New Delhi | 14th January 2021: A recent report by Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) has revealed that though COVID 19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has impacted people from all walks of life, this impact has been harsher for women and girls in India. The report, “Women in Work: How India Fared in 2020” jointly commissioned by The Quantum Hub, said the labour participation rate, both at the urban and rural level, seems to have been affected the most during May-August 2020

The report highlights that the share of women in the labour force is extremely low in urban areas (around 10.3%), which suggests that around 90% of women who are aged 15 or more in urban India are not employed, neither are they actively seeking employment. Around 71 % of women in urban areas and 58% of women in rural areas had no written job contract, and over half of the salaried women workers across rural and urban geographies were not eligible for paid leaves and any social security benefits. While it is easier to track the economic status of women in the formal sector, the majority of India’s female workforce is engaged in the informal sector. IWWAGE also noted that women are able to dedicate only 5.8 hours a day on average to their home-based businesses, which is intermittently interrupted by 6.6 hours of unpaid caregiving work

In India, a large portion of women has remained cut off from mobile and internet access. While this has historically prevented women from accessing financial services, information and news, and education and work opportunities, these differences were further exacerbated and led to difficulties in accessing relief packages and information during COVID 19 pandemic. The report by IWWAGE noted that there is a 20% gender gap in mobile ownership in India with 79% of men owning a mobile as opposed to 63% of women. Also, the gender gap is much wider when it comes to mobile internet users, with 42% of Indian men having access to the internet on mobiles in contrast with 21% of women.

Ms Soumya Kapoor Mehta, Head at IWWAGE said, “Women’s work and livelihoods have been adversely impacted in 2020. Against this backdrop, we have looked at key trends and policy developments that came to shape and defined the life of women across India. In this report, we look at women’s changing role in the economy, the barriers that they continue to face, their resilience in the face of the pandemic, and the opportunities that lie ahead. Our hope is that the Union Budget 2021-22 addresses the disproportionate impacts that women have suffered last year.” 

The current year 2021 would be a crucial period which would require governments across the world to take calculated steps towards ensuring that women are given equal importance in counties’ economic plan. While India is yet to roll out a strategic recovery plan for 2021, there are some policy measures and programmes which may aid women’s economic empowerment.