One of the greatest human tragedies of the contemporary era unleashed by the coronavirus has become a wakeup call and has provided several lessons in the conduct of all aspects of human personality, professional, societal, and institutional lives in all countries across the world. The rise of populism, authoritarian nationalism and the global crisis of the COVID19 pandemic has had a huge impact on women’s lives, work, livelihoods, and entitlements.
In particular, the current pandemic has accentuated already high and persistent gender inequality and disparities in rural areas in developing countries like India. Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi conducted a survey among 4500 women respondents-village makers in rural areas of 20 Indian states during the month of July and August 2020. The survey report was released on September 5, 2020, at a national webinar attended by several well-known experts and faculty, practitioners, experts and policymakers. Some key findings of the survey are discussed here.
The survey findings revealed an improvement in safe drinking water, toilet facility and use of cleaned fuel, but the expensive charges of LPG/PNG were still a detriment towards their access. One in every two women respondents used tap water for their drinking purposes; 80% of them had toilet facilities within the house, 75% of them had LPG/PNG connections but due to high charges only one-fourth could refill them.
52% of women surveyed did not use sanitary products during menstruation due to price and lack of awareness.
Access to education and health facilities continue to remain problems in rural areas. Five out of ten respondents reported that girls’ college situated in a distant place viz more than 5 kilometres. Around 53% of the surveyed women who were married, revealed that their children could not attend school during a pandemic due to distance and another one-third could not attend online classes due as they could not afford a smartphone with an internet connection.
The problem of the public health care system was also revealed by half of the respondents as they availed the private health facilities using around 80% of their savings for their health care. Around 52% of the women did not use sanitary pads during menstruation as they said it is expensive or unaware of it.
In rural areas, the land is the main resource and about 63% of the respondents had joint land ownership, and around 55% of them owned marginal land (up to 1 hectare). The major crops produced included staples like rice and wheat, as well as sugarcane. Around 54% of the respondents sold their produce to local traders, 33% directly to the consumers, and 23% to cooperatives and government agencies. Due to the pandemic, 42% of the respondents reported having received less than the market price, and 28% reported receiving delayed payments in return for the sale of their produce.
Around three-fourth (74%) of the respondents were dependent on-farm activities for their livelihood, while 36% were involved in non-farm activities. Over half (56%) of the respondents could not find any work during the pandemic as their earlier work on both farms and beyond has been taken up by the return male migrants. This is also reflected in time use as women were spending additional time in unpaid domestic and care work.
Out of a total active time of about 10 hours in a normal day, they were spending 90% of their time in unpaid work such as cooking, other domestic and care work. This reveals that women’s workload in unpaid domestic and care activities in rural areas has increased during the pandemic, which is mainly due to their children not attending schools and lack of paid work for women.
Further, about 65% of the respondents had suffered a decrease in their wages and salaries during the pandemic, 44% experienced a reduction in the prices of their crops and 70% felt that the prices of essential commodities have increased during the pandemic. Almost half of the women surveyed (48%) reported that they owed debts, out of whom 35% had borrowed money from landlords, and another 30% from commercial institutions.
43% of survey respondents reported seeing violence against women in their neighbourhoods.
For ages, many social evils have existed in India. While there has been an improvement in the conditions, but still 14% of respondents revealed the existence of untouchability in rural society, 21% experienced discrimination based on caste and 46% encountered wage discrimination based on gender.
Around 43% of respondents reported having witnessed violence against women in their neighbourhoods due to reasons of poor cooking, children crying, and not taking care of in-laws. In addition, 10% of the respondents told that there has been an increase in child marriages, 15% reported an increase in child labour, 38% reported an increase in verbal abuse and 13% reported an increase in farmer’s suicides during the pandemic.
About 57% of the respondents belonged to BPL households and almost all respondents possessed Aadhaar card and Voter ID card. Government welfare packages reached to around 76% of the respondents received some form of relief packages, about 40% received cash transfers and (83%) received work in MGNREGA out of those applied for the work.
In general, in rural areas, people have been taking preventive measures during the pandemic and 52% of the respondents were using cloth masks. But the impact of the pandemic can be seen on respondents as over half of them were stressed about earning a livelihood and they themselves or their family members contracting coronavirus. Around 55% of them were eagerly looking for work and another 52% were in need of urgent medical assistance and ration.
Eminent experts suggested some important points, as Prof Vibhuti Patel, Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai highlighted that every fourth youth in the country was currently unemployed due to reverse migration of men in rural areas, who are now competing with women for jobs and in this course, women are losing their work or employment. She also stressed that gender stereotypes are playing a big part and there is an underreporting of unpaid care work.
Madhu Joshi, Senior Advisor, Gender Equity and Governance, Centre for Catalyzing Change, New Delhi highlighted that women being isolated in a lockdown situation not only makes them vulnerable to domestic violence but also cut-off from social groups which empowers them with identity and power. Prof G. Sridevi, Associate Professor, Department of Economics, Central University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad said that women and children belonging to lower strata of the society face the highest amount of sexual abuse and suffer from malnutrition.
Prof Govind Kelkar, Chairperson, GISC, IMPRI and Executive Director, GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation, Gurugram pointed out that there is an urgent need for a data on ownership of resources by women. Usually, land ownership is in the name of the head of the household, which creates a lot of patriarchy and masculinity in society. She also mentioned that unpaid care work was a necessity, but it should not be the responsibility of only women. Unpaid care should also be recognised as productive work. Economists have defined only paid work as productive, and therefore, the unpaid work is not assigned any value.
A woman spends around 12-14 hours on non-paid work but she is not considered a worker. Unpaid work has to be reduced with technology. She also said that when we talk about women’s inequality, it is not considered a science but considered as activism. So, there is a need to conceptualize patriarchy, masculinity norms in the present context and welfare for women in future.
Others who attended the webinar are Dr Arjun Kumar, Director, IMPRI; Dr Balwant Singh Mehta Research Director, IMPRI and Senior Fellow, IHD; Dr Simi Mehta, CEO, IMPRI; Dr Indu Prakash Singh, Facilitator, CityMakers Mission International; Prof Kailash Tharware, Professor and Head of Examinations, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE); Dr Ellina Samantroy Jena, Faculty and Coordinator, Centre for Gender and Labour, V.V. Giri National Labour Institute; Prof Sunil Ray Senior Fellow, ICAS, MP and Advisor, CDECS; Dr Upender Singh Director, CDECS. The panellists joined in awarding the certificates to the student researchers from all over the country who contributed towards making this primary research a success.
By Dr Simi Mehta and Dr Arjun Kumar, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)