, Scheme for Adolescent Girls, and National Crèche Scheme and allocates only Rs 20,105 crore; the Mission Shakti –SAMARTHYA clubs smaller programmes including Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao. The detailed breakups and comparisons are provided in Figure 1 and 2. below:

      Figure 1 and 2. below:

      Figure 1. (all scheme heads taken from pg. 351 of the Statement of Budget Estimates)

      Figure 2. (all scheme heads taken from pg. 351 of the Statement of Budget Estimates)

      The numbers show that allocations to crucial programmes catering to nutrition, creches, and women’s safety and protection have at best stayed the same if not reduced. The allocation to the umbrella ICDS schemes that are under the new ‘SAKSHAM’ head clearly shows a 23 per cent decline of Rs 5,952 crore. We also do not see separate allocations for One Stop Centres, women helpline, Swadhar Greh, Ujjawala and so on which were overwhelmingly used during the pandemic, with heightened reports of violence against women. Instead, those have been clubbed under Mission Shakti— SAMBAL (See Figure 3 below).

      The numbers show that allocations to crucial programmes catering to nutrition, creches, and women’s safety and protection have at best stayed the same if not reduced. The allocation to the umbrella ICDS schemes that are under the new ‘SAKSHAM’ head clearly shows a 23 per cent decline of Rs 5,952 crore. We also do not see separate allocations for One Stop Centres, women helpline, Swadhar Greh, Ujjawala and so on which were overwhelmingly used during the pandemic, with heightened reports of violence against women. Instead, those have been clubbed under Mission Shakti— SAMBAL (See Figure 3 below).

      Figure 3. (all scheme heads taken from pg. 351 of the Statement of Budget Estimates)

      Both MGNREGA and NRLM show increments in budgets since last year. However, the increase in the MGNREGA budget by Rs 11,500 crore will also need to cater to the increased demand for jobs under the programme. In fact, the GB reports an allocation of only 33 per cent of the total NREGA allocations for women while the Economic Survey itself highlights that almost 50 per cent of all NREGA employment is held by women. These figures reveal the need for greater allocation even without expanding the number of days of employment generated under the programme.

      The NRLM budget also shows an increase of almost Rs 4,000 crore from the previous year on account of the programme component. However, the allocations do not make it clear whether the increment is on account of increased expenditure on DDU-GKY, or on account of interest subventions to SHGs or the loan moratoriums.

      Despite these dampers, an interesting allocation in the GB geared towards closing the gendered digital divide is also spotted. According to the NSS-MoSPI data from 2017-18, only 38 per cent of women own mobile phones and 12.8 per cent use computers compared to the respective male figures of 71 per cent and 20 per cent. Given the need to be digitally included, the GB includes Rs 120 crore (or almost 40 per cent) of the allocations to Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan — digital literacy programme for rural areas. Albeit small yet in the last few years, this is the first time that GB has included part of the PMGDISHA in its statement. This may have the potential for improving women’s access to opportunities created through digital platforms.

      So, while there have been some small announcements for women in the budget, their core concerns over food and nutrition, employment and livelihoods and prevention of violence and safety after a year of unprecedented hardship need a further boost. These concerns assumed importance in all pre-Budget discussions and also made space into the Economic Survey. While announcements in the budget indicate an acknowledgment of these issues, which is a significant first step, budgetary allocations to support them would be truly transformative for half of India’s population.

      Sona Mitra is the Principal Economist at Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) an initiative of LEAD at Krea University. Sonakshi Chaudhry is a Senior Analyst at The Quantum Hub (TQH), a policy research and communications firm.

       Read the coverage here.

       

      An urban employment scheme that is responsive to women’s needs

      The pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures in India have taken a toll on all aspects of life in India, particularly employment. Over 21 million salaried jobs have been lost between April and August 2020 and urban unemployment is as high as 7.5 percent as of October 25, 2020. Job losses also seem to have affected women disproportionately. Reports show that the number of men who reported themselves as employed dropped by 29 percent between March 2020 and April 2020, while for women the change was much greater at 39 percent.

      Given the gloomy prospects induced by the pandemic, leading policy experts have urged the government to step in and ensure some semblance of livelihood guarantee in urban areas, as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) does for rural areas. Advocates for an urban employment guarantee scheme (UEGS) argue that such a scheme would provide multiple benefits and alleviation measures during a crisis such as now. First, it would provide livelihood options to over 7 percent unemployed persons in urban areas.

      Second, an urban employment guarantee scheme may provide an opportunity to increase female labour force participation rates (FLFPR) in urban areas, much like it has in rural areas. Close to 50 percent (or more) workers under MGNREGA are women, who participate in the scheme on account of factors like insufficient agriculture work, migration of men to cities, lack of skills to do other work, illiteracy, or the availability of wages higher than other available options in rural areas.

      Third, the works undertaken under the UEGS may create assets that improve the town’s ecology and quality of public services, which have a direct impact on productivity and quality of life.

      Recognizing the need to provide livelihood support in urban areas, various state governments have stepped in with their own urban employment guarantee schemes. For example, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, and Jharkhand have announced their own urban employment schemes after the onset of the Coronavirus epidemic. Apart from these states, Kerala has an existing Ayyankali Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme (AUEGS). The AUEGS has been successful in creating work opportunities for women, with 80,735 and 96,259 women benefiting from the scheme in 2018-19 and 2019-20 respectively.

      There are also global experiences to draw from: Argentina introduced Plan Jefes, in response to its 2001 currency crisis, which offered voluntary job opportunities to unemployed heads of households in community projects; the programme specifically targeted women. South Africa implemented its Expanded Public Works Programme in 2004 which created paid work opportunities for large numbers of unemployed people, primarily women and youth; the programme, interestingly focused on developing home-based care and early childhood development centres in communities, services that women benefit from as well as run themselves.

      However, while the need for a centrally administered UEGS has been acknowledged by the central Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, fund availability remains a constraint.

      Designing an urban employment guarantee scheme with a gender lens

      Based on state level and global experiences, we outline a few principles that may be followed if the UEGS were to be implemented to the maximum benefit of women in urban areas.

      First, the nature of jobs provided under the scheme should be acceptable as much to women as to men, as well as should take into account the aspirations of the urban women. It is important for policymakers to consider that women residing in urban India, may have different aspirations than women in rural areas who avail MGNREGA wages. This could be achieved by providing for a list of work appropriate for women as well as a list of community assets that reduce gender vulnerabilities, e.g., community sanitation facilities, planting of trees near slums for shade, assistance in healthcare/educational facilities, running of community kitchens etc.

      Second, distance to the workplace is a critical factor for women in urban areas in deciding whether to take up a job. Therefore, jobs under any urban guarantee scheme should be available around the city so that women can avail work at a place near their residence.

      Third,equal wages as those promised to men is one of the key reasons that attracts women workers to MGNREGA works, and should be provided for even under a proposed UEGS. This can be achieved through publication of standard rates for jobs offered under the scheme.

      Fourth,various studies have shown that women prefer forms of employment that allow them more flexibility at work as they juggle paid work and unpaid work during a given day. Experts, therefore, suggest including elements of a gig economy model in the UEGS, giving flexibility to women to work certain number of days per week or getting remunerated for the number of jobs done rather than being paid on a per day basis.

      Fifth,proper worksite facilities such as availability of potable drinking water, first-aid services, child care facilities, shade facilities, toilets etc should be ensured. Worksite managers/organisations should also be mandated to ensure strict implementation of the prevention of sexual harassment (POSH) guidelines.

      A well-designed scheme that uses a gender lens from the outset can not only reduce the immediate problem of unemployment in urban areas but can also (potentially) revive the stagnant and abysmally low FLFPR in urban areas, which has been a long-standing worry for India.

      Soumya Kapoor Mehta is the Head of the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE), an initiative of LEAD at Krea University; and Deepro Guha is a Senior Analyst at The Quantum Hub (TQH), a policy research and communications firm.

      Read the coverage here.

      Recognising housework: Is paying the only way?

      In January, the Supreme Court directed an insurance company to pay a higher claim amount by taking into account the unpaid work performed by a deceased homemaker. This was a welcome step, but the question is: How do we measure women’s unpaid work? Certainly, monetary value can be associated with the domestic and caregiving roles performed by women.

      When women put in the time to provide care or perform domestic chores, it takes them away from paid work, restricts their participation in social and political activities, and reduces their leisure time. Additionally, evidence from community-based organisations from around the world suggests that the burden of managing these responsibilities forces women to either take up low-quality jobs in the informal economy because they are part-time and allow them flexibility, or forces them to engage younger adolescents in such work — in India, various estimates suggest that approximately 94% women work in the informal, unorganised sector. Either way, unpaid work performed by women and girls fundamentally alters their life opportunities.

      However, there are at least five challenges to compensating women for their unpaid work. First, how does one accord value to such work? One option is to use an imputed cost approach to capture value, based on market rates provided for such work, as the United Nations Human Development Report did in 1995. But this ignores the emotions that go behind providing such work. How, for instance, can we assign a market wage to the care provided by a mother to her child? There is additional labour that goes into planning, supervising and budgeting for household tasks, which might be missed during such valuations.

      Second, while time-use surveys (TUS; measures time spent by individuals in different activities) carried out in India in 1998-99, and then in 2019, have tried to make visible this unpaid productive work, some of these activities are not reported by women themselves as they do not think of it as work (since it is not paid).

      Third, there is a continuum between unpaid and paid work that applies to women. The (often) unpaid hours put in as family labour overlap intermittently with other household work — there are no neat divisions. Think of a woman taking care of her child while curing fish which can be sold by her husband in the haat. She would not be able to distinguish between the two when a TUS enumerator asks her.

      Fourth, there is a problem with announcing housework as a woman’s job. It runs the risk of stereotyping women as home-workers and men as breadwinners. In a situation where one of the most important policy concerns is the disappearance of women from the labour force, institutionalising such patriarchal constructs may not help.

      Data from the Periodic Labour Force Survey indicates that less than a quarter of women in India are available for work or are working, and if the latest Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy estimates are to be believed, more may have dropped off after the pandemic.

      Finally, there is the question of who should compensate for unpaid housework. A decade ago, there was a demand in a similar vein asking husbands to pay wages to their wives for the housework that they do. This was rejected by the ministry of women and child development then due to its infeasibility. A simple transfer of money from husband to wife within the household may not work; rather, a more carefully formed State-supported policy announcement may have to be thought of.

      So what can be done?

      The first step is to think of methods to assign appropriate values to domestic and care work as a way of reclaiming women’s dignity of work. One way to do this is to use time as a valuing measure, and TUS can be used to assign market wages to the number of hours of work put in by women. This can help produce extended labour statistics, account for the millions of missing women in the labour force, help formulate labour market policies especially for women, and help the government account for the non-market household economy. Investments in data systems to enable regular time use surveys will help complement the labour force surveys and make women’s work visible.

      A State-supported gender-neutral income transfer at the household level should also be considered. Such an announcement, however, needs to be bereft of stereotyping women into specific roles within the household.

      Indian women face an immense burden of care work, and they will not be able to move away from it unless India universalises maternity entitlements and childcare as a public good. While it is a welcome attempt to provide worth to housework, steps to reduce and redistribute such work are perhaps more important than asking for women’s unpaid work to be monetised, even notionally. They are important to ensure women’s rights and a sense of social justice.

      Read the article here.

      How can policies for women’s empowerment be more impactful?

      In the year 1990, renowned economist Amartya Sen shared with the world an intriguing phenomenon he had come to observe, about the 100 odd million women who were simply ‘missing’. In an essay for The New York Times, he wrote, “These numbers tell us, quietly, a terrible story of inequality and neglect leading to the excess mortality of women.” Exacerbating this phenomenon, he noted, were a myriad of social, cultural, and economic factors, including poor access to education, nutrition, health, and economic rights (including property rights). Thirty years later, the UNFPA’State of the World Population Report 2020 estimates that India accounts for 45.8 million of the world’s 142.6 million missing women.

      Research suggests that investing in Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) has important linkages with gender equality. As a result, India has witnessed several schemes and progressive legislation—both at the central and state levels—that aim to empower women and increase their participation in the economy. However, despite the government’s targeted efforts, India has had limited success. The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 has ranked India among the five worst countries in the ‘Economic Participation and Opportunity’ index.

      “Despite the priority accorded to skilling programmes by the government, less than two percent of women received formal training in 2017-18.”

      The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened this gendered vulnerability. National Sample Surveys’ data reveals that the Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFPR) has been in decline in rural areas, and has remained stagnant in urban areas since the late 1980s. Similarly, a close look at this data by the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) finds that despite the priority accorded to skilling programmes by the government, less than two percent of women received formal training in 2017-18. But even as 84 percent of formally trained men joined the labour force, less than half of the trained women did so.

      There are several reasons that can explain why WEE policies in India may not have had the anticipated impact. However, in the absence of rigorous evaluations of government schemes and policies, evidence remains thin and fragmented. As a first step to addressing the problem, The Quantum Hub (TQH), where we work, has undertaken an exercise to map the landscape of policies and synthesise all available evidence. Additionally, we also undertook a design analysis of some prominent interventions to identify patterns in shortcomings and opportunities, if any. Our hope is that learnings from this exercise will facilitate decision-making until such time when rigorous evidence becomes available, especially since many of these interventions are supported by substantial budgetary commitments.

      The approach

      The landscape of policies relating to WEE is vast and cross-cutting, and therefore we adopted a clear methodological approach to go about the exercise. We adapted the Longwe Gender Analysis Framework, which uses a progressive hierarchy to measure women’s empowerment. We supplemented this with policy lenses (alignment of incentives of stakeholders and state capacity required for implementation) to understand each policy’s likely effectiveness. These lenses were then used to assess policies and schemes across the core areas for WEE identified by the Overseas Development Institute–collective action, unpaid work, skill development, quality work, social protection, access to property and assets, and financial inclusion.

      Well-intentioned schemes, with some unintended consequences

      When it comes to policy, it is inevitable that some schemes, no matter how well-intentioned, can have an underwhelming impact, and at times may even contribute to unforeseen adverse effects. Consider the case of the 2017 amendment to the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961. The amendments attempted to boost female workforce participation by increasing maternity leave for working women in the formal sector from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. A 2018 report by TeamLease Services noted that though this amendment may have positive outcomes in the long-term, in the short-term it was likely to deter the hiring of women, and could affect a net job loss for 11-18 lakh women in the first year.

      New research by TeamLease confirms that the amendment is yet to show positive outcomes for women’s labour force participation. Many countries in the developed world rely on a mix of maternity and paternity leave and social security support to alleviate this problem, and to align incentives of the employers with the broader objective of supporting women in infant care. Unfortunately, this has not been done in the Indian context.

      “It is inevitable that some schemes, no matter how well-intentioned, can have an underwhelming impact.”

      Another example is the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana that aimed to increase the uptake of clean fuel by subsidising LPG. While the scheme consistently achieved its target in terms of LPG connections, a study by the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics found that it has not been as successful in its primary objective of displacing the use of firewood. Reasons for this range from the unaffordable cost of refills to a gendered bias due to which women are reluctant to spend on their own well-being. Reconsidering pricing and disbursal mechanisms in the design of the scheme, while also increasing distributor incentives to reach remote areas, may have improved overall outcomes.

      Implementation-intensive design lowers efficiency

      In our analysis, we noticed that policies which are implementation-intensive, such as those that require local discretion and extensive monitoring and/or reporting are likely to suffer from inefficient implementation as well as leakages. A case in point is the Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency (MUDRA) scheme which aims to enhance lending for small businesses, with special incentives to lend to women entrepreneurs. The scheme is implementation-intensive and requires officials in financial intermediaries such as banks to take decisions on disbursement of loans to beneficiaries with limited credit histories, assess business plans for risk, and closely monitor the use of approved loans. These aspects can be administratively difficult, especially in the context of smaller loans. Some commentators have argued that the MUDRA scheme has not been very successful in increasing access to credit; instead, financial intermediaries have simply reclassified existing loans under different MUDRA categories to meet targets.

      “Schemes such as the NREGA that require higher state capacity for implementation still perform reasonably well.”

      This is not to say that all implementation-intensive policies are problematic. Schemes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) that require higher state capacity for implementation still perform reasonably well, because the incentives of stakeholders are better aligned. Under MUDRA, given high transaction costs and potential credit risk, the incentives for financial intermediaries to push MUDRA loans may not be adequately aligned.

      The missing lens in policy design

      Certain schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) which aims to upskill young adults to make them job-ready have prominent gaps in their design, owing to a missing gendered perspective. The PMKVY, for instance, does not factor in the unique issues faced by women. An important reason why skilling programmes often do not work for women is the lack of flexibility in schedule, lack of crèche facilities, concerns regarding safety, and inadequate support in terms of counselling and placement. Stereotyping of the skills offered to women results in further occupational segregation. Policies that allow for credit transfers and induct more female teachers, especially in courses traditionally considered unsuitable ‘for women, can make a difference.

      “Stereotyping of the skills offered to women results in further occupational segregation.”

      Contrast this with a scheme such as NREGA. It reinforces the concept of gender parity by making a deliberate choice to allocate at least one-third of the total workdays to women, provisioning for worksites near places of residence, and by ensuring uniformity in wages between men and women. As a result, women’s participation in this scheme has been consistently higher than that of men.

      A similar gender lens is also much-needed in data collection, where the lack of disaggregated data on scheme implementation has made it harder to understand the impact of policies on women. For instance, in the case of a gender-neutral scheme like Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY), which was launched in 2018, gender-disaggregated data was not available until 2020. Consequently, it was impossible to understand how effective the scheme was in providing affordable healthcare to women or in addressing women-specific medical conditions. A gender study on PM-JAY published in 2020 by the National Health Authority noted that, “Out of total 50 top procedures from top 10 specialities (excluding obstetrics and gynaecology as they are utilised by females only), percentage utilisation is higher for males in 60 percent procedures, and 32 percent procedures are utilised more by females,” thus revealing a gender gap in the utilisation of the scheme. Gender disaggregated evidence is a critical marker for the responsible ministry to undertake corrective measures to make the beneficiary base as inclusive as possible.

      What works for women’s economic empowerment?

      Several studies 1,2 have noted that one of the more successful schemes targeting women’s empowerment is the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM). This scheme has been instrumental in creating self-help groups (SHGs) and has helped empower women at the grassroots, both socially and economically through collective action, especially during crises such as the recent pandemic. By bringing women from poor families into the SHG network, NRLM has empowered them with opportunities for employment or self-employment and access to finance. These community-level institutions have also helped in creating sensitive support structures right up to the block level, with women members often assisting each other with issues such as domestic violence, financial savings, skilling, and participation in local governance. Through the experience of NRLM, it is evident that collective action schemes can play a vital role in women’s empowerment as numerous other interventions can also piggyback on SHGs.

      “NRLM has been instrumental in creating SHGs, and has helped empower women at the grassroots.”

      The Indian Stamp Act, 1899 is another example that stands out. Under this act, many state governments have reduced stamp duty applicable on property held by women, thereby incentivising the family to register the property in the name of women. As a policy intervention, it is also relatively simpler to implement, which makes it work well for WEE.

      The way ahead

      To make substantial strides in women’s economic empowerment, it is clear that a gender lens needs to be incorporated at every stage—from policy design to data collection for monitoring and evaluation. A stronger focus on policies where stakeholders’ incentives are aligned and those that impose lesser demands on state capacity, while giving greater visibility to women in decision-making can lead to better outcomes. Every policy that does not consider these lenses is a lost opportunity to address the barriers that impact women’s economic empowerment; a lost opportunity to stop women from going ‘missing’.

      Read the article here.

      Women Hit More Severely from COVID Impact on Employment

      It is very evident that COVID-19 has had an adverse impact on financial stability and livelihoods of people around the world. In India, three out of four people are experiencing their first recession. The COVID impact on employment has been unprecedented. Unfortunately, it’s impacted women more adversely than men. Various industries like services, tourism, hospitality, etc have been a drastically hit and almost every sector is dealing with economic instability.

      Even times of financial instability which affect every person tend to be sexist in nature. Statistical and empirical evidences have showed time and again that women are doubly disadvantaged in financial crises of any level. Another report to substantiate this statement has been recently published by The Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE).

      The group published a report Women in Work: How India Fared in 2020 which showed how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected women and girls relatively more than men in terms of employment and financial stability. Here are 10 key findings from the report:

      1. The labour participation rate seems to have been affected the most during the span May-August in 2020.  This was observed in both urban and rural areas of the country.
      2. The report further highlights that the share of women in the labour force is extremely low in urban areas, accounting to around 10.3 per cent.
      3. This shows that around 90 per cent of women, aged 15 or more in urban India are neither employed nor are they actively looking for employment opportunities. The pandemic has worsened the condition of ‘women in work’.
      4. Nearly 71 per cent of women in urban areas and 58 per cent of women in rural areas reportedly had no written job contract. Furthermore, over half of the salaried women workers across rural and urban areas were not allowed paid leaves or any social security benefits.
      5. Evidently, most of the women were engaged in informal sector of the Indian economy. It is easier to track the economic status of women engaged in formal sector; however, the majority of India’s female workforce is in the informal sector.
      6. Women entrepreneurs are able to dedicate only 5.8 hours a day on average to their home-based businesses. This is also irregularly interrupted by approximately 6.6 hours of unpaid care-giving work and household chores.
      7. The COVID impact on employment has been severe. Nearly 79 per cent of the women entrepreneurs said that they witnessed a drastic slump in sales, customer footfall and earnings in their business ventures. Some of this has led to rethink and reworking of employment decisions.
      8. When shift of work to digital space is at an all-time high, a huge gender gap exists when it comes to access of mobile phones and internet in the country. The technological divide is also biased against women in India.
      9. There is 20 per cent of gender gap in the mobile ownership in India, with 79 per cent of men owning a mobile, compared to 63 per cent of women.
      10. Meanwhile, the gender gap is much wider in terms of mobile internet usage, as 42 per cent of men have access to the internet on mobiles, as opposed to 21 per cent of women.

      COVID Impact on Employment: 79 per cent of the women entrepreneurs said that they witnessed a drastic slump in sales, customer footfall and earnings in their business ventures.

      Read the article here.

      India’s gender budget yet to shift from policy to on-ground priorities

      If we study the expenditure profile of the Union Budget of 2021-22, the gender budget has increased in absolute terms.
       
      The budget estimate (amount outlaid for an expenditure at the start of the fiscal) stands at Rs 1.5 lakh crore, a marginal rise over Rs 1.4 lakh crore that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had allocated in 2020. However, over the course of the last fiscal, the gender budget was revised to Rs 2 lakh crore to meet additional expenditures due to the pandemic. Compared to that, the current budget estimates fall short by around Rs 53,000 crore.
       
      The gender budget, as a percentage of overall expenditure by the government, has fallen to 4.5 percent in FY22, compared to 6 percent according to last year’s revised estimates.

      In her 2019 Union Budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman stressed on the equality of men and women in India’s development story, and called for fiscal allocations to be more gender-sensitive. Until then, gender-responsive budgeting (GRB), which India introduced as part of the Union Budget since 2004-2005 to ensure public resources are spent in a way that bridges the systemic inequalities between men and women, had stagnated at below 1 percent of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
       
      The gender budget statement is divided into two parts, depending on the intensity of the gender component in public expenditure. Part A includes schemes that are 100 percent targeted for women, while Part B is composite schemes with at least 30 percent benefits to women.
       
      FM Sitharaman’s 2019 announcement of making gender budget a priority and also form a committee to streamline targeted allocations was a ray of hope. In 2020-21, the gender budget was 1.06 percent of the GDP, the highest it had ever been. Cut to the Union Budget for FY22 presented on February 1, and the allocations are back to their conventional range, hovering around 0.7 percent of the GDP. The FY22 budget estimate projects GDP at Rs 22,287,379 crore, assuming 14.4 percent growth over the estimated GDP of Rs 19,481,975 crore for FY21.

      While Sitharaman made the announcement in February 2019, the committee was notified only towards the end of that year, according to sources. The members of the committee, comprising gender experts and policy think tank representatives apart from government officials, met more than once in 2020, and have submitted a report of recommendations for improving gender-responsive budgeting. They are yet to receive a response from the government.
       
      In the gender budget for 2021-22, economists and policy experts say the overall allocations and outlays for individual schemes that are important for women have been disappointing, given that the pandemic not only hit women harder than men, but also more women than men worked as Covid warriors and frontline workers.
       
      Human development indices look bleak too: The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 released by the World Economic Forum (WEF), for instance, indicates that India slipped four ranks from last year to 112 among 153 countries. The economic disparity between men and women in India is particularly staggering, according to the report, with only one-third (35.4 percent) of the distance being bridged. India ranks among the bottom four countries of the world when it comes to economic participation and opportunities for women (rank 149), followed by health and survival (rank 150).
       

      Consider this: In the Budget, close to 86.5 percent of the overall Rs 1.5 lakh crore allocation has been cornered by five ministries, leading with the ministry of rural development, followed by health and family welfare, women and child development, agriculture and human resource development.
       
      “It is only the obvious programmes that are getting space in the gender budget. A lot of other departments, like MSMEs, textiles, law and justice, which also impact the lives of women, are not reflected in the allocations,” says Sona Mitra, principal economist, Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE). According to her, allocations must be outcome-oriented and be targeted according to the realities of women and their needs on the ground. “For example, a bigger allocation towards road transport could improve the mobility infrastructure for women, whereas an outlay towards textiles can go a long way in empowering workers in the garment industry, 70 percent of whom are women,” she says.

      Mitali Nikore, founder of economics research and policy think-tank Nikore Associates, agrees. According to her, the Covid-19 pandemic severely impacted gender equity in five key areas: Jobs, mobility restrictions, increased burden of unpaid domestic care work, digital gender divide and domestic violence. She says that while the allocation of Rs 120 crore towards digital literacy for women will help, outlays for various other key schemes, like domestic violence, creche facilities etc, have been combined under new heads like Sambal and Samarthya. “It becomes difficult to predict what the allocations for specific schemes will be under these larger headers,” she says.
       
      For example, take the case of the government’s flagship scheme to improve education and welfare services for the girl child: When ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ was introduced in 2015 with an initial funding of Rs 100 crore, the scheme launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw a big investment push in subsequent years, reaching Rs 280 crore each in 2018 and 2019, and Rs 220 crore in 2020. A closer look at the Union Budget for FY22, however, indicates no funds have been specifically allocated for the programme. Further, it has been clubbed along with other schemes like Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (maternity benefit programme), gender research, skilling and training.

      “In this case, what can be harmed is the individual allocations towards schemes, because clubbing outlays gives space for juggling funding between programmes. So the allocations towards Beti Bachao could be reduced or zero, and be turned toward Matru Vandana, if that is the government’s priority,” she says. “The exact allocations will be known only next year when we see the detailed demand for grants.” According to Mitra, usually, schemes are clubbed under a single head to improve monitoring efficiency, and while it might not cause too many implementation difficulties, tracking allocation numbers to understand which scheme got how much might be a challenge.
       
      Fiscal councils, which usually take up the analysis relating to deviations in fiscal allocations are absent in India, points Lekha Chakraborty, professor at National Institute of Public Finance and Policy and an economist who helped institutionalise gender-responsive budgeting in India back in 2005. “The financing of gender equity models needs to be built in by identifying the needs and revealed preferences of women with clear outcomes. A roadmap of these gender budgeting components to reach the outcomes can be designed case-by-case,” she says.

      Nikore recommends that even within the resource envelope of the 2021-22 gender budget, new schemes can be introduced to support employment creation through targeted wage subsidies for re-employing women especially in sectors that have been hardest-hit by Covid-19, like food processing, MSMEs, hospitality and travel.  “Schemes and initiatives implemented under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan packages also need to have a gender lens,” she says. “Their audits should be undertaken to analyse the gender sensitivity of the government’s post-Covid-19 response.”
       
      Mitra of IWWAGE adds that, for gender audits, it is essential to make a provision for gender disaggregated data in the outcome budgets of the ministries/departments that have undertaken GRB, which is currently missing. “We need data to see whether programmes targeted for women and directed at specific outcomes are realised or not, and plug in the gaps.” She explains that the momentum to produce gender disaggregated data has been lost over the years.
       
      “The ministry of women and child development (WCD) is responsible for pushing other ministries and departments to adopt gender-responsive budgeting. While it has managed to convince some, it has not been able to do it properly with many. For example, it has not been able to push the ministry of statistics and programme implementation, which is responsible for data collection.” In 2015, the WCD ministry released a handbook on gender budgeting, offering states comprehensive implementation guidelines. Yet, as of today, only about 16 states have undertaken GRB.
       
      Chakraborty says the size of the gender budget is determined by the overall fiscal rules framework, and the fluctuations in the allocations of the gender budget broadly capture this macro-fiscal reality. “If the fiscal consolidation path is achieved through expenditure compression rather than tax buoyancy, its impact will definitely spill over to human development related spending,” she says, adding that the gender budget is an accountability tool and the first step toward budget transparency. “But budget transparency per say will not lead to accountability,” she explains. “At least we are able to ask these questions about the volatility in gender budget allocations, just because the statement is on since 2004. That’s an achievement. However, accountability mechanisms need strengthening.”
       
      All this can change, and gender-responsive budgeting can be taken to the next level, if there is continuous and sustained training of all departments and ministries, Nikore says. “We have to undertake capacity-building and training both at the centre and state-level to roll out the process of gender responsive budgeting properly.”

      Click here to read the article. 

      Pandemic and the gender divide

      Women and girls across the world have been disproportionately affected in the year of the pandemic, not in terms of the impact of the virus, but more so socially and economically. While India was rapidly responding to the health crisis, millions of Indians were grappling with the unintended impacts of the lockdown measures on the economy and their livelihoods. Even before the onset of COVID-19, India’s female workforce was largely invisible, underpaid, under-protected and constituted the largest segment of the informal workforce, which is among the worst-hit this year. But several opportunities exist in 2021 to ensure that India’s women are not left behind in its recovery plans.

      In a report authored by IWWAGE and TQH, data on women’s workforce and livelihoods showed some worrying and promising trends in 2020. India’s Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFPR) has been consistently declining over the past few decades, despite economic growth, decline in fertility rates, and rise in education levels. Further, in a country where approximately 50 per cent of the population is below the age of 25, there has been a consistent promise to leverage the demographic dividend. The numbers belie this promise – a majority of the female labour force now falls in the 40-44 age group, with the highest proportion of “unemployed, willing to work” job seekers in the 20-24 age group.

      Women continue to work largely in the informal sector (94 per cent of women work in the informal sector) and most have no written job contract or defined benefits. They form a large part of the labour force in industries like fashion, the beauty industry, housekeeping and events, which have been severely dented due to social distancing regulations. This has put them at greater risk during the pandemic – mounting job losses, reduction in wages and financial insecurity — with many availing loans from informal sources. In an IWWAGE study, with nearly 1,500 informal women workers in West Bengal and Jharkhand, almost half the women reported a loss of income due to the nation-wide lockdown. According to data released by the EPFO, even in the formal workforce, women’s share in payroll additions decreased in the immediate months of June to August, post lockdown. Unemployment levels for women grew to 17.1 per cent as opposed to 10.9 per cent for men.

      A survey led by LEAD at Krea University in four states covering over 2,000 women-led non-farm enterprises that were either micro or small in nature, showed that on average, businesses had reported a 72.5 per cent drop in revenues between pre-COVID-19 and June 2020, with many enterprises reporting a median revenue of zero in April. However, a resurvey of these enterprises suggests that several are showing promises of recovery since. Another study led by LEAD, in partnership with the Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship on the impact of COVID-19 on 1,800 micro-enterprises, showed that 79 per cent of the female entrepreneurs reported low sales and reduced customer footfall. Nevertheless, there is still a glimmer of hope, with 19 per cent respondents reporting a scaling up of their businesses during this period.

      Women’s collectives and SHGs proved to be a bulwark in the fight against COVID-19, producing a staggering number of face masks, PPE kits and sanitisers, and running community kitchens to feed food-insecure households during the lockdown. A study, led by IWWAGE and Project Concern International in Odisha, noted that 81 per cent of the 423 women surveyed would reach out to SHGs for any type of support and saw them as important avenues for social solidarity.

      The Ministry of Statistics, Planning and Implementation also released the Time Use Survey this year. Findings indicate that 92 per cent of the women aged 15-59 years participate in unpaid domestic activities and spend nine times more time on household duties as compared to men. A disproportionate amount of unpaid care work is cited as one of the main reasons for low female labour force participation globally where a two-hour increase in women’s unpaid care work is correlated with a ten-percentage-point decrease in women’s labour force participation. However, there are other barriers too constraining their ability to participate in the economy. Women face an uphill battle when it comes to financial security, property rights or even access to rights and entitlements in the absence of formal identification. Over 176 million poor women lack a Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) bank account and 70 million lack a ration card. Access to information around rights and government programmes is also curtailed, compounded by the lack of access to smartphones and the internet. There is a 50 per cent gender divide between male and female internet users in India.

      Budget 2021 Expectations: A budget full of hope

      Union Budget 2021-22 Expectations by Women: The year 2021 started with a renewed sense of hope, with vaccines for COVID-19 being rolled out across several nations. There is also hope that countries will be able to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels of growth by designing and delivering relief packages that can stave off the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, and set an off-kilter path back on track. But even as we eagerly await the green shoots of socio-economic recovery, it is important to note that the pandemic has altered in significant ways women’s lives and their livelihoods; their access to nutritious food, health services and education; and the nature of their work and ways of working. This for an economy where low female labour force participation rate (a mere 20 percent) was already a concern. Our hope is that the Union budget 2021-22 can address the disproportionate impacts that women and girls have borne as a fallout of the pandemic.

      Creating Opportunities

      The first step is to create better opportunities for women and girls. Evidence shows that the recovery since the lockdown has eluded women. Recent research by Ashwini Deshpande at Ashoka University shows that while jobs have returned in the post-lockdown period, women, especially those with young children, have been left out. Several other reports indicate that during the lockdown, four out of every ten women who were working in the previous year lost their jobs. An analysis of MGNREGA data from the second quarter of FY 2020-2021 reveals that women’s share in workdays under the scheme dipped to an eight-year low. An IWWAGE- LEAD study with rural enterprises in July 2020 suggests that three in every four women-led enterprises experienced a significant dip in revenues, with one in every three reporting shutting down temporarily or on a permanent basis. However, there remains a glimmer of hope as some of these enterprises showed signs of recovery

      Targeted employment in both rural and urban areas is important for generating decent work for women. Here, the budget could consider expanding the number of days available for women under MGNREGA, expanding public employment opportunities and scheme-based work, and providing financial and institutional support to home-based workers, women-led collectives and women-owned enterprises. Specific sectors such as apparel, electronics, food-processing and other manufacturing, which usually have a large concentration of women, could be incentivised for greater tax and non-tax benefits to employ more women. These could be brought under the Modified Special Incentive Package the scheme, introduced in 2015. By improving the government’s procurement policies, more women-owned and -led enterprises can enter the supply chain, and help provide ICDS supplies, supplementary nutrition, and other essential goods, such as PPE kits and masks.

      Besides these direct measures, women may need to be prepared for a future where work may be increasingly digital and accessed through platforms such as those made through gig platforms. Investments in skilling curricula, post-skilling placement and job support, and upskilling of women trainers and teachers are some of the immediate measures that can be considered. There is also a need to offer training to women and girls in non-traditional livelihoods, beyond those offered for care and nursing; beauty, salon and wellness services; tailoring, and embroidery and such other vocations where women have traditionally been employed. By designing curricula that offers training to women to serve as technicians, mechanics, drivers of two and four-wheelers, and by improving their digital and IT skills, new avenues for employment can gradually emerge.

      Ensuring Access

      The digital divide has become a chasm during COVID-19 and women continue to be excluded due to their limited access and knowledge of smartphones and the internet. There is a growing need to upskill women to use digital technology which can help them access various benefits and schemes, obtain new knowledge and skills, and expand their businesses by shifting to the digital economy.

      Several studies also show that women’s access to opportunities is disrupted due to limited or no access to services and infrastructure that can reduce the time spent on unpaid work. Women in rural households have been spending more time to attend to returnee migrants, mostly men. Women are also spending more time taking care of children and the elderly, cooking, cleaning and tending to other domestic chores. These together reduce women’s access to paid opportunities and even adversely impact access to education in many cases.

      By investing in time-saving infrastructure such as – piped water supply, clean fuel, electricity, better roads and transport facilities, housing – more women will be able to free up their time and enter the labour force. Further, universalisation of quality full-day childcare centres and crèches can address the ‘motherhood penalty’ that restricts women from entering or re-entering the workforce. These investments also hold the potential to create several new jobs for women in the care sector.

      Enabling Security

      The opportunities and investments identified above can only work when there is a strong social protection architecture supporting them. It is vital to expand and strengthen social security nets and develop a National Social Protection Strategy through a consultative process. Cash transfers through existing schemes such as the PM Jan Dhan Yojana, PM Matru Vandana Yojana, PM KISAN and the National Social Assistance Program, should continue prioritizing single women, pregnant and lactating women, and women with disabilities.

      Unorganised and informal sector workers were perhaps the worst hit during the pandemic. There is a need to expand social security coverage, insurance and pension for such workers. ASHA, Anganwadi and other frontline and scheme workers, who have been at the forefront of the pandemic response, maybe formalised to offer them better job security.

      Food security remains central to the discussions around recovery and budgetary allocations for women and girls. The Public Distribution System food basket can be temporarily expanded to include pulses, millets and oil. The PM-Garib Kalyan Yojana for basic food security can be extended through the FY2021-22 which would positively impact a large number of families, easing the burden on women and girls. Similarly, providing supplementary nutrition and hunger surveillance in remote and marginalised settings through channels like SHGs can help identify and reach locations and communities that may otherwise be inaccessible.

      Preventing Violence

      Reports clearly indicate an increased incidence of gender-based violence during the pandemic, resulting in the need to consider women and girls’ safety and security in public spaces and at the workplace as lockdown restrictions ease up across the country. Scaling the implementation of provisions under the Nirbhaya Fund and strengthening legal literacy and access under the fund can be extremely beneficial for survivors of violence. They’re also a need for strengthening outreach and violence redressal mechanisms such as the One-Stop Crisis Centres.

      Simultaneously, public infrastructure like bus stops, railway stations, roads, parks etc. can be improved upon by way of regular safety audits and measures such as CCTV cameras. Further, livelihood support for survivors of violence can greatly encourage self-sufficiency.

      A new hope

      The Union Budget 2021-22 presents an opportunity to ensure that India’s economic growth and development is inclusive of the millions of hopes and myriad needs of women and girls. Better and smarter investments and policies can help avoid the reversal of decades of progress made on several measures of gender equality so that India can bounce back quicker and stronger.

      Read the article here.

       

      Prioritize skilling, bridge the digital divide: Expectations from the Union Budget 2021

      The Budget session of the Parliament is all set to commence with the presentation of the Economic Survey of India on January 29. The Chief Economic Advisor Krishnamurthy Subramanian will present the Economic Survey 2020-21 on Friday. The survey will provide a glance at how Indian economy has progressed in the last 12 months.

      Though there are no specific demands, there are certain issues that HR leaders want to address in the Budget. Like every year, skilling and employment generation have turned out to be the key expectations from the Budget for 2021-22. However, this year talent leaders also expect Union Budget 2021-22 to revive women-led businesses and skilling programs for women.

      Edtech pining on formal recognition and tax sops from the Budget

      Nilesh Gaikwad – Country Manager at EDHEC Business School shared, “The education sector is optimistic of Budget 2021. Among other things, this year’s budget will set the pace for implementing National Education Policy 2020. Upgradation of India’s education infrastructure will be high on cards. Government could set aside grants for fueling research-based degree programmes and specialized laboratories across institutions in tier-2 & tier-3 cities.”

      He further added that hHaving proved their worth in gold during lockdown, Edtech will be hoping to get a formal recognition and tax sops from the Budget. In addition to the current schemes like free mid-day meals etc., the government should collaborate with telecom companies to offer subsidized data plans to under-privileged students taking online classes. Easy availability of funds and higher tax exemption on education loans will strengthen parents’ resolve to register their wards for higher education. In many ways, lockdown fast-forwarded adoption of technology and government should ensure we do not return to pre-2020 era”.

      Dr Santanu Paul, Co-Founder and CEO, TalentSprint added that all encouragement should be provided  to entities and edtech platforms playing a pioneering role in accelerating hybrid and blended learning.

       

      “We need to enable home-grown edtech firms that are looking to build a strong human capital for India, as well as aspiring learners with vouchers and tax breaks,” he further added.

      As part of the upcoming union budget, it would be encouraging to both learners and edtech platforms if the government would introduce a reduction on GST for online education services, averred Krishna Kumar, CEO & Founder, Simplilearn. Also, with the need and demand for digital skilling going high, he also stressed upon the need for the government to encourage public-private partnership models with ed-tech companies at a national and state level with a larger agenda of making Indian IT workforce skill and job-ready.

      Prioritize skilling, provide for reduced GST slabs

      Rameswar Mandali, CEO and Founder, SKILL MONKS shared that keeping skilling as a priority, the Government must provide training institutions with financial support through the Union Budget 2021- 2022, by offering subsidies on basic infrastructural facilities, providing access to low-cost funds backed by an extended moratorium period and collateral free loans.

      Similarly, to encourage quality EdTech startups and more professionals to get into the skilling domain, the Government should look at a tax holiday for initial two years of operation. To give thrust to online training and education, more funds allocated to automate and digitise operations of training institutions will enable India to become a global hub for online education.

      To ensure that skilling is prioritised the Government in this budget must provision for reduced GST slabs, encouraging young graduates and working professionals in getting skilled in a domain of their choice and stay relevant in a dynamic market environment. Additionally, the Government should look at incorporating additional sanctions to the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) to facilitate accelerated learning and to acquire relevant skills under Industry 4.0 domain.”

      Similar views were shared by Sumit Kumar, Vice President – NETAPP, TeamLease who believes that while the past two budgets have taken strategic measures towards boosting education and skilling in India, one of which was allocation of more funds to augment the ecosystem. However much of this allocated budget still remains unutilized (close to 13% of the budget allocated in the last fiscal is unused). Firstly, we need to ensure better and optimum use of the funds which remain unused. Secondly, we need to look at creating appropriate avenues where the allocated funds can be utilized more effectively.

      The budget should also take measures to fast track adoption and implementation of the New Education Policy 2020. Further, the budget also needs to introduce more stabilized regulations for Skill Universities. The industry is looking forward to the introduction of NAPS 2.0 wherein not only employers are incentivised for training through apprenticeships, but also include tax breaks to absorb trained apprentices into employment, or link it with PMRPY (PM Rozgar Protsahan Yojana) under which PF contribution for fresh hires is taken care of by the Government. This will encourage MSME sectors to engage with apprentices and other skilling initiatives which in turn will further raise formal employment.

      Additionally the current license system for online education still remains too restricted. It is expected out of the budget to make the rules flexible under Digital India Initiative for Universities including Skill Universities, so that quality education is accessible and affordable.

      Recognize employment generation as a merit services

      Lohit Bhatia, President- Workforce Management, Quess Corp shared that the Government’s rolling out of the New Labour Codes is a much-anticipated move that will help boost business continuity and job creation across industries, in particular MSMEs and startups.

      “In order to further supplement the job market, we encourage the government to recognise employment generation as a merit service, under the Central Goods and Services Tax Act, which would allow for a reduction in the tax slab that is currently applicable. For contract staffing firms that fulfil the manpower requirements of large companies in various sectors, operating margins are often very slim, which leads to a crunch on working capital. Lowering the tax slab on the same will free up capital for seamless operations, and help ease the compliance burdens on many companies that rely on staffing firms to meet the same,” he added.

      Revive women-led businesses and skilling programs for women

      “India cannot bounce back from the pandemic if it leaves its women behind. The Union Budget 2021-22 presents an opportunity to address the disproportionate impacts that women and girls have suffered,” feels Soumya Kapoor Mehta, Head , Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) at LEAD.

      “Our hope is that the budget focuses on continuing cash and nutrition support for women who were among the worst affected;  and that it has room for investments that can help revive women-led businesses; for skilling programmes that respond to women’s needs and that prepare them for the future of work (including digital opportunities);  and for infrastructure investments that can help reduce the burden of unpaid work on women (including daycare centers),” she added.

      The same was reiterated by Neha Bagaria, Founder, Jobsforher who shared that  as the jobs of the future become increasingly tech-based, we need to ensure women are equal participants also.  The budget should accommodate skilling programs for women to upskill themselves in the latest technologies which further helps them contribute to the country’s GDP. Also the pandemic has seen a huge increase in flexible & contract workers who will need inclusive policies, perks and benefits so that we can benefit from the wide talent of women who are seeking flexibility with arrangements.

      Bridge the digital divide

      Currently, “Digital divide” is a major problem. The Digital Divide refers to the gap between those able to benefit from the internet & those who are not. Government should bridge the digital divide gap, so that learning solutions can be easily accessed by everyone, shared Manish Mohta, MD – Learning Spiral.

      The Union Budget 2021 should focus heavily on creating online infrastructure & making it available till the last mile via the use of affordable smartphones, free internet and democratic distribution of technological devices. Budget 2021 will need to be of the expected up-gradation in infrastructure. Boosting ed-tech & online examination system to provide facilities of online exams across the country.

      In addition, the high rate of GST for online education and online assessments makes it expensive, thereby restricting its access to only the elite. Therefore, considering the need of the hour, the government should reduce the existing rate of GST from 18% to 5% in the Union Budget for 2021 for online assessments and education.

      Similar views were shared by Neeti Sharma, Senior Vice President, TeamLease Services  who shared that India needs to re-look at the employability of the youth. For the Indian economy to get out of the post-pandemic slumber, the need of the hour is to mobilize jobs and improve skills of the youth. Union Budget 2021 needs to focus on developing a robust digital infrastructure. Furthermore , with a large part of the Skills Development budget for FY21 being unutilized or underutilized, in this budget, the government needs to create structured avenues for utilizing the funds such that skills development for the youth of our country becomes a continuous activity rather than get stalled due to certain conditions.

      Also, one of the other key aspects that the budget should look at is introducing tax relief on the CSR funds. Exempting  GST and other tax liabilities on the CSR funds will reduce the cost burden and enable more corporates to effectively use CSR budgets for initiatives such as skill training and rural workforce development.”

      Vandana Luthra, Founder and Co-chairperson, VLCC Group also reiterated the same stating that higher resource allocation for improving the Skill Development ecosystem in the country would also be a welcome move.

      Provide relief to SMEs, offer certain employee rights to gig workers

      Jatin Jakharia, Co-Founder & CFO, WorkIndia– India’s leading HR-tech Platform that provides jobs to the Blue Grey Collared job holders shared that among SMEs, hiring is 70% of pre-covid levels, implying SMEs haven’t been able to still recover. SMEs are the heart of India; Govt can do more to provide more relief so that economic activity among the SMEs increases, which leads to more job creation and which in turn leads to more hiring in the blue collared segment (almost 23.7 cr in India).

      Sandeep Sinha, Founder & Managing Partner, Lumis Partners felt that given the meaningful labour market pressures; a mutated recovery majorly led by profits and over 18 million job losses, the budget is a key opportunity to not be complacent and build on the pandemic-era momentum. The bottom 20% of the pyramid have experienced an enduring jolt due to job cuts and which will have a recurring effect overtime. Job creation is that node of the demand supply network which keeps the wheel spinning.

      With India emerging as the 5th largest country for flexi-staffing; digital platforms enabling employment creation and expanding consumer base for on-demand services at the tailwinds of cost cutting and affordable skilled workforce availability, the budget must build on recent reforms in labour and education and the government should continue to provide policy as well as financial support for skilling to ensure that the workforce in India is future ready. One place where India Inc is looking for clarity from the government is on Wage code implementation and regulation of the gig employment model.

      Thus, there is a need to strike a balance between flexibility and security. One solution could be a push from the government to offer certain employee rights to the gig workers which secures them about their future. Another could be to promote platforms which are in the business of offering such benefits to gig/ contingent workers.