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Is The Government Policy To Tackle Unemployment In The Pandemic Adequate?

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In a webinar, organized by Center for Work and Welfare at IMPRI, Working People’s Charter and Counterview on Employment Scenario, Policy and AtmaNirbhar packages amid Pandemic: Impact, Challenges and the Way Forward, Dr. Vinoj Abraham, Professor at the Centre for Development Studies highlighted that the challenge of unemployment had started peaking prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, starting from 2017-18. The unemployment rate was 6% and in 2017-19, it started rising. Covid-19 has had an extreme effect on the economy. The information available, especially from CMI, states that the unemployment rate shot up in April-May, 2020, and became better from June onwards.

The issue of unemployment became clearer with the increased media attention on the helpless migrants who were struggling to get jobs and get back to their hometowns. The Government of India tried to offer support through three stimulus packages aimed at different groups of classes. One package focuses on the poorer people but the other two were targeted at the larger and smaller businesses.

The Effect Of The Pandemic On Employment

Dr. Vinoj Abraham set the context for the conversation which was further elaborated on by Dr. R.B. Bhagat, Head Department of Migration and Urban Studies at International Institute for Population Sciences. Dr. Bhagat touched upon the various aspects of how the pandemic has affected our lives, including employment, the demographic dividend, and the silence regarding the state of the migrant workers as if they are not part of the workforce.

Following the introductions, Dr. Radhika Pandey, Fellow-I, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIFPP), who has written extensively on the issues of employment in India, particularly amid the pandemic, proceeded to make her presentation on #WebPolicyTalk titled “Employment Scenario, Policy, and AtmaNirbhar packages amid Pandemic: Impact, Challenges, and the Way Forward”. Dr. Pandey’s talk focussed on the current state of employment in the country and the approach of the government’s ‘Atmanirbhar(self reliant)’ package in addressing this challenge. Underlying themes of the government’s ‘Atmanirbhar’ package include creating an ecosystem to facilitate demands and to avoid cash transfers.

Thousands of migrant workers gather at a ground in Vasai in May 2020, desperate to go home as job and earnings are halted with the spread of COVID-19, and social security measures remain lacking or are deeply inadequate

With the ‘Atmanirbhar’ Package 3.0, the Government is giving companies incentives to employ workers. The idea is to integrate the migrant workforce with the workforce in the formal sector.

There Is A Need For Work In Every Sector

While the government raised the allocation for MNREGA to address the problem of rising unemployment due to the influx of migrant workers, the proposal to implement an urban replica of MNREGA is on hold for now. This seems to be a well thought out decision considering the challenges of the urban infrastructure and the resource constraints faced by the urban local bodies.

Dr. Pandey further elaborated on a recent report by McKinsey that suggests that to address the challenge of unemployment in India, we need to generate at least 90 million jobs in the non-agricultural sector.  To achieve this ambitious goal, it is imperative to boost the GDP to 8-8.5%, especially in manufacturing, construction, and labor-intensive sectors.  The need for non-farm jobs was especially stressed upon since the agricultural sector has a saturation point and there is a lack of demand elasticity.

The policies implemented by the Government to address unemployment need to acknowledge that the informal sector is languishing and salaried jobs remain stagnant, despite an increase in entrepreneurs.

Dr. Pandey also provided her insights on the National Employment Policy. She emphasized its need to have a more holistic approach to address the issue of unemployment. It is important to look at the composition of employment for more gainful employment in the formal sector. There is a low and declining female participation rate, low productivity and lack of quality jobs, and threat of automation. There is also a critical need for a shift from agriculture to manufacturing. Moreover, the enterprise structure is missing a middle man – it has a sizable proportion of small enterprises and otherwise large, but nothing in the middle.

Representational Image

The percentage of women participating in formal employment is declining and the informal sector is especially exploitative towards women.

There are some accompanying factors to address with the National Employment Policy to address the rising unemployment rates in our country. For one, economic policy certainty is needed. Uncertainty means private stakeholders will not cooperate with the government and that’s imperative for job creation.

Secondly, public-private partnership is necessary to avoid unnecessary cost escalation for the private sector which can lead to projects being frozen. Essentially, economic policy certainty, contract enforcement, and dispute redressal are some key factors that need to be addressed. It is also important to recognize that programs like the ‘Garib Kalyan Yojana(Poor Welfare Scheme)’  require an identification strategy first. Such a strategy is imperative for the informal sector also by keeping in mind the people you want to cover in the transformation program.

The talk, spearheaded by Dr. Radhika Pandey, focused on the employment scenario in India, how it changed during the pandemic, some key initiatives by the government to address these challenges, and how these initiatives can be further improved. The other speakers that contributed to the discussion with their insightful suggestions included Dr. Vinoj Abraham who moderated the session, Dr. R.B. Bhagat who chaired the session, Prof Utpal K De, Professor of Economics at NEHU, and Dr. Amrita Pillai, Research Fellow at National Institute of Public Policy.

Acknowledgments: Sajili Oberoi is a research intern at IMPRI. She has completed her bachelor’s degree in political science from Ramjas College, Delhi University.

By Dr. Arjun Kumar and Ritika Gupta, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)

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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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