High levels of female poverty, low female literacy and work participation rates, and high maternal and child mortality, indicate the extent of gender inequality in India. Women in rural parts of the country attend to their regular household care and other domestic activities (assumed to be feminine duties) and work on farms, either as paid or unpaid workers and caregivers.
Rural women villagemakers are some of the hardest-hit in the pandemic.
Moreover, there exists the phenomenon of out-migration from states like Bihar to other more developed states, due to the lack of local livelihood opportunities. These circumstances, combined with poor socio-economic indicators, accentuate rural women’s vulnerability – VillageMakers – and the COVID-19 pandemic is compounding these.
IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, with the support of the Centre for Catalyzing Change’s (C3)Sakshamaa Initiative, conducted a telephonic time-use survey in rural areas of the state of Bihar. The survey was conducted during September and October 2020, and covered all 38 districts, hearing from 1039 VillageMakers in rural Bihar. It uncovered the extent to which domestic violence, child marriages, and unpaid work for women, were exacerbated during the COVID-19 lockdown due to restrictions in physical movements and increased loss of livelihoods.
The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified women’s vulnerabilities. As we seek to rebuild from the twin health and economic crises brought about by this pandemic, it is incredibly critical to ensure the active involvement of VillageMakers in decision-making within their families and households and the planning and implementation of programs that aim to impact their lives positively.
They are among the hardest hit by this pandemic, but they will also be the backbone of rebuilding efforts if their involvement and leadership are leveraged for economic recovery. Foregrounding women’s voices is crucial to creating an equal environment that will help withstand further crises.
Findings of a rural telephonic-survey conducted by interviewing a total, 1039 women VillageMakers from 38 districts of Bihar from September to October 2020 were shared by IMPRI Impact Policy And Research Institute, New Delhi. The survey results were discussed at a webinar held on January 29, 2021, conducted by IMPRI, in association with the Centre for Catalyzing Change (C3), New Delhi.
Dr. Nivedita P Haran, retired Additional Chief Secretary, Department of Home Affairs, Government of Kerala, said it is common knowledge that there are poverty, violence, and lack of empowerment in Bihar. However, the shift in decision-making irrespective of the family’s economic status leading to joint decisions in financial and family matters is a remarkable improvement.
She further points out that the study shows that domestic violence is not totally linked to economic status, making it easy to handle. She also recommended Bihar Government officials take the study findings and recommendations for setting specific targets of improvement through an action plan by respective divisions and taking input from the study in the upcoming budget preparation. “Learn from states like Tamil Nadu, where the literacy was very low, high open defecation level, fundamental public health and immunization at its lowest level 30 years back, but within 20 years they have done immensely well”, says Dr. Nivedita
“Literacy among the women is the significant empowerment, which decreases the incidences domestic violence, a dropout from schools and increases girl child’s, health and hygiene”, says Dr. Nivedita.
“Such studies are eye-openers and should put a sense of responsibility and more importantly a sense of shame among the public, and non-public servants, the cooperation of non-state actors need to happen in Bihar,” Says Dr. Nivedita.
Mrs. Mahua Roy Chaudhary, Project coordinator, Governance and Knowledge management, Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society, Jeevika shared facts on open defecation and pointed out that in 2014 only 30percent of the household had access to toilets compared to study projections which depict only 24percent going for open defecation which is a huge change in five years due to pro-women government policies.
“We need to understand about the various government programs taken up by Bihar government exclusively for people, as Bihar government has also given Rs 1000 directly in the account of women for empowering them.” Says Mrs. Mahua
Prof G Sridevi, Associate Professor, School of Economics, Central University of Hyderabad highlights that in India, the socio-cultural norms prevalent in rural areas have prevented women from having equal rights, access to education, access to land, and most importantly, not allowing to be part of the decision making at the household level.
Also, women’s representation in decision-making as an elected member in panchayats is deficient. Hence, women are always under-represented in various walks of life. Though economic empowerment and change in the societal patterns have made the women question the established norms, this has only resulted in increased domestic violence and atrocities.
“The gender gap report of 2020 indicates that it will take 95 years to close the existing gender gap in political representation. If we want to have economic parity and equality, it will take 257 years, which explains the kind of inequality existing within the society”, says Prof Sridevi
“Women at global-level represent two-third of the workforce in the health sector, but interestingly, there is a huge pay gap between men and women, considering the pay gap in terms of the Indian context. It is 35 percent compared to the global average of 16 percent”, says Prof Sridevi.
Prof Sridevi also underlines that although Uttar Pradesh and Bihar’s per capita income seems to be a performer. On the contrary, they fail in providing equal access to resources to all the sections of society. She also focussed on providing access to education and strengthening self-help groups for providing equal access to resources to women. “We need to address issues related to social inequality which will in turn automatically lead to a reduction in political and economic inequality.” Says Prof Sridevi
“The pandemic has allowed us to rethink the concept of the migrant worker”
Mr. Braj Kishore Pathak, Officer, Jeevika, Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society, State Rural Livelihoods Mission, Bihar, says that now females in Bihar have emerged as decision-makers. He further says that migrant workers who returned to Bihar were provided with adequate facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Around 18 lakh ration cards were provided to households and financial support of Rs 1000 per family to help the women workforce during the pandemic. Further, he appreciates the Bihar state government’s efforts to empower workers by providing them skills to earn a livelihood in-state without migrating.
Prof Nalin Bharti, Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Patna shared the Bihar is one of the states which is very densely populated. He disagrees with the concept of a migrant worker. He elucidates his point by saying that countries like Japan and Singapore do not treat their own workers as migrant workers, unlike India. He believes migrant words dissociate one psychologically; he mentions Kerala’s concept where workers from other states are called ‘Guest Workers’. “The pandemic has allowed us to rethink the concept of the migrant worker,” says Prof Nalin.
“Bihar is one of the fastest-growing states for many years, but the growth which Bihar has achieved has not been able to transform into development. The study shows that connectivity between growth and development is not up to the mark, and we need to dwell upon it,” says Prof Nalin
Dr. Arjun Kumar, Director, IMPRI, pointed out there are around 10 lakh self-help groups in Bihar, and they need to be strengthened. He also mentioned that study focussed on the social group that has been excluded, which are casual laborers and rural women. He says the upcoming Bihar Budget and suggests the need for financial assistance of cash transfer of Rs 2000 for marginalized people in Bihar and a smartphone to strengthen the development of Bihar.
“The pandemic was not only a public health crisis but also an economic crisis and its impact in creating a social crisis, thereby magnifying certain social problems should not be lost sight of. The pandemic has magnified certain problems such as economic, health, social, and gender-related issues. Let’s address them” Says, Dr. Nivedita. “Let’s make the Self Help groups, women groups in rural Bihar as the agents of change that can improve the face of Bihar,” Says Dr. Nivedita.
Mrs. Mahua Roy Choudhury mentions Bihar’s ‘Satat Jeevikoparjan Yojana’, aiming to empower ultra-poor households traditionally engaged in production, transportation, and selling of country liquor/toddy. The scheme covers the ultra-poor from SC/ST and other communities by diversifying livelihoods, capacity,y building, and finance access to finance.
“Such findings and recommendations are essential to design an inclusive, intersectional recovery program as we seek to build from the pandemic crisis,” says Dr. Aparajita Gogoi, Executive Director, Centre for Catalyzing Change.
IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute and Centre for Catalyzing Change (C3)