Thousands of women in India spend hours working, but their work is not recognised as real ‘work’. According to the UN, 51% of the work done by Indian women is unpaid and not counted in national statistics. This could be because millions of Indian women are employed in the informal sector (37.4 million in home-based work, 4.2 million in domestic work and 5.7 million in construction work), making them more vulnerable to exploitation. However, women working in the formal sector struggle for professional growth, as well. In fact, women’s participation in the Indian workforce dipped by about 8%, between 1990 to 2014. We need to talk about this.
To spark a conversation for a change in the status quo, Youth Ki Awaaz and the National Foundation for India (NFI) joined hands to host a Twitter Chat from 4-5 pm on March 8, coinciding with International Women’s Day. The chat, titled ‘Invisible Work That Women Do’, was organised as part of YKA and NFI’s campaign, #GoalPeBol, which aims to start a conversation about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the Indian government has committed to achieve by 2030. The chat threw up some highly insightful and thought provoking responses from experts, opening up new avenues for discussion about women in the workforce:
Question: Female labour force participation is higher in other Asian countries than India? Why so?
Sher: Different factors are responsible, including social norms and access to employment. A big question: What jobs are needed for women? What jobs will match aspirations and how can women, esp. young women meet them? Another important factor is education and skills – higher than secondary education is needed to access.
— ILO India (@ILONewDelhi) March 8, 2017
Question: Invisibilisation of women’s work occurs in the formal sector as well. How can this be changed?
Sher: Invisibility of women is greater in informal sector but invisibility of gender disparities in formal sector exists as well. We need to promote women in leadership roles – glass ceilings and sticky bottoms are both challenges!
5/n #IWD2017 Just like ‘dirty’ work shd not be Dalits’ work, unpaid household labour shd not be women’s work
— Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) March 7, 2017
Question: What are the ways in which we can better the measurement of women’s work in the economy?
Sher: Measurement needs to capture women’s contribution in and outside the home – better captured through time-use and other surveys. We also need regular surveys and monitoring – quality of employment is key not just labour force participation!
— @videovolunteers (@videovolunteers) March 8, 2017
Question: How does not recognising women’s work in the economy affect the wage gap?
Xavier: Reducing the gender wage gap is still an important challenge for the region. If women are paid less than men, labour compensation on a whole is not at its optimal level.
ILO-India: Economic growth pattern in developing countries shows a shift in employment from agriculture to manufacturing and then to services. In developing countries, women spend 4 hours and 30 min per day on unpaid care work, compared to 1 hour 20 minutes for men. Also- women are overrepresented in low productivity work. More countries have turned to minimum wage policies as a tool to combat low-paid work and rising poverty.
— Siddhant Nag (@SiddhantNag) March 8, 2017
Question: Why was it important to start a women-only news publication in a state like UP?
Khabar Lahariya: So many reasons! But mostly to unsettle the skewed mainstream perspective so common in media.
Question: Do you ever have to prove that you mean serious business, just because of your gender? Can you share examples?
Khabar Lahariya: All the time, especially when we started. Oft-asked question circa 2002: “Aap reporter hai? Kaise?” And though we’ve garnered respect “because it’s 2017”, we’re still pretty sick of the patronising and mansplaining we get. While covering the elections, we were often in rooms full of men full of themselves, staring at us.
— Youth Ki Awaaz (@YouthKiAwaaz) March 8, 2017
Question: What can be done to ensure that women’s work gets due recognition, especially in rural areas?
Khabar Lahariya: Repetition has its benefits – this, we’ve learnt, the hard way. If they still don’t get it, do it again, say it again. Repeat. Call it as and when you see it.
Question: What challenges do sex workers in India face because of existing social norms?
KatKatha: It is an irony that despite sex workers’ existence in the society for a long time and women actually being pushed into this by an exploitative market, the society questions the morality of women. This exists even in the minds of sex workers. The issue of class and caste plays its role here as traditionally and till now. Their acceptance as an individual doesn’t exist, rather their occupation becomes their identity and way of life.
6/n More privileged women employ working class women to do ‘their’ domestic work. They still bear responsibility for that work
— Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) March 7, 2017
Question: Owing to stigma, sex work is hardly ever recognised as real ‘work’. What can be done to change this?
KatKatha: The recognition of sex work as work can come at a later stage only when this issue of social exclusion and market that exploits the vulnerability of such women would be questioned by a larger section of society. To understand the repercussions of sex work being recognized as labour, one really needs to understand the nuances of it and address the issue of this extensive heterogeneous working group. Organised sex work is any way banned in country. However, if the occupation needs to gain gravity of real ‘work’, firstly forced sex work should come to an end. And it can’t be just be the government but also the civil society organisations, citizens, all as a collective need to work together to prevent trafficking. Ensuring that the individual is educated about their rights as a practitioner can make a lot of difference.
These diverse perspectives reveal the existent policy gaps in the system that have contributed to the growth in gender disparity at the workplace and subsequent invisibilisation of women at work. As a signatory to the UN SDGs, it is paramount that the Indian government implements policies in education, healthcare, infrastructure and the workplace, to reduce gender inequalities (#Goal5) with respect to access to work, recognition and measurement of work, and improve women’s workforce visibility and participation in the Indian economy.
The chat reached over 500,000 accounts and created over 4.5 million impressions, and opened up new avenues for conversation surrounding the devaluation of women’s work, how it affects the economy, and the value of true gender equality (#Goal5) at the workplace.