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Empowering Women at the Grassroots

The research on female workforce participation in India is limited to just the formal sector.

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The low workforce participation of women and its consistent decline in India is a matter of critical concern. A recent report by the World Bank reveals that the Female labour workforce participation in India has declined since 2005.

The research on female workforce participation in India is limited to just the formal sector. The informal sector in India, such as domestic, care and household work, the work in the unorganised sectors remains an understudied topic. This paper by KREA University shows how the invisibility of scholars has further exacerbated the documentation of the plight of women in the informal sector and this report by the International Labour Organisation further reinforces this claim that the investment in care work is largely male-dominated.

Claudia Goldin, a noted economist, has argued the need to revisit the economic theory to overcome the limitations and challenges of the masculine nature of the discipline of economics. Julie Nelson, an economist and Professor at the University of, Massachusetts, has documented how social meaning associated with gender influences the meaning and theories of economics in the pragmatic sense.

Despite the limitations and challenges, there is an urgent need to invest in women, especially at the micro level.

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The Constitution of India under Article 16 (4) mandates equality of opportunity. Article 39 of the Constitution casts an obligation on the State to secure the right to an adequate means of livelihood. Besides the constitutional mandate, the reasons to invest in women at the grassroots level are manifold. One prominent reason is that when women are skilled at the panchayat level, they not only contribute to the village economy and raise living standards but also act as a trickle-down messenger for the holistic development of other women.

For instance, reservation at the Panchayat level through the constitutional amendment brought women to the forefront of the decision-making process. However, at the same time, on the social and economic forefront, there is an urgent need to invest in the empowerment of women. Very few women at the grassroots level work in the organised sector.

A report by the Ministry of Women and Child Development reveals that 95 per cent of women work in the informal sector. Investing in their skills would not only be beneficial for the overall economy but also will ensure a diverse workplace.

The Gram Panchayat Surpura in Jodhpur, Rajasthan recently established a ‘Shilpjeevika Centre’ — a Skill Development Centre in Panchayat Bhawan Supura. The skill development centre was conceptualised by the Sarpanch and the Legal Aid and Awareness Committee of National Law University, Jodhpur, a year back to act as a nodal centre for skill and training of the women at the Panchayat level. The Panchayat, in the last two years, have opened a community library and the computer lab in the Panchayat Bhawan with the help of the Legal aid and awareness Committee of National Law University, Jodhpur, which was spearheaded by this author as a convenor of the Committee.

These different centres cater to different needs of the villagers. While the computer lab provides a platform for women and children to learn online skills and fill out online forms, the library is a resource centre for books. The newly initiated skill development centre where women learn vocational skills like soap making, embroidery etc will equip them with skills to earn.

The Village Panchayat Surpura offers a great example by the Panchayat authorities to empower women at the grassroots level. The government through the National Policy for Empowering Women has also focused on imparting vocational and technical skills.

Empowerment of women at the grassroots level requires multidimensional intervention, not just from the government, but also from the civil society. As we move towards the 100th year of the journey of our nation and the constitution, what B R Ambedkar said should always be our guiding light, “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved”.

(This article is written by Rajesh Ranjan. Rajesh is a lawyer researcher who writes on Constitution, Society, Law and anything in between. The author would like to acknowledge Rashmi for her input.) 

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