In India, women are more engaged in the unorganized sector than in the organized sector and have been hardest hit as a result of the pandemic, also pushed out in part because of the general preference for male workers. “Occupational segregation” disproportionately forces women into the informal sector, typically characterized by unskilled labour, low wages, lack of social protection, an inherently exploitative client-boss relationship and deprived of labor law obligations. Furthermore, there is the political economy of domestic work which is unpaid, invisible and confined to the home.
Margaret Mead had explained how male achievement is so amplified in traditional societies that the same occupation by women makes women’s work less important. The basis for such a presumption lies in treating domestic work as a natural function of women. But political parties are reluctant to address women’s exclusion from employment, as the relationship between women’s participation in the labor market and development outcomes is complex.
Programs guaranteeing a certain amount of money to women in the form of cash transfers do not replace paid employment. Access to this money does not mean that women will have effective control over it. It is a state-controlled dependency model that does not envision a substantial plan for the inclusion of women in the workforce, but endorses minimal short-term benevolence.
A paltry stipend will not pay for girls’ college fees or enable women to launch a start-up business. Indeed, studies suggest that, in all likelihood, these recipients will spend the amount on meeting the family’s well-being needs rather than on one’s own well-being. How can the state contribute to strengthening the capacity of women as economic actors? Promoting conditions conducive to the formalization of women in the labor market and gender equality in the workplace are ways forward.