Women, the invisible workforce...time for recognition

Covid 19 pandemic lockdown has brought to fore the invisible workforce-the women of the household, and their contribution in the country’s economy. If not directly but definitely indirectly, by taking care of homes of their men family members, whom generally every country count as their main workforce. Thus neglecting the role played by a woman in the country’s growth and development, as a professional as well as home-maker.

Globally, socio cultural norms and practices determine the role of women in both public and private spheres. Although vulnerability affects everyone but particularly women more, who face risks due to lesser employment opportunities, natural and man-made calamities, and invisible workforce? Moreover, women’s unequal share of unpaid work is considered as a major constraint to both economic growth and women’s empowerment.

Unfortunately, for decades, her contribution has discrimination on grounds of gender and social groups and place of work, outside home or at home. It is a known fact that women spend her substantial time in unpaid domestic work. Unpaid domestic work refers to non-market unpaid work carried out in households primarily by women which include both direct care of family members and indirect care such as cooking, cleaning fetching water and woods for fuel among others. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report, in India women spend around six hours per day in unpaid household chores and related activities. Noticeably, even across developed countries, the hours put by women in the household work, though in varying proportion, is more than men (see graph).

Globally, women carry out 76 percent of the total amount of unpaid work. This work activity goes unaccounted for in the national accounts system. Women remains largely remained invisible due to the low or no economic value attached to her contribution in undertaking very important and critical household chores. As per the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women typically invest 90 percent of the economic resources into health, nutrition, and family education. Thus, keeping her financial independence at stake. In spite of, several measures been taken by the government and non- government agencies across the countries, particularly in developing economies, towards providing financial benefits to women and their financial inclusion, the situation continues to be far from satisfactory.

Women’s economic choices get jeopardized due to their minimal access to household finance including availing financial services and decision making in financial matters. Women’s unpaid domestic work affects considerably GDP of the country. No doubt, there is dire need for increasing women’s access to use of quality financial products and services which is essential for inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction apart from social and economic empowerment. Access to financial services and decision making process is seen as a stepping stone towards women recognition as an ‘economically relevant’ workforce and empowerment. Non-inclusion of unpaid work in national accounts system or active participation in financial decision making at home continues to remain evaded from women.

It has further repercussion. Lack of financial inclusion is also one of the key reasons for gender inequality. For women, financial dependence and low or no control over financial resources has affected, to a large extent, their bargaining power at home and influence over family decisions. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the economic opportunities for women are extremely limited. On average, only 55% of adult women are in the labour market, versus 78% of men. In Indian context, only one-quarter of women, compared with 82 per cent of men, engage actively in the labour market — one of the lowest rates globally (145th). Among the 153 countries studied for this WEF’s report, India is the only country where the economic gender gap is larger than the political gender gap.

Covid 19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown across several countries must have made men policy makers, who are in most of the prominent positions of key policy making think-tanks to assess the contribution of women in invisible work at home and yet keeping her occupied for entire day. In fact for working women, the lockdown has come as a double blow. Besides taking care of house chores, she has also to do her professional duty of Work from Home (WfH). On a positive note, in Indian context, the National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) decision to estimate the value of unpaid work, especially household chores by women, is, perhaps, the first step in registering the country’s unpaid labour. A report was expected by mid-2020 but not sure with Covid19 pandemic engulfing the country and shift in the priorities, this report could be expected at the given time. The unavoidable delay will further hamper the dire need to implement women targeted policies and to analyze and take action on shifts in labour participation rates.

Outside home too the emergence of women entrepreneurs or workers in a society depends to a great extent on the economic, social, religious, cultural and psychological factors prevailing in the society. This is well indicated by the facts that women constitute 48 per cent of the total population in India, but form 34 per cent total work force, 11 per cent of total entrepreneurs and around 6 per cent of total self-employed in the country. But in developed countries like United States women own nearly 30 per cent of businesses and form over 70 per cent of new businesses.

Across countries, it is therefore right time to take a giant step, and go for women-sensitive transformative policy and programs along with change in society’s outlook towards women workforce as equal partners in development. This is the only way to empower women and all-round growth of a country. Around 45 days or more stay at home during lockdown will definitely make most men agree with the contribution of women in helping the male members focus on their economic activity, either at work place or while working from home. Therefore, post Covid pandemic, when countries’ economy will have to be revived almost from the bottom, the revival policies and programmes should be made more women-friendly and focus upon the economic empowerment of women. It is time to acknowledge and reward women at home, who are putting hours of hard work to ensure their families well being, and are playing a key role, even if indirectly, in putting the country’s economy on track.

Originally posted here 


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