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India’s job market took a tumultuous hit in March 2020 – after the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country not only visibly freezing opportunities but also throwing lakhs of people out of work.
At least four out of ten women in India lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, reveals an analysis of the latest Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE)’s Consumer Pyramids Household Survey (CPHS) data. An estimated 17 million women have been left jobless, in both the formal and informal sectors, between March and April 2020, owing to the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of novel coronavirus.
However, the same data showed that by August 2020, jobs started returning to India’s post COVID economy. But this recovery was leaving behind a crucial section of people – women who really wanted to be a part of workforce.
While 98 percent men, employed in pre-pandemic times, are back at work, the same is true for only 91 percent women – with rural women being hit the worst.
Indian economist Aswhini Deshpande, Professor of Economics and the Founding Director of Centre for Economic Data and Analysis (CEDA) at Ashoka University tells The Quint how our budgetary policies can ensure that more women join the workforce.
1. Bringing Employers On Board
The economist suggests that first, employers should be brought on board for such conversations as there are a whole range of jobs that women could do – and their potential not being fully tapped at.
“Employers should be brought into the conversation. Because there is a whole range of jobs that women can do. So if for example, they are not able to do a set of jobs right now because there is no bus, literally, to take them to the place of work, maybe busses can be arranged. You have to go down to the local level to see what the local constraints are,” Deshpande said.
2. Expand Skill Training
Another crucial aspect that is often not translated to action is skill training. Deshpande questions the whole notion that women should be trained only to be tailors and beauticians.
Why can’t women enrol in an electrician course, she asks, stressing that skill training will be most effective but is an aspect that is often overlooked.
3. Ensure Basic Facilities
Basic facilities, that might seem trivial, actually plays a huge role in women joining the workforce.
“Many women are being encouraged to work as drivers. Now, these women are on the roads the whole day. What toilet will they use, right? It seems very trivial but it is actually a very big constraint. So for women of the informal economy, for women in the gig economy, for daily wagers atall levels, simple facilities that take into account women’s needs will go a long way.”
4. Expand Opportunities Through WFH
Over the last 10 months, India, along with the rest of the world has realised that a large part of job can be done from home. This, the economist says, can be optimised to change the discriminatory attitudes of male employers.
“Over the last 10 months, we have realised that a large part of job can be done from home. It is not optimal, but it can be done. If that changes discriminator attitudes of male employers, I think that would also be a silver lining,” she added.
However, in this context, we should also not forget that in India primary responsibility of household chores falls on women.
5. Men to Share Domestic Chores
“She has to balance domestic considerations with the demands of paid work. And often women, particularly in urban areas, say, it is ‘impossible for us to manage both. So I think I’ll just withdraw from paid work.’ So the social norms that primarily places responsibility of domestic chores on women – that needs to shift in India,” she explained.
Men spent more time in domestic chores at the beginning of lockdown in March 2020, but inference of CMIE data shows that this time has dropped significantly later in the year.
“There is a lot of anecdotal account of burnout where women are just feeling like they are working non-stop. Whether it is the demands of their paid work or whether it is the demand of their unpaid domestic chores. You just are working round the clock.”Ashwini Deshpande
6. Better Childcare Facilities
One way to increase women’s participation in workforce, argued over several years by several people, is to provide proper childcare facilities. This becomes even more pertinent at a time like the COVID-19 pandemic as burden of taking care of the family, education of child during a lockdown-like situation, increases the domestic workload of a woman.
“Urban women literally can’t go to work leaving their child at home. Or they can’t take their children to workplace. So childcare is a much bigger constraint for urban women. You know it has been argued by several people, over several years that in urban areas you really need good, reliable childcare. And hiring private maids or nannies is not a feasible option for everyone.”Ashwini Deshpande