Women accounted for no more than 25% of the labour force in 2011-12, declining from 33% since 2005, according to the national sample survey report (2014) on employment, a rate worse than neighbouring Bangladesh (29%), Nepal (52%) and Sri Lanka (34%). But this decline is more marked for rural women, according to data from the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation’s National Sample Survey (NSS), 2014.
1. DOMESTIC HELP
Domestic work refers to housework such as sweeping, cleaning utensils, washing clothes, cooking, taking care of children and other such work, which is carried out for an employer for remuneration. Domestic work provides an important livelihood source for illiterate women or those with very little education.
Official statistics place the numbers employed in India as 4.75 million, (of which 3 million are women) but this is considered as severe underestimation and the true number to be more between 20 million to 80 million workers. A significant number of these women migrate from states like Jharkhand, Bihar, Bengal and Orissa. Most come from vulnerable communities or ethnic minority communities.
Women also heavily participate in ancillary agricultural activities. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, Indian women represented a share of 21% and 24% of all fishers and fish farmers, respectively. Women in India face extreme disadvantage in terms of pay, land rights and representation in local farmers organizations. An increasing number of women in Indian villages are being left with little employment options, except low-paid and erratic farm work. The number of female agricultural labourers in India increased by 24% between 2001 and 2011, even as 7.7 million farmers left farming, indicating how any limited, non-farming opportunities are increasingly being taken up by men, who are perceived as higher-skilled, better educated and more able to migrate for work. In 2011, the agricultural sector workforce in the subcontinent was 75% women. In rural India, the percentage of women who depend on agriculture for their livelihood is as high as 84%.
Women workers have limited opportunities available to them in the formal sector and hence have to be content with mostly low paid, low-status jobs in the informal sector. In countries where there are a few restrictions on the mobility of women outside their homes, women constitute 50%-90% of street vendors. Vending empowers women who then see themselves as equally productive partners in their households- contributing to the family hearth and even gaining some decision making powers within the family. Such an engagement either as partners to their fathers, husbands or brothers, gives them income, decision making power and respectability. According to data by SEWA Delhi, there are close to 3 lakh street vendors in Delhi. However, the MCD’s official figure accounts for only 1.25 lakh vendors, of which 30% are said to be women. The Ministry of Urban Employment and Poverty Alleviation quotes that the average income for men of the sector is rupees 70, while the average earning for women is approximately 50 rupees on a daily basis.
The government’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has helped provide some non-farm employment to women in areas where previously they may have been excluded, such as construction. Women face serious problems related to work, like, wage discrimination, gender and sexual harassment, unhealthy job relationship, lower wages, etc. Despite all these, the construction industry overwhelmingly attracts female workers. The female employment in the construction industry is very high, even though they work only as the helpers or unskilled workers.
5. ANIMAL HUSBANDRY
In India, rural women constitute the largest group of people working on agriculture and animal husbandry.
In rural areas, animal husbandry is in general considered as a job of farm women. Studies carried out on women’s role in the country reveal that women share a major burden of livestock management and much of the credit goes to them for phenomenal increase in milk production. In Amarsinghi village, of 135 females with house work as primary activity, 55 are engaged in animal rearing as a secondary activity. In Kalmandasguri village, of 156 females with house work as primary activity, 40 are engaged in animal rearing as a secondary activity.
In Panahar village, of 272 females with house work as primary activity, 64 are engaged in animal rearing as a secondary activity. If we count all females engaged in animal rearing (be it as a primary or secondary or tertiary or other occupation), then, 33 to 47 percent of females in three villages of West Bengal are so engaged.
Tailoring as a profession is in demand because it is safe for women as they can do it from the comfort of their house and less capital is required as compared to other professions.
Tailoring as a profession is very famous in India, especially among rural women. Many NGOs and other organisations have established centres for training women in tailoring to help them earn a livelihood. In some cases, women themselves have started an enterprise and empowered other rural women.
While up to 34% of men in rural areas have migrated in search of employment and better economic opportunities, the figure for rural women is about a tenth at 3.6%. Though out-migration can provide access to economic and social mobility, such options remain out of reach for many women in rural India due to “a patriarchal ideology and local socio-cultural traditions” that confine them to the village. Norms assigning the burden of domestic care work like child-rearing, and time-consuming tasks like firewood and water collection, also mean few women are able to explore opportunities outside the village. This further entrenches their low socio-economic status and exclusion from paid labour.
Ishani Paul & Vintii Rohira -