(This is article is contributed by Nikita Wadhwa, Program Coordinator with Collective Impact Partners India, a collective of five US based non-profits working together to bring new skills and resources to women leaders. The Collective recruits, trains and provides resources to women leaders to bring about systemic change. This project has been working in Maharashtra since 2018.)
For India’s growth story to be both equitable and sustainable – we need to see women, who are half the country’s population, contribute to half of the country’s growth story and economy, and be half the leaders of the country.
The current status is disheartening. The female labour force participation has fallen to 26% in 2018 (from 36.7% in 2005). Women’s contribution to the country’s GDP is currently just 18%, one of the world’s lowest and off that figure, 97% of all female workers in India are active only in the informal sector. A McKinsey report from 2018 suggests that by ensuring equal opportunities for women, India could add up to $770 billion by 2025.
This is 2020; why are there still not equal opportunities for women? What do equal opportunities for economic empowerment of women even mean in today’s context?
The following are some of the observations in this regard, made from working with women leaders from diverse backgrounds, districts, urban/rural and socio-economic set ups in Maharashtra.
Systemic issues in agricultural work
In Maharashtra, 88.46% of rural women are engaged in agriculture, which is highest in the country.
Globally, women make up an estimated 43 percent of the agricultural labour force; but only 15 percent of the world’s landholders are women. In Western Maharashtra, women own only 15.6 % of agricultural land holdings. Women’s lack of ownership to land compromises their identity as famers, while their contribution to agriculture becomes an extension to their household work. Also, women are not able to benefit from agricultural schemes and subsidies that are tied to ownership.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), if women farmers had equal access to resources, credit, farming equipment, and new technologies, yields could increase by 30 percent per household, and countries could experience an increase in agricultural output by 2.5 to 4 percent.
This also fits within a much larger patriarchal and cultural problem. Even though the inheritance laws in India have been amended to allow women to inherit and have equal ownership to their parental property, the mindsets of community members and families do not encourage this. This deprives the women from having control of assets and resources which are essential to their emancipation, empowerment and increased decision making.
Equitable growth through budget accountability
While government is committed to the empowerment of women through various developmental programs, the budgets for those programs and accessibility to these budgets is an issue.
The women leaders across Maharashtra are training female elected representatives and community leaders to advocate for budgets for women’s needs in the community. Such needs include improved access to livelihoods, health or education. Navigating the government system and the red tape involved is a challenge that the leaders face while conducting this kind of work.
Formalizing Gendered Employment
Women are often seen as primary caregivers to their family members at home. If they are able to work outside of their homes - in agricultural farms, as community health workers, as sanitation workers, as domestic workers, their work is seen as an extension of their unpaid care work and they are not adequately compensated. Neither do they have access to employee benefits such as health care, insurance, paid time off.
Women in informal labour need to be organized to increase their dignity of work and adequate compensation for their work. We hope that the government leads by example by formalizing the work of the ASHA and Anganwadi workers and recruiting women who work as waste-pickers into municipal sanitation roles.
Making workspaces safe
When there is opportunity for women to join the organized labour force, there are challenges that workspaces need to address to provide safety and equal opportunity to women. There is a need to strengthen processes that address workspace safety – such as implementation of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act and provide safeguards for women from minority communities such as Muslim women, Dalit women – who face double discrimination while accessing and participating in the labour force.
Currently, the labour force participation rate of women from minority communities is much lower than the abysmally low overall Indian FLFP rate. The CIP leaders are working to address these issues in the hope of creating more of a pull factor from employers to have more women access formal, organized labour work. Unfortunately, the price for an individual woman to change the system is high, collective action helps challenge that.
(Edited by Athira Nair)