P Muralidhar Rao
Women play a dominant role in the Indian economy, undertaking a wide range of economic activities including farm operations and powering a high savings rate. However, changes in the employment scenario, rising inflation, social conditions and neglect by policy-makers have impacted adversely on women.
An estimated 52 per cent of Indian women suffer from malnutrition. Fifty-eight per cent of pregnant women suffer from anaemia. Not surprisingly, the maternal mortality rate stands at one per 500. This, when India claims to be not just food self-sufficient but food surplus!
Women continue to lag far behind men in terms of even literacy, at 34.5 per cent (Census 2011). India’s high growth rate – until recently, anyway – comes basically from a high rate of saving and capital formation. India achieved a remarkable savings rate of 33 per cent of the GDP, of which 70 per cent comes from household saving and only 20 per cent from the private corporate sector and 10 per cent from public sector undertakings. There’s no denying that India is blessed with a “female economy”, in terms of savings, consumption attitude and tendency to recycle.
Globalisation has affected women negatively, going by the Report of the Working Group on Empowerment of Woman for XIth Plan. The report concedes, “With the growing globalization and liberalisation of the economy as well as increased privatization of services, women as a whole have been left behind and not been able to partake of the fruits of success. Mainstreaming of women into the new and emerging areas of growth is imperative. This will require training and skill up gradation in emerging trades, encouraging more women to take up vocational training and employment in the boom sectors. This will also require women to migrate to cities and metros for work. Provision of safe housing and other gender friendly facilities at work will need to be provided.”
It further states, “Another facet of globalization is related to the fact that many persons especially women will be severely affected with the advent of setting up of industrial parks, national highways, SEZ etc. as huge tracts of farm land are likely to be acquired for this purpose. This would require massive resettlement of the displaced persons and their families. It is therefore essential that a viable resettlement policy and strategy is formulated and put in place immediately which clearly reflects the needs of women impacted by globalization/displacement.”
Inflation, especially food inflation, impacts women the hardest. As women tend to prioritise the rest of the family, any shrinkage in the food bowl, means less nutrition for her. As if that weren’t bad enough, she has to contend with alcohol abuse by family members.
A recent study by ASSOCHAM says liquor consumption is increasing at the rate of 30 per cent per annum. Currently, it stands 7,000 million liters and is expected to increase to 20,000 million liters by 2015. State governments are upbeat about the rising revenues from liquor, at an average of 20 to 30 per cent annually. Liquor import is rising even faster, with a 700 per cent increase in liquor imports last year. Trade bodies are advocating a reduction in excise and custom duties to encourage liquor consumption. This not only shrinks the family budget, but in some cases may escalate domestic violence.
Policy initiatives for empowerment of women thus appear to have been confined to paper. A brief overview of the stated objectives of the aforesaid policy:
p Creating an environment, through positive economic and social policies for development of women, that enables them to realise their full potential.
p The de-jure and de-facto enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by women on equal basis with men in all spheres – political, economic, social, cultural and civil.
p Equal access to participation and decision-making of women in the social, political and economic life of the nation.
p Equal access to health care, quality education at all levels, career and vocational guidance and employment as well as equal remuneration, occupational health and safety, social security and public office, etc.
p Strengthening legal systems aimed at elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.
p Changing societal attitudes and community practices by active participation and involvement of both men and women.
p Mainstreaming a gender perspective in the development process.
p Elimination of discrimination and all forms of violence against women and the girl child; and
p Building and strengthening partnerships with civil society, particularly women’s organisations.
A scheme of gender budgeting has been introduced in an attempt to assess the expenditure on women’s development, but there’s been no attempt to assess the impact of government policy on the condition and status of woman. This is essential so as to provide inputs for meaningful policy-making.
Although most women in India work and contribute to the economy in one form or another, much of their work is not documented, or accounted for in official statistics. Women plow fields and harvest crops while working on farms; women weave and make handicrafts while working in household industries; women sell food and gather wood while working in the informal sector. Additionally, women are traditionally responsible for the daily household chores (e.g. cooking, fetching water and looking after children).
More women may be involved in undocumented or ‘disguised’ wage work than in the formal labour force. It is estimated that over 90 per cent of women workers are involved in the informal sector and not included in official statistics (The World Bank, 1991). The informal sector includes jobs such as domestic servants, small traders, artisans, or labourers on a family farm. Most of these jobs are unskilled, low paying, and do not provide benefits to the worker. Although such jobs are supposed to be recorded in the census, undercounting is likely because the boundaries between these activities and other forms of household work done by women are often clouded. Thus, the actual labour force participation rate for women is likely to be higher than that which can be calculated from available data.
According to the 66th round of NSSO, 25.1 million people lost their self-employment and another 22.0 million joined the army of casual labour between 2004-05 and 2009-10. In this loss of self-employment, women – from being owners of the means of production – became casual labour. This trend has been linked to globalisation and crony capitalism, whereby farmland is acquired by state governments ostensibly for public good and handed over to corporates or individual businessmen. Traditional occupations like small retail are being brought under stress to accommodate corporate interests.
While the contribution of Indian women should be appropriately factored, their importance in terms of sustainable development must be fully appreciated. Excluding women from the growth process is the best way of ensuring that growth itself is short-lived.