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Women & Work - what caught our eye in February 2023
News, research, data, and recommendations about women and work - curated by our team
Hello, and welcome to CEDA’s newsletter ‘Women & Work’!
In this month’s edition we bring you news updates from India and the world, share new research about how women’s employment status impacts demand on matrimonial platforms, data on women’s participation in the unorganised sector, an inspiring throwback about the fight for equal wages, and of course, lots of reading recommendations!
To everyone who is new here: At the Centre for Economic Data and Analysis (CEDA), we are working on an ambitious project to understand and find ways to overcome the demand-side barriers that are keeping women out of the workforce.
We are curating ‘Women & Work’ with the hope that it can provoke, stimulate and amplify conversations about women’s participation in paid work in India.
If you agree with our mission, help us reach more readers by sharing this post!
🗞️In The News
The Indian government’s Economic Survey for 2022-23 had a section dedicated to the measurement of female labour force participation rate (LFPR). “The common narrative of Indian women’s low LFPR misses the reality of working females integral to the economy of the household and the country. Measurement of employment through the survey design and content can make a significant difference to final LFPR estimates, and this matters more for measuring female LFPR than male LFPR,” states the Survey pointing out three issues with measurement:
Overly broad categories that club productive work (such as collection of firewood) with domestic work lead to mismeasurement of women’s work
The Periodic Labour Force Survey has a single question for measuring the labour force status of an individual, and does not have the scope to rectify any error in self-reporting
The need to measure “work” and not just “employment” since work constitutes the whole universe of productive activities alongside employment.
Read all that the Economic Survey had to say here.
Our take: At CEDA, we welcome this official recognition of women’s unpaid economic work which is substantial, invisible, unrecognised and unvalued. However, as the Economic Survey recognises, this work is not synonymous with employment. Also, because this work is seen as a part of women’s domestic duties, women are not paid. Participation in this work does not give them their due status as workers, and does not increase their say in decision-making within their households. If women who are engaged in household livelihood activities were to go to a bank for a loan, they would not be officially recognised as income earners on account of their contribution to the family enterprise. This official recognition is the first small step towards fixing the larger problem of the low levels of women in paid employment.
Nearly 15,000 men operate the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC)’s buses in the capital city. The number of women? Just 34. All but one of them have been hired in the recent past as the Delhi government is trying to address this skew. A hundred more are likely to join the drivers’ club by April, Hindustan Times reported earlier this month.
Almost 5,000 women showed up for Mumbai Fire Brigade’s drive to recruit 273 women firefighters earlier this month - half of the women were from eight districts of the Marathwada region, and only two percent were from Mumbai. Many of these women underwent training to improve their chances of getting recruited, Hindustan Times reported. Increasing unemployment and lack of job opportunities in the drought-prone Marathwada region in Maharashtra is driving its women to look for job opportunities in Mumbai, the report said.
On February 16, Spain’s parliament passed a bill paving the way for paid menstrual leave for those who experience painful periods. The leave, that can be availed based on a doctor’s prescription, will be available for three days every month with the possibility of extension to five days, if needed. The costs would be borne by the country’s public social security system. Spain has now become the first country in Europe to introduce such a leave policy. Here are some other countries that provide for the same.
On the same day - February 16 - Susan Wojcicki, who had been YouTube’s Chief Executive Officer since 2014, stepped down from her role. With her resignation, big tech is left with only men at the helm. Read this Bloomberg article about the extraordinary exit of the women of Silicon Valley.
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Getting married can have a profound impact on women’s careers in India in multiple ways, and new research suggests that the impact might start even before the wedding takes place. Women in the paid workforce are less likely to receive preference in the “marriage market” in India, find researchers Farzana Afridi, Abhishek Arora, Diva Dhar and Kanika Mahajan.
Between June and August 2021, the researchers uploaded fictitious profiles on an online marriage portal and found that profiles of employed women received 14.5% less interest from male suitors relative to profiles of not-employed women. Further, women in “masculine” occupations (for example, a technical supervisor) received less interest than those in “feminine” occupations (such as a teacher). This biased preference was stronger among dominant caste groups and in the northern part of the country (in Delhi) as compared to Bengaluru (the two geographies where the experiment was conducted).
Given the near-universalisation of marriage in India and the already low rates of female labour force participation, these findings show the steep hurdles in increasing women’s labour force participation in India. Read the full paper here.
Women made up about a quarter (24 percent) of all workers who were employed in unincorporated non-agricultural enterprises in India (covering largely the unorganised sector excluding construction), data from the NSS Round 73 (2015-16) shows. But their share varied greatly by worker category. Look at the distribution carefully and you’ll notice - women were much more likely to be working as a helper or as an “other worker”, than to be working as a formal or informal paid worker.
As the methodology note of the survey states: ‘Other worker/ helper’ “includes all persons belonging to the household of the proprietor or households of the partners who are working in or for the enterprise without regular salary or wages. Persons working as exchange labourer[s] in the enterprise without salary or wages will also be covered in this category. All unpaid household workers / helpers who are associated with the activities of the enterprise during the reference month are considered in this category”.
Why are we not surprised?
This edition’s recommendations have been curated especially for our readers by Anisha Sharma, Assistant Professor of Economics at Ashoka University.
What’s an essential academic work that you would recommend to someone who is just getting started with working on the subject of female labour force participation?
Anisha Sharma: I’d pick this paper by Fletcher, Pande and Moore (2018) - it is a comprehensive review of issues around women's employment in India and highlights the unmet demand for work among many currently unemployed women
Anything published in the news media recently that shed light on an important aspect about women’s work in India?
An article in Mint where Vidya Mahambare & Sowmya Dhanaraj analyse data from the Period Labour Force Survey data and find that marriage has a critical impact on women’s employment in India, highlighting that we need to focus on jobs that can bring married women back into the workforce.
Is there a film that you can recommend which, in your opinion, does a good job of portraying the world of work?
I’d recommend the film ‘Asha Jaoar Majhe’ (or Labour of Love). As a researcher, I do think access to good jobs can transform the lives of women in India. But this wonderful film made me reflect on the significant challenges for both women and men in managing professional work and domestic duties while still retaining a reasonable level of life satisfaction.
And a book that did the same?
I’d think of Dreamers by Snigdha Poonam, a book about the aspirations of young men and women living and working in 21st-century India, as well as the potentially terrible consequences of these aspirations not being met.
✍️ From Our Desk
Is WFH solution to India’s low female labour participation? Ashwini Deshpande answers ThePrint’s question
Why focus must shift from what restricts women’s employment to what works for them, Kanika Mahajan writes for BehanBox
How many women work in India’s factories? Dhruvika Dhamija answers in our Data Narrative
In 1968, 187 women working in the Dagenham Car Plant of the Ford Company in the UK went on strike demanding equal wages.
Women sewing machinists who stitched seat covers for Ford cars had been categorised as ‘Grade B’ workers (less skilled production jobs) while their male colleagues were categorised as ‘Grade C’ workers (skilled production jobs) after the company carried out a review of its wage structures. This meant that women would be paid 85 percent less for the same job as compared to the male workers.
The women went on a strike to protest this discrimination. Their strike lasted three weeks, bringing production to a halt. Barbara Castle, the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity at the time, had to intervene - an agreement was reached and women’s wages were increased, though they were still not made equal to that of men. Parity came only in 1984 after the women went on another strike.
The strike of 1968 is widely seen to have played a critical role towards the introduction of the Equal Pay Act 1970 in the country to prevent discrimination, as regards terms and conditions of employment, between men and women.
That’s all from us for this edition. Thank you for reading! We will see you next month. In the meantime, if you have feedback, questions, tips, or just want to say hello, feel free to do so by replying to this email, or drop in a word at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Curated by: Akshi Chawla for the Centre for Economic Data & Analysis (CEDA), Ashoka University. Illustration and design by: Nithya Subramanian