Why the economic devastation caused by Covid will hit women workers hardest

Radheshyam Jadhav Pune | Updated on April 24, 2020

Female workers are paid a lower wage rate than their male counterparts in each employment category   -  Ashoke Chakrabarty

Wide gender disparity in India’s workforce likely to push female workers further into poverty, increase their dependence on men

Labour markets in India have always been characterised by gender disparities.

An analysis of employment and wage data from various national and internationals organisations suggests that the pandemic-triggered economic crisis is likely to to hit women workers harder across all categories — from daily wage labourers to managers at various levels.

With the crumbling private sector going for salary and job cuts, the demand for labour will take a big hit. The most affected will be aspirant female workers. The Centre’s Annual Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2017-18 had estimated the unemployment rate of graduate women at 32.7 per cent in rural India and 24.4 per cent in urban areas, compared to 18.1 per cent and 11.7 per cent, respectively, for graduate men. A similar trend is seen in the unemployment category of those who have completed higher secondary education.

A report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), published in 2018, has also noted a wide gender disparity in India’s workforce. “Female workers are paid a lower wage rate than their male counterparts in each employment category (casual and regular/salaried) and location (urban and rural), although the differences are smaller — on an average — in urban than in rural areas,” said the ILO’s ‘India Wage Report’.

Unequal pay for equal work

One would expect the concept of equal pay for work of equal value for same occupation categories to apply to male and female workers. Unfortunately, this is not the case in India, where the wages in all occupations or divisions reflect gender inequality, the ILO report said.

The salary cuts amid the latest crisis are expected to have a more severe impact on women wage earners than their male counterparts.

The wage gap is the narrowest in the highest ranks of labour (legislators, senior officials and managers). Women in this category earned 92 per cent of men’s wages in 2011–12, said the ILO report. But just 1 per cent of the nation’s female workers fall into this category. Among professional workers, women earned just 75 per cent of men’s wages in 2011-12. Women are over-represented in the low-skilled occupations, where they comprise 67 per cent of the workforce but receive just 69 per cent of men’s average daily wages, per the ILO report.

Poor women worst hit

The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO)’s 2017 data show that the average daily wage rates for general agricultural men and women labourers are ₹264.05 and ₹205.32, respectively, the latter being 22.24 per cent lower. For non-agricultural labourers, the average daily wage rate was ₹271.17 for men and ₹205.90 for women, or 24.06 per cent lower. The lower wages are now likely to further push women into poverty and increase their dependence on male relatives.

An estimated 3.9 million workers are employed by private households in the country, of which 1.3 million are male and 2.6 million are female. These workers do not have any social or financial security network and their situation is expected to worsen post Covid-19.

Various women’s groups in Maharashtra have noted that female workers are by and large part of the informal sector and earn low and uneven wages. Amid the lockdown, their daily wages have stopped, leaving them in dire straits, especially those running households, they have pointed out, demanding greater support for the women.

Published on April 24, 2020

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