Covid-19 and its economic toll on women

Most employed women in India are in low-skilled work, such as farm and factory labour and domestic help, sectors that have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Most employed women in India are in low-skilled work, such as farm and factory labour and domestic help, sectors that have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Worse, an anticipated slow economic recovery, the closure of thousands of factories and a sluggish vaccination rate, especially among women, is expected to undermine their attempts to return to the workforce.
“Whatever social and economic gains Indian women had made in the last decade, it has been largely wiped out during the COVID period,” said Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress, one of the largest trade unions in India.

The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic is expected to deepen economic stress in India, which was already in its worst recession for seven decades.

With the vast majority of Indians working in the informal sector, precise estimates of job losses are difficult.
But in a country without a comprehensive welfare system or pandemic-related support for small businesses, several industry bodies have reported widespread redundancies over the past year.
The Consortium of Indian Industries (CIA), which represents over one million small firms, said women make up 60% of the job losses.

A report by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University found that 47% of women workers who lost their job between March and December – before the second wave of the virus hit in April – were made permanently redundant.

That compared with around 7% of male workers, many of whom were able to either return to their old jobs or take up independent work like selling vegetables.

Reuters spoke with more than 50 women in Delhi, the industrial state of Gujarat and, by phone, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. All had lost their jobs in small garment factories, food processing units, travel agencies and schools, leading them to scrimp and save.

“The majority of female workers who work in low-skilled categories like packaging, and on assembly lines at lower wages would be the last ones to get employed, as first we want to restart operations,” he said.
India’s informal service sector, including on-demand services like transportation and food delivery, has been one of the few bright spots during the pandemic, said Manisha Kapoor, researcher at the Institute for Competitiveness think tank, but were dominated by men.

“Those informal sector jobs are not something that women will be taking up,” Kapoor said.
Kaur warned it could take two or three years for women to return to the workforce – if at all – and urged the government to offer incentives to lure them back.

“Migrant women workers, who have left for their villages with families after job losses, are unlikely to come back,” she said.


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