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Women Workers in India by Vibhuti Patel

Women Workers in India by Vibhuti Patel

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Published by Vibhuti Patel
Almost 400 million people - more than 85% of the working population in India - work in the unorganised sector. Of these, at least 120 million are women. The recent Arjun Sengupta Committee report, 2006 is a stark reminder of the huge size and poor conditions in this sector. A subsequent draft Bill to provide security to workers, which bypasses regulatory measures and budgetary provisions, has generated intense debate. The Committee's report estimated that there are over 340 million (approximately 34 to 37 crore) workers in the unorganised sector in India, and that they contribute around 60% to the national economic output of the country. Around 28 crore work in the rural sector, of which an estimated 22 crore are in the agricultural sector. Around 6 crore are in urban areas. Women make up 11-12 crore, of which around 8 crore are engaged in agriculture.

In terms of overall employment, the Committee's report estimates that over 92% of the country's working population is engaged in the unorganised sector, and that the majority of women workers also work in this sector. Yet, in spite of their vast numbers, and their substantial contribution to the national economy, they are amongst the poorest sections of our population. It is therefore imperative that urgent steps are taken to improve their condition -- this is the Constitutional obligation of those who govern the country.

Almost 400 million people - more than 85% of the working population in India - work in the unorganised sector. Of these, at least 120 million are women. The recent Arjun Sengupta Committee report, 2006 is a stark reminder of the huge size and poor conditions in this sector. A subsequent draft Bill to provide security to workers, which bypasses regulatory measures and budgetary provisions, has generated intense debate. The Committee's report estimated that there are over 340 million (approximately 34 to 37 crore) workers in the unorganised sector in India, and that they contribute around 60% to the national economic output of the country. Around 28 crore work in the rural sector, of which an estimated 22 crore are in the agricultural sector. Around 6 crore are in urban areas. Women make up 11-12 crore, of which around 8 crore are engaged in agriculture.

In terms of overall employment, the Committee's report estimates that over 92% of the country's working population is engaged in the unorganised sector, and that the majority of women workers also work in this sector. Yet, in spite of their vast numbers, and their substantial contribution to the national economy, they are amongst the poorest sections of our population. It is therefore imperative that urgent steps are taken to improve their condition -- this is the Constitutional obligation of those who govern the country.

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Published by: Vibhuti Patel on Jan 08, 2011
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Women Workers in India
by Dr. Vibhuti Patel, Director, PGSR Professor and Head, University Department of Economics,S.N. D. T. Women's University, New Marine Lines, Mumbai-400020Email-vibhuti.np@gmail.com Phone-022-26770227Introduction
 
Women constitute ½ of the world’s population, 2/3 of the world’s work force but get1/10th of the world’s income and 1% of the world’s Wealth.-United NationsAs per 2001 Census, 23% of women are in the work force. 94% of all workingwomen are in the informal sector.Women all around the world have been doing paid, underpaid and largely unpaid work inhomes, factories, fields, forests and mines. Over and above 3 Cs-cooking, cleaning andcaring, large number of women do activities such as collection of fuel, fodder and water,animal husbandry, kitchen gardening, raising poultry that augment family resources. Itwomen would not this work, these goods would have to be purchased from the market.Our census defines work as an activity done by a person that brings remuneration, income, payment, salary, wages and honorarium. All able bodied persons in the age group of 15-59are part of the labour force. According to Census, those who are employed for 183 days in ayear for 8 hours per day are Main workers. Those who get paid work for 4 hours a day for continuously 186 days a year are considered to be marginal workers. The rest are classified asnon-workers.
Visible and Invisible Works
Women’s household work is invisible as it is performed inside four wall o their house andtheir work is not recognized and remunerated. Invisibility of women’s household work is theoutcome of definition of work in Economics that defines ‘work’ as any type of physical andmental activity undertaken in anticipation of economic returns. Women’s household work remains invisible as it is ignored in estimating national income. National income is defined asthe sum total of all production. ‘Production’ is defined as the creation of utility-Form utility, place utility, time utility and service utility. Women are continuously producing one or moreof these utilities. Yet, it is not included in the national income. Production by women in thehousehold has ‘use value’ but not ‘exchange value’ as it is not traded in the market. Women’s production in the household is ignored as there is no price tag attached to it. 
Women in the organized Sector: Women
constitute only 14% of the total employment inthe organized sector. It is concentrated in Maharashtra, Delhi, West Bengal, Uttar Pradeshand Tamilnadu. In the urban areas, FEAR in tertiary sector has increased, from 37.6 % in1983 to 52.9 % in 1999. (Economic Survey, 2002, GOI).1
 
Here, women workers and employees get relatively better wages, standard working hours,and the protection of labour laws. But, here too they are threatened due to recommendation of the II Labour Commission that gives increased freedom to the employers to hire and fireworkers at their whims and fancies.
Women in the Informal Sector
: Poor women’s labour force participation has beenadversely affected due to changes in age-structure, urbanisation, level & nature of economicdevelopment, infrastructure, government policies, labour laws, nature of work, structure of family, culture & tradition affecting autonomy and control, fertility levels and childbearing practices, nature of housework, women’s property rights, education, age at marriage,migration, access to technology. Segmentation in the labour market. Nature of wagedifferentials (WD) is such that for identical tasks women are paid less. And women areconfined to relatively inferior tasks, casual work. Causes of WD are patriarchal attitude andmyths about women’s low productivity. Effects of WD have been subordination of women,son preference, man being treated as a “bread winner” and a Head of the Household (HoH).Affirmative Action to remove these prejudices is a need of an hour. Both, the state and thesocial action groups need to join hands to provide gender justice in the labour market.
Poor Women in the Urban Labour Force
Marked feature of neo liberal policy is enlightened self- interest activated through marketforces in the era of economic Globalisation (G). G rides on the back of cheap labour of women and children.Landscape of urban informal sector in dozens of South Asian (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh,Srilanka, Nepal) and South East Asian (Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia) countries,Indochina (Laos, Kampuchea and Vietnam) and China is flooded with sweatshops, ghettolabour markets and stigmatised migrant workers.ASEAN countries have recently discussed establishment of Special Economic Zones thatwould ensure flexibalisation of the labour force to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).During the 1980s employment of adult women decreased and employment of adolescent girlsand child labour increased. They were given less skilled and underpaid jobs. Budgetary cutsfor balwadis and crèches enhanced the burden of poor working women. FTZs and EPZsthrive on young women’s super-exploitation. The employers overlook occupational healthhazards. 
Girl Child Labour
In 1986-87, 32.6 % of rural and 29.4 % of urban girls were never enrolled in schools due to paid and unpaid work they had to do in homes, fields, factories, plantations and in theinformal sector.
i
Sexual abuse at the work place is a hidden burden that a girl worker endures.The child labour policies, however, do not spell out anything specific to girl child workers.There is no implementation of prohibition of girls working in hazardous occupations as per Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.
About 6% of the males and females inrural areas and about 3% males and 2% females in age group 5-14 in urban areas were foundto be working during 1993-94.“Women carry a disproportionately greater burden of work than men and since women areresponsible for a greater share of non-SNA (system of National Accounts) work in the careeconomy, they enter labour market already overburdened with work.” Report of Gender Diagnosis and Budgeting in India of National Institute of Public Finance, New Delhi2
 
Conventional understanding has been that women are last to be hired at the time of economicexpansion and first to be fired at the time of economic crisis. Women become major victimsof rationalisation, mechanisation and automation. When structural changes take place,women are not selected for skill upgradation, if they don’t assert collectively.But, new international division of labour has changed this dynamics as the focus is oninduction of young, moderately educated girls who would do minute and monotonous withconcentration and dexterity. e.g. pharmaceuticals, computers
,
electronic, garments.
Factors Affecting Women’s Entry in Labour Market
Changes in age-structure, urbanisation, level & nature of economic development,infrastructure, government policies, labour laws, nature of work, structure of family, culture& tradition affecting autonomy and control, fertility levels and childbearing practices, natureof housework, women’s property rights, education, age at marriage, migration, access totechnology.
Table 1Labour Force in 1995 in India
Workers age group 15-64Average Annual Growthrate of the Labour ForceLabour Force Participationrate in 1995MaleFemale1965-19951995-2025Age Group15-64Age Group10-1926 Crores8.4 Crores2.1 %1.6 %MaleFemMaleFem90 %31 %30 %16 %
Source:
World Development Report, 1995. Nearly 1/3 of Indian women and 1/6 of Indian girls are a part of the labour force. In the low productivity segments of the economy, the choices before the girls have been child-marriage,child- prostitution or child-labour (CM, CP, and CL). Grooming of girls in different parts of the country determines whether they would be part of the SS side of the CM, CP or CL or grow as empowered women. Studies on this process from the political economy perspectiveare handful but they throw light on the areas of active intervention by the state, civil societyand the social movements. National Campaign Against Child Labour has carved out phase-wise programme of rehabilitation of child-labour and integrating them into the formal/ non-formal educational institutions. Homes for street-children have been established in the citieslike Delhi, Banglore, Bombay, Ahmedabad, and Calcutta. Public interest litigation casesagainst inhuman conditions in the rescue homes, by social organisations have forced the ironwall of secrecy fall. Employers with modern outlook have realised that without healthy andeducated\skilled labour-force, they can’t attain high productivity. But, in spite of thisawareness, condition of girl child labour is deplorable. In match industry in Shivkashi, out of 45000 children, 90 % are girls.
1
 Highest numbers of girl-children are sold either as child- brides or as bonded labourers or as child-sex workers in the drought-prone areas.
2 
Brutalisation of girl-victims of CM-CP-CL is more pronounced because their malecounterparts have to face control of their labour and sexuality while girl children have to bear multiple burdens of control of sexuality, fertility and labour and consequences of teenage pregnancy are faced by girls alone. Sociological studies examining material basis of this
1
Neera Burra
 Born to Work-, Child Labour I n India
, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1997.
2
Girl Child- A Status Report, UNICEF, SAARC Decade for a Girl Child (1990-2000 A.D.), Delhi.
3

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