Inequality is writ large in our economies. Not only are the top one percent capturing greater wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the population, there appears to be significant gender disparity within billionaire wealth as well. Globally, roughly one out of ten billionaires today are women—and the same was true in 2010.
The situation is particularly telling in India—currently there is only one female billionaire for every 20—down from one in 12 in 2018.
In its annual Global Gender Gap Report (2020), India continues to be ranked poorly in terms of improving the gender gap. At a composite rank of 112 out of 153 countries, it has moved down four places from its previous rank of 108, and the economic gap has gotten significantly wider since 2006.
The country fared poorly on three of the four measured segments: economic participation (149); health and survival (150); and educational attainment (112); while ranking fairly high for political empowerment (18). The composite rank puts India behind Bangladesh (50), Nepal (101), and Sri Lanka (102).
Women and work
The transfer of women’s work from household to commercial employment is among the most notable features of economic development. Yet, India is marked by abysmally low and falling female labour force participation.
Three out of four women aged 15 years and above are not working nor seeking work.
The government of India’s Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) published by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) estimated female labour force participation at 23.3 percent in 2017-18. This means that three out of four women aged 15 years and above are not working nor seeking work. This is worrisome, especially since unemployment rates are highest amongst women with advanced levels of education (24.6 percent) as compared to those with tertiary levels of education (16.2 percent) and basic level of education (2.9 percent).
A common explanation provided for this is that more numbers of girls are enrolled in education. However, PLFS data indicates a fall in workforce participation for older women—those between 30-50 years of age where two out of three women were reported as not working. It is most pronounced in women aged between 35-39 years: 33.5 percent of them were reported as not working in 2017-18 as compared to nine percent in 2011-12. That is one in three women not working, versus the one in 11, six years prior.
There appears to be a mismatch between demand and supply—there is a lack of adequate decent jobs for the educated youth in this country especially women. Social norms also restrict the kind of jobs that women and young girls can take up, leaving them with few opportunities for paid employment.
Related: Feminist solutions to man-made economic inequality
Unpaid care is the biggest barrier to paid employment for women
Most women in the prime working age category (between 30-50 years) reported ‘attending to domestic duties only’, which refers to running of the household and taking care of children and/or elderly relatives.
Unpaid care work is the hidden engine that keeps the wheels of our economies, businesses and societies moving.
Unpaid care work is the hidden engine that keeps the wheels of our economies, businesses, and societies moving.
Women and girls put in 3.26 billion hours of unpaid care work every single day in India—a contribution of at least 10 percent of GDP. When calculated in actual terms this means women’s unpaid care work contributes INR 19 lakh crore of the GDP, which is twenty times the entire education budget of India in 2019, three times the revenue of Reliance Industries, and four times that of ONGC as per 2018-19 data.
But paid care isn’t working in women’s favour either
Women consistently earn less than men—the estimated earned income for women in India is just 20 percent of male income; and they are concentrated in the lowest paid and least secure forms of work. For example, women make up two-thirds of the paid care workforce. Jobs such as nursery workers, domestic workers, and care assistants are often very poorly paid, provide scant benefits, impose irregular hours, and can take a physical and emotional toll.
It is a vicious cycle where the high burden of unpaid care work inhibits women and girls from pursuing education and engaging in paid employment. With little or no education and low skills, women are left to collect the scraps of low paid, insecure, unskilled jobs. This explains why they account for only 30 percent of professional and technical workers, and 20 percent of leadership roles in the country.
Oxfam’s latest report, Time to Care, shows that the pressure on carers, both unpaid and paid, is set to grow in the coming decade as the global population grows and ages. Climate change could worsen the looming global care crisis—by 2025, up to 2.4 billion people will live in areas without enough water, and women and girls will have to walk even longer distances to fetch it. Eighty percent of indigenous people live in Asia and the Pacific, a region vulnerable to climate change.
Related: As India rethinks labour rules, it’s missing one topic from the agenda
Governments created the inequality crisis—they must act now to end it
Globally, governments are massively under-taxing the wealthiest individuals and corporations and failing to collect revenues that could help lift the responsibility of care from women and tackle poverty and inequality. At the same time, governments are underfunding vital public services and infrastructure that could help reduce women and girls’ workload. For example, investments in water and sanitation, electricity, childcare, healthcare could free up women’s time and improve their quality of life.
The issue of unpaid care work is central to women’s economic empowerment.
The issue of unpaid care work is central to women’s economic empowerment, and not accounting for it in statistical systems and economic growth measurements is likely to impact policy interventions aimed at improving access to opportunities for women.
The four R’s of unpaid care work—recognise, reduce, redistribute, and represent—should be the framework guiding policies and programmes which seek to address the skewed distribution of unpaid activities among men and women.
The state plays an important role in reducing the skewed distribution of unpaid work between men and women, and the issue should be viewed as a shared responsibility between households and governments.
- To know more about the state of inequality in India read the India supplement of Time to Care.
- Read this IDR article that uncovers trends, identifies data gaps, and makes actionable recommendations for policy design through a meta-analysis of India’s female labour participation.
- Read this feminist comic which explains the mental load that women carry on a regular basis.
- Use the ‘Care Calculator’ to estimate the financial worth of the care work you do.