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Tackling India’s Unemployment Crisis: How Serious Is It?

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Everyone knows that we are grappling with a severe unemployment crisis. To remind you of the grim reality once again, it is at a 45-year high. India has recorded a spike in its unemployment rate in both rural and urban sectors.

According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the unemployment rate rose to 6.98% in October 2020. CMIE also shows that urban unemployment rate has reached 9%. But this didn’t happen overnight. Many factors over time have contributed to this problem, the outcome of which we see today.

It is a well-established fact that the unemployment rate is directly proportional to population growth, given the fact that government effort is constant. It is estimated that we are going to overtake China in a few years as far as the population is concerned. Unfortunately, employment generation is not as fast as reproduction.

More than 50% of the population is employed within the agriculture sector — which reminds me — farming is both a challenge and an opportunity. Opportunity in the sense that it absorbs 50% of the population. That means it offers a backup alternative to unskilled unemployed for a temporary period. Challenge remains the seasonal demand in the agricultural sector. There is a lack of systems that provide alternatives for farmers and labourers.

Other factors include technology development, automation and robotics, lack of long term plans by the government, immobility of labour force due to unwillingness of people and other reasons, inadequate growth of infrastructure and low investments in the manufacturing sector, economic change, inadequate state support, legal complexities and low infrastructural, financial and market linkages to small industries or small businesses, social norms which prevent women from contributing their part in the economy, lack of skills that are in demand, etc.

India is likely to record its worst growth performance since the 1991 liberalisation.

It would have been much easier for the government to cope with the currently existing socio-economic problem if the Covid-19 had not come. Certainly, migrant workers crisis, lockdown and recession-induced by economic slowdown has further aggravated the existing issue of unemployment. It has affected every sector of the economy adversely. IMF projected a GDP growth of 1.9% for India in 2020. With this subdued forecast, India is likely to record its worst growth performance since the 1991 liberalisation.

We should not get into numbers, at least for now. The more worrisome part is the fact that we are only going to observe an increase in poverty, decrease in the overall demand, increasing dependence on the working population, wastage of human capital, labour exploitation, crimes and social tensions if we don’t change our approach while dealing with macro-economic issues.

We need to get to the basics first. Companies can’t flourish and invest heavily in capacity expansion in a “low consumer demand” environment. FICCI business surveys reported: “While the business environment has started showing improvement through the different phases of unlocking of the economic activities by the government, the biggest worry for India is the weakening consumer demand”.

Consumption, which was already low, further saw a decline amidst the pandemic. So, it is clear that until consumption rises, it is highly unlikely to observe positive job growth. Consumption will rise only when there is more money at the bottom of the pyramid.

FICCI report also suggested measures like easy credit availability, additional direct cash transfer, a temporary reduction in GST rates, enhanced government procurement, part funding of salaries to support jobs, etc. These measures are, however, unlikely to bring any major change soon.

As far as government schemes and programs are concerned, there has been no significant achievement of flagship schemes including Startup India, Stand up India, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), Skill India and so on. These programs have failed not just because of the poor implementation, but because of lack of clarity associated with unemployment itself. There has to be an acceptance from the government’s end that there persists an unemployment crisis in the first place.

Our programs fail because we don’t get to the root of the problem. Our baseline data, surveying method and assessment process are faulty; that is why we design policies erroneously which turn out to be unproductive.

Without a doubt, getting back to normal is not easy that too at a time when a recession is inevitable. But “wait and watch” policies in economics do more harm than good. Therefore, necessary measures (to be discussed in next parts) are to be taken by identifying problems, redefining priorities, reinventing approaches and fixing things accordingly.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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