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Advancing gender equality in a post COVID context: Mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 on India’s women and girls through emergency cash transfers

COVID-19 is no longer a health crisis. The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have led to dire socio-economic challenges for India. Loss of livelihoods, food insecurity, wage cuts and financial insecurity are among the few challenges that the majority of Indians are grappling with, especially the poor. The lockdown and the halt of economic activities led to the reverse migration of millions of migrants. According to the Census of 2011, there are 139 million interstate migrants who are now among the worst hit by the pandemic and the lockdown. Little to no data exists on women migrant workers, mostly employed in construction and domestic work, who continue to be invisible in recent policy discourse and in the design of relief packages. The return of male migrant workers too can have unintended effects on women: fewer jobs being available to them in rural areas, thereby impacting overall levels of household income. All these uncertainties have led to the re-emergence of a demand for basic income in India. Convergence of existing schemes, fewer leakages and less corruption, as well as reduction in administrative costs, are some of the arguments in favour of a basic income, which were also cited in India’s Economic Survey (2017– 18). An emergency basic income has the potential to mitigate the adverse impacts on the most vulnerable, including women and girls.


Advancing gender equality in a post COVID context: Gender sensitive policies to enhance food security and expand wage employment

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all Indians, particularly vulnerable groups, including women and girls. If evidence from previous disasters and health crises is any indication, women will be disproportionately affected during this pandemic. Within homes, women and girls who already do more than six times unpaid work than men, now shoulder added responsibilities of feeding and caring for children who are not going to schools as well as care work for the elderly, sick or disabled family members. Outside their homes, shrinking employment opportunities and the resultant loss in bargaining power has compounded the problems faced by women. The decline in decent work opportunities and loss of income can, among other things, lead to a loss of independence, agency, and undo several years of progress achieved through gender-responsive policies. The disproportionate impact on women and girls calls for more gender-responsive interventions and relief measures. It is becoming increasingly important to expand opportunities for wage employment and enhance food security and nutrition. Evidence shows a clear co-relation between food and nutrition insecurity and gender inequalities, with mothers and daughters usually eating last as well as the least nutritious food in Indian households. Therefore, expanding social security benefits, improving access to and availability of employment and decent work opportunities, particularly for women, can help address nutritional and food security challenges during the pandemic.

Business Readiness Scorecard for Women

Globally, women are over-represented in the informal economy and own only around 25 per cent of formal sector businesses. Within the handicraft and handloom sectors, there are more women in the home-based industry than in the registered small-scale or cottage units. Given the prominent place this sector holds in offering livelihood opportunities to women while leveraging their traditional skillsets, this study examines women’s economic independence through a sectoral lens in the states of Rajasthan (private-sector dominated) and Tamil Nadu (public sector dominated). Gauging business readiness of women-led enterprises in the informal sector by assessing their performance is key to enable policy support in terms of identifying best practices, creating market linkages, and targeting skilling initiatives. Mapping readiness can assist policymakers and other stakeholders in assessing enterprise readiness, and identifying areas that need to be prioritised. Similarly, such frameworks can help enterprises and policymakers assess and identify market gaps to prioritise interventions. To this effect, the Business Readiness Scorecard for Women-Handloom and Handicrafts Sector (WBRS-HHS) is a data-driven diagnostic tool, which attempts to identify key constraints and high-performance areas for home-based enterprises in the handloom and handicrafts sectors of India. The WBRS tool was developed as a result of data collected from 800 home-based women entrepreneurs in four districts each, in Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.

Digital Solutions for SHGs in Chhattisgarh – The COVID-19 Pandemic: Project Modifications and Learnings

Women’s collectives, particularly self-help groups (SHGs), have contributed significantly to advancing women’s empowerment in India, especially for the marginalised segments. It is estimated that there are 7.3 million SHGs in India. Several studies conducted in different states have highlighted the positive impact of women’s collectives on different aspects of women’s empowerment as well as poverty reduction. In recent years, several efforts have been made to leverage digital tools to enhance the functioning of women self-help groups. In Chhattisgarh, IWWAGE – an initiative of LEAD at Krea University, is partnering with the State Rural Livelihoods Mission (SRLM) and Haqdarshak Empowerment Solutions Private Limited (HESPL) to train SHG members on a digital application, which can enhance their livelihood opportunities. The digital tool, Haqdarshak, is an innovative mobile application developed by HESPL. In addition to collaborating on the implementation of this livelihood model, LEAD and IWWAGE are also conducting an impact and process evaluation of the Haqdarshak programme, which will answer questions on its effectiveness and efficiency. Due to the challenges in implementing the project on the ground during the COVID-19 outbreak, the project has been adapted to the changing context and the evaluation design has been modified as well. This learning note presents insights on the implementation process.

Understanding the Market Landscape and Enterprise Readiness for Women-led Home-based Businesses

Women entrepreneurs contribute to the Indian economy in terms of GDP and employment. Despite this, they face gender specific barriers in labour force participation, such as, market, mobility, time, and credit constraints. These factors have been the driving forces behind the emergence of home-based businesses led by women especially in the informal sector. As a part of IWWAGE’s strategic vision to facilitate women’s economic empowerment through an evidence-based approach, Part 1 of the study aims to map the market landscape for home-based handicraft and handloom enterprises led by women, and assess their readiness. The subsequent study (Part 2) will look to answer critical questions related to credit access, and alternatives to existing credit scoring mechanisms.

To capture a granular perspective on the state of market access and supply chain linkages, 800 home-based women entrepreneurs were surveyed across Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. The study sheds light on the need for two approaches when designing policy interventions for improving the market landscape of female entrepreneurs. The first is the need for a facilitative and enabling ecosystem for home-based entrepreneurs because the market landscape itself lacks structure and formality with significant variations across the two states. Second, women entrepreneurs should not be approached as a singular segment but instead, need to be segmented according to their nuanced needs and strengths. A targeted approach through looking at personas or the type of entrepreneurs could be a great beginning. Based on insights from the survey, a diagnostic policy framework ‘Business Readiness Scorecard for Women (WBRS)’ has been developed to identify priority areas for intervention.


Policies and Programmes For Women and Girls

Bihar has the lowest female workforce participation rate (FWPR) among all states at 2.8 percent. The decline in FWPR has been shaper in rural areas as compared to urban areas, pushing a large number of women out of the workforce since 2007-08. With the decline in women workforce, there has been a substantial increase in the share of women in regular employment, in line with the national trend, and a significant decline in the share of self-employed, which is greater than the decline observed at the all India level. Women’s self-employment in Bihar is characterised by high incidence of own account work and low share of unpaid work, in contrast with all India figures.

Gig Study: Summary and Recommendations

‘Gig economy’ refers to labour markets characterised by independent contracting which happens through digital platforms. Since 2010, the gig economy has received much popularity and academic attention to study its extraordinary rate of growth and also to comprehend how the gig economy is impacting the participation of people. Available literature suggests that since gig workers do not have any standard employee contract, and also have limited or no access to labour protection/social protection, it exposes them to a number of challenges, such as failing to maintain regular income and facing a poor working environment. Besides, gig workers are unable to unionise and have low bargaining power, which makes them more vulnerable in the long run. While women are increasingly participating in the gig economy, however, new opportunities have been highly gendered. IWWAGE undertook a primary study of women service providers of Urban Company (a leading service platform of India), who are concentrated in the beauty and wellness segment. The overarching objective of the study was to investigate: these workers’ experiences, and the constraints they face, including issues of security, flexibility, labour processes and pay/conditions, and to assess the impact on women’s empowerment and agency. We adopted a threefold approach for doing this. We interviewed workers, who were approached through the platform directly. We interviewed platform managers for evidence. And we also interviewed domain experts, to gain insights into similar forms of platform work.

The Future of Work for Women Workers

World over, the technology-driven gig economy has been expanding rapidly over the past decade, in which digital platforms connect ‘workers’ with ‘requesters’ to facilitate on demand work. While the gig economy has also become a buzzword in India, particularly in the last couple of years, and is attracting millennials by offering alternative employment opportunities. However, literature is scanty when it comes to measuring its impacts on the gendered experiences of gig work or on gig workers.

This report aims to provide a comprehensive analytical overview of women’s engagement in platform work, and presents findings from an in-depth study of women’s work in one of India’s leading platform companies. It aims to understand the emerging forms of labour practices and the impact of platform engagement on workers’ experiences, challenges, and impact on women’s empowerment and agency. The findings are based on interviews with workers, platform managers, and other key informants, and comprehensive literature review. The study presents an in-depth and specialised analysis of the gig economy to explain some of the unique features of the labour practices and consequences of such practices on the overall labour relations. The study also makes specific recommendations and argue that policy makers and platforms have a key role in ensuring access to decent work and social protection for these workers.


Women’s Workforce Participation In India: Statewise Trends

Madhya Pradesh (MP) is the only state in India to have witnessed a rise in workforce participation rates (WPRs) of women in both rural and urban areas between 2011-12 and 2017-18. The increase in women’s WPR in MP was driven largely by increase in self-employment in the rural areas and regular employment in the urban areas. According to the Periodic Labourforce Survey in 2017-18, more than half of the female workforce in the state is self-employed, with a higher incidence of self-employment in rural areas. While approximately 88 percent of the rural self-employed women in MP are engaged in unpaid work, the share of women in own account enterprises is substantially high in urban MP. The distribution of casual women workers suggests very few women engaged under MGNREGA and other public works as 96 percent women in casual employment were engaged in non-public works, with very little security or guarantee of payment