Over 51 per cent of work done by women in India is unpaid and not counted in national statistics, with some estimates even putting this proportion at 85-92 per cent, says a report by the high-level panel set up by the UN Secretary General.

It called for greater government, business and civil society partnership to meet the Sustainable Development Agenda by 2030.

“Hundreds of millions of women work informally without social and labour protection in law or in practice. In India, for example, some 120 million women (around 95 per cent of women in paid work) work informally.

“Expanding opportunities for women in informal work is integral to realising the SDGs,” says the global report ‘Leave No One Behind’, released here on Tuesday.

Mentioning the 22 per cent decline in female labour participation rate in India, the report called for concerted action by all stakeholders to remove systemic constraints, such as adverse social norms, gaps in legal protection, failure to recognise and redistribute unpaid work as well as gender gaps in digital access.

“If women are made equal in the labour force, India’s GDP will go up by 60 per cent and world GDP by 20 per cent,” said Renana Jhabvala (SEWA), citing a McKinsey report, adding that this was the “first time that women were being seen as economic actors”.

Need for legal protection

The report said legal protection of informal workers was key to protecting women and increasing their participation in work, as this kind of work was associated with the absence of written contracts and lack of rights, either as employees or as entrepreneurs, for property and assets. The panel found that even in jobs where women are paid, they tend to work in jobs that reflect gender stereotypes and are characterised by relatively low earnings, poor working conditions and limited career-advancement opportunities.

Terming entrepreneurship as ‘critical’ to realising the 2030 SDG agenda, the panel also found that firms owned by women were more likely to be micro or small in size and informal in nature.

“Women own about one-third of micro firms (fewer than 10 employees), one-third of all small firms (10–49 employees) and one-fifth of medium-size firms in developing countries (50–250 employees),” it said.

While noting the ‘enormous promise’ in digital financial solutions, the panel noted wide gender gaps in access to such technology, especially among the poor.

“Worldwide, some 2.3 billion women do not have any Internet access and more than 1.7 billion do not own a mobile phone….Across developing countries, 23 per cent fewer women than men have access to the Internet,” it added.

The UN, on its part, announced that it was rolling out a flagship initiative by partnering with governments and businesses to give procurement support for products being made by women, especially in textiles and garments, said Rebecca Reishmann Tavares, Representative, UN Women India.

Commerce & Industry Minister (Independent), Nirmala Sitharaman, who released the report, said ensuring safety of women was key to their economic empowerment. She also listed out programmes such as ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ , Start-up India and MUDRA that would help empower women.