Reset rural job policies, recognise women’s work

  • IASbaba
  • July 4, 2020
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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Topic: General Studies 1,2,3:

  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors
  • Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources 
  • Women empowerment 

Reset rural job policies, recognise women’s work

Context: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on women’s work

The pre-COVID-19 situation (for rural women) 

1. Rural women faced crisis of regular employment

  • According to national labour force surveys, a quarter of adult rural women were in the labour force (or counted as “workers” in official data) in 2017-18
  • However, time-use surveys from rural Karnataka by NGOs show that, although there were seasonal variations in work participation, almost all rural women came within the definition of “worker” in the harvest season.
  • The above data suggests that rural women face a crisis of regular employment. 
  • In other words, when women are not reported as workers, it is because of the lack of employment opportunities rather than it being on account of any “withdrawal” from the labour force

2. Paid work outside home

  • Another feature of rural women’s work, is that women from all sections of the peasantry, with some regional exceptions, participate in paid work outside the home
  • Thus, while thinking of the potential workforce, we need to include women from almost all sections of rural households and not just women from rural labour or manual worker households.

3. Age differentiated aspiration amongst rural women

  • A third feature is that younger and more educated women are often not seeking work because they aspire to skilled non-agricultural work, whereas older women are more willing to engage in manual labour.

4. Wage Inequality

  • A fourth feature of rural India is that women’s wages are rarely equal to men’s wages, with a few exceptions. The gap between female and male wages is highest for non-agricultural tasks — the new and growing source of employment.

5. Underestimation of women’s work

  • Counting all forms of work — economic activity and care work or work in cooking, cleaning, child care, elderly care — a woman’s work day is exceedingly long 
  • It is estimated that the total hours worked by women (in economic activity and care) ranged from 61- 88 hours in the lean season, with a maximum of 91 hours (or 13 hours a day) in the peak season. 
  • No woman puts in less than a 60-hour work-week.

Impact of Pandemic & lockdown on rural women

  • Limited agricultural activity for women
    • There was increased tendency to use more family labour and less hired labour on account of fears of infection. 
    • Therefore, though agricultural activity continued during lockdown employment available to women was limited.
  • Reduced income from agriculturally allied sectors
    • For women across the country, incomes from the sale of milk to dairy cooperatives shrank because the demand for milk fell by at least 25% (as hotels and restaurants closed)
    • Among fishers, men could not go to sea, and women could not process or sell fish and fish products
  • Collapse of non-agricultural employment for women.
    • Non-agricultural jobs came to a sudden halt as construction sites, brick kilns, petty stores and eateries, local factories and other enterprises shut down completely
    • In recent years, women have accounted for more than one-half of workers in public works, but no employment was available through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) till late in April
    • Accredited Social Health Activists or ASHAs, 90% of whom are women, have become frontline health workers, although they are not recognised as “workers” or paid a regular wage.
  • Effect on Women’s health & nutrition
    • During the lockdown period the burden of care work mounted. 
    • With all members of the family at home, and children out of school, the tasks of cooking, cleaning, child care and elderly care increased
  • Disproportionate impact of lockdown on rural women jobs
    • Among rural casual workers 71% of women lost their jobs after the lockdown; the figure was 59% for men.
    • Data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) also suggest that job losses in April 2020, as compared to April 2019, were larger for rural women than men.
  • Inadequate attention has been paid to the consequences of the pandemic for women workers and on the design of specific policies and programmes to assist women workers

Way Ahead

  • Short term goal should be the expansion of the NREGS
  • A medium and longer term plan needs to generate women-specific employment in skilled occupations and in businesses and new enterprises
  • ASHA workers must be recognised as workers and paid a fair wage. 
  • Specific attention must be paid to safe and easy transport for women from their homes to workplaces
  • Healthy meals for schoolchildren as well as the elderly and the sick can reduce the tasks of home cooking, which reduces care burden of women


It is time for women to be seen as equal partners in the task of transforming the rural economy.

Connecting the dots:

  • Feminism and its challenges
  • Gender Budgeting

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