In 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic, female labour force participation in India and South Asia was 20.5% and 23.5%, respectively (ILO estimates, World Bank database). Comparable estimates for males were 76% and 77%, respectively. The Middle East and North Africa are the only regions with lower female participation than South Asia.

The pandemic has made this situation worse. It has hit women disproportionately — because they work in sectors that have been the hardest hit; work more than men do in the informal economy; or because they are the primary caregivers at home.

Owing to Covid-19, global female employment is 19% more at risk than male employment (ILO estimates). For India, economist Ashwini Deshpande estimates that compared to men, women were 9.5% less likely to be employed in August 2020 compared to August 2019.

Ominously, girls are at greater risk of losing their human capital — in India, there is a 30% increase in new registrations on matrimonial websites, and, in South Asia, an additional 200,000 girls are expected to be forced into child marriages this year (Lancet).

Recovery efforts cannot be gender-blind, because, as the saying goes, “gender-blind is not gender-neutral.” There are four areas where government policy can help ameliorate long-standing issues.

First, address child care-related issues, a critical barrier to women’s labour force participation. The biggest dividends will come from focusing on women in the informal sector. In India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan, 76, 89, 71 and 66% of working women, respectively, are employed on own account or as family workers (ILO).

The Integrated Child Development Scheme provides some support, but it is not a full-time child care solution. The “Sangini Centres” of Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) provide full-day child care for 0-5 year olds, including nutrition, health and child care. Women using these centres report a monthly income increase of between 500-1,000. Similar centres will have to be significantly expanded. As for the formal sector, governments can mandate paternity leave on a use-it-or-lose-it basis, as one way to get men to share in infant care duties.

Second, tackle the digital divide. In India in 2019, internet users were 67% male and 33% female, and this gap is even bigger in rural areas. This divide can become a barrier for women to access critical education, health and financial services, or to achieve success in activities or sectors that are becoming more digitised.

To address this, partnerships between the public and private sectors will be most effective. Actions will need to address affordability of phones and computers, female digital literacy and its social context and inadequate technical content dedicated to women and girls.

Third, in the formal sector, use the income tax system to push female labour force participation. Women have a higher elasticity of labour supply than men (their labour supply is more responsive to their take-home wages) — lower income taxes for women can incentivise their participation. In India, given the abysmally low rate of female participation, such a move will not have a significant impact on public finances. This can be compensated with a much smaller tax increase on male employees, if needed. This could help create incentives for female employment within households.

Fourth, mainstream gender-disaggregated data collection and monitoring. What is measured gets acted upon. Globally, major gaps in gendered data and the lack of trend data make it hard to monitor progress.

A UN-Women Initiative called “Making Every Woman and Girl Count” was launched in 2016 to help prioritise gender data, ensure regular production of quality and comparable gender statistics, and ensure that data are accessible and used to inform policy. In India, too, significant gaps in data on the girl child prevent a systematic longitudinal assessment of the lives of girls. This needs to be corrected.

The best way to “not waste the crisis” is to ensure that women come back stronger. Women in India and other parts of South Asia can become a critical part of the recovery.

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  • Darknet

    Definition:

    Darknet, also known as dark web or darknet market, refers to the part of the internet that is not indexed or accessible through traditional search engines. It is a network of private and encrypted websites that cannot be accessed through regular web browsers and requires special software and configuration to access.

    The darknet is often associated with illegal activities such as drug trafficking, weapon sales, and hacking services, although not all sites on the darknet are illegal.

    Examples:

    Examples of darknet markets include Silk Road, AlphaBay, and Dream Market, which were all shut down by law enforcement agencies in recent years.

    These marketplaces operate similarly to e-commerce websites, with vendors selling various illegal goods and services, such as drugs, counterfeit documents, and hacking tools, and buyers paying with cryptocurrency for their purchases.

    Pros :

    • Anonymity: Darknet allows users to communicate and transact with each other anonymously. Users can maintain their privacy and avoid being tracked by law enforcement agencies or other entities.
    • Access to Information: The darknet provides access to information and resources that may be otherwise unavailable or censored on the regular internet. This can include political or sensitive information that is not allowed to be disseminated through other channels.
    • Freedom of Speech: The darknet can be a platform for free speech, as users are able to express their opinions and ideas without fear of censorship or retribution.
    • Secure Communication: Darknet sites are encrypted, which means that communication between users is secure and cannot be intercepted by third parties.
    •  

    Cons:

    • Illegal Activities: Many darknet sites are associated with illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, weapon sales, and hacking services. Such activities can attract criminals and expose users to serious legal risks.
    • Scams: The darknet is a hotbed for scams, with many fake vendors and websites that aim to steal users’ personal information and cryptocurrency. The lack of regulation and oversight on the darknet means that users must be cautious when conducting transactions.
    • Security Risks: The use of the darknet can expose users to malware and other security risks, as many sites are not properly secured or monitored. Users may also be vulnerable to hacking or phishing attacks.
    • Stigma: The association of the darknet with illegal activities has created a stigma that may deter some users from using it for legitimate purposes.