Covid devastated self-employed women in India
Lasuben Shivlal Raval is a 70 year old grandmother from Ahmedabad, India. She worked as a “head loader” – a carrier of goods – in one of the city’s largest wholesale clothing markets for decades. His job has always been difficult, but life became immeasurably more difficult for Lasuben and his colleagues when Covid-19 struck and business fell apart. Yet she did not give up and, in her capacity as the leader of the local loaders, she helped coordinate assistance for her worker sisters.
The efforts of Lasuben and thousands of aagewans, or local leaders, have been crucial in the current crisis. Integrated into their communities, they have played an essential role in health education and awareness of the coronavirus, as well as in connecting people with basic medical care.
The impact of COVID-19 in India has been devastating and the burden has not diminished equally. Women employed in the country’s huge informal economy have been disproportionately hit hard as millions of livelihoods have become even more precarious or have completely disappeared. As the world looks beyond the current crisis towards a post-pandemic future, it is essential to ensure that low-skilled workers like Lasuben are not left behind by the changing tectonic plates of the global labor market, and that they have the necessary tools to thrive. -addiction.
Read also : Why the pandemic recession hurts Indian women more
The task is arduous. Women employed as domestic servants in Indian cities – often immigrants from rural areas – have lost their jobs in large numbers, forcing many to return to their villages of origin. Those working as street vendors were unable to sell their products due to the blockages and manual workers also saw the demand for their services vanish overnight.
This dire situation is made doubly difficult by the increasing demands on women to provide unpaid care for the sick, the elderly and young children during the health emergency and prolonged lockdowns. With schools and daycares closed for over a year now, the challenges are manifold.
This loss of work and increased demands for care have left many women and their families struggling for survival. Unsurprisingly, it is the poorest and most vulnerable households that are the most affected, many now suffer from hunger and have to cope by reducing their food consumption.
The problematic combination of informal work, poverty and gender bias is common in many developing countries, but it is particularly acute in India, given the structure of the economy and society. The country has one of the highest rates of informal employment in the world – and the pandemic has increased it further, leaving the vast majority of citizens outside the protection of labor laws or any social safety net. Today, an estimated 93% of the workforce, or 500 million people, work informally in India, compared to a global average of 61%.
With unemployment increasing in both urban and rural areas, the situation is particularly serious for women, who tend to have lower paid and less secure work than men. As a result, women suffered more livelihood losses than men during the pandemic, as pre-existing gender inequalities exacerbate an already difficult situation. Additionally, the experience of India’s first wave of COVID-19 is that men are the first workers to be taken back as lockdown restrictions are relaxed.
In the face of this erosion of livelihoods, there is an urgent need for a cooperative approach to help women – both to help them survive the crisis in the short term and to put them back on their feet to find gainful employment in the near future. longer term.
My organization, the Association of Self-Employed Women (SEWA), has half a century of experience in organizing women through a joint strategy of union and cooperatives. Inspired by the values of Mahatma Gandhi, it brings together 1.8 million informal workers in 18 Indian states in a national union. Today, we are putting this collective force at work to fight the devastation caused by the pandemic.
We support women like Lasuben and Ayeshaben, a garment worker turned health worker. She first joined the cooperative movement without knowing how to read or write, but is now a key member of a healthcare cooperative that disseminates information on sexual and reproductive health and provides COVID-19 relief. We provided community health kits and food boxes to independent women leaders, as well as teleconsultations with doctors and counselors in half a dozen different languages.
Read also : In India’s labor market, women have a higher exit rate and a lower entry rate than men: study
At the same time, we must look to the future, given the structural obstacles facing informal women workers in India. Unfortunately, the pandemic has added to several changes already underway in the labor market that disadvantage women, including a move towards greater mechanization of agricultural and construction work, which is traditionally done by hand by women.
The pandemic has also exposed a growing digital divide in society. This division needs to be addressed as a priority if the accelerated shift to online work is not to exclude millions of workers without the skills or resources to participate.
Yet despite these problems, there are also opportunities for women microentrepreneurs and women-owned collective enterprises to operate, if given the right support. Examples include artisans who switched to making protective masks; a health cooperative producing Ayurvedic medicines which now provides hand sanitizers and immune system stimulants; and catering companies that provide deliveries of tiffin (packaged meals) to isolate individuals and families.
In the agricultural sector, meanwhile, women are coming together to protect and improve the food supply chain – an essential element both for food security and for ensuring sustainable livelihoods for farmers.
We must now build on these successes to help women’s businesses explore new strategies and provide them with the training, digital tools and working capital they need to be successful, whether they are based in the city or in the countryside.
Specific ideas include connecting farmers with consumers of their vegetables in local towns via WhatsApp, opening a direct marketing link that eliminates middlemen or supporting an urban cooperative to establish a cleaning business. in-depth offices to meet today’s more stringent requirements.
One thing is clear: the informal sector plays a central role in India’s economy – accounting for 55% of GDP – and big business, government and society as a whole need to do more to ensure their workers receive fair treatment. This ultimately means universal health care, as well as social protections such as child care, insurance and pensions.
The vulnerability of millions of women workers in the informal sector has been cruelly exposed by the pandemic. But with the right decentralized approach, rebuilding from the local level, we can build a better future for them, their families and their businesses.
Mirai Chatterjee, President, Federation of SEWA Cooperatives, Association of Self-Employed Women (SEWA)
This article is republished from the World Economic Forum under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Read also : Increase in work, domestic violence – how the Covid lockdown has been especially difficult for women in India
Subscribe to our channels on YouTube and Telegram
Why the news media is in crisis and how to fix it
India needs free, fair, uninhibited and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media are in a crisis of their own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, giving in to crass spectacle in prime time.
ThePrint has the best young reporters, columnists and editors working there. To maintain journalism of this quality, it takes smart, thoughtful people like you to pay the price. Whether you live in India or abroad, you can do it here.
Support our journalism