- GS-1: Society; Women Empowerment
- GS-2: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes
Working women too, with a dream of good childcare
Context: The theme for International Women’s Day 2022 (March 8) is ‘gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’.
Gender equality is still a far cry for India’s female informal workforce.
- According to a 2018 study by the International Labour Organization (ILO), more than 95% of India’s working women are informal workers who work in labour-intensive, low-paying, highly precarious job conditions, and with no social protection.
- WHO says that “women’s informal work is central to the feminisation of poverty”
- The benefits under the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 are mostly enjoyed by formal sector women workers, constituting less than 5% of the women workforce.
- The act provides for paid maternity leave for women employees to 26 weeks.
- It made crèche facilities mandatory for establishments employing 50 or more women.
- Lack of access to quality childcare services forces women workers to leave the labour force which stops their earning and exposes them to significant economic risks. This can aggravate gender and class inequalities.
Here are three ways to enable women to take up more productive paid work and improve their maternal and child health outcomes:
- Expansion of the ICDS
- The primary mandate of the Anganwadi centres under the ICDS is to provide maternal and child nutritional security, a clean and safe environment, and early childhood education, thus facilitating the ability of women to re-enter work post-childbirth.
- However, ICDS has two major limitations.
- First, it does not cater to children under the age of three.
- Second, it functions only for a few hours a day, making it inconvenient to send and pick up children during work hours
- Early intake of children & extending the hours of Anganwadi centres can have dual benefits — allow mothers time for paid work and converge with the National Education Policy 2020 of providing Early Childhood Care and Education for children in the 0-6 age group
- However, these expansions would also require expanding the care worker infrastructure, especially the Anganwadi worker and helper, who are already overburdened and underpaid.
- Revitalise the crèche scheme
- The scheme has suffered diminished government funding.
- Public crèches can be operated at worksite clusters such as near industrial areas, markets, dense low-income residential areas, and labour nakas.
- Crèches closer to the workplace allow for timely breastfeeding and attending to emergencies
- The funds collected under the construction cess can be earmarked for running crèches at construction sites.
- Improving maternity benefits.
- Women in informal employment did not have maternity benefits until the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, entitled pregnant and lactating mothers to a cash transfer of at least ₹6,000.
- However, the scheme notified for this purpose, the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) limits the benefit to the first birth and has also reduced the amount to ₹5,000.
- This amount under PMMVY does not match an inflation-adjusted NFSA benchmark (nearly ₹9,400 in 2022).
- Various states have tried to bridge the coverage gap with their own scheme. Tamil Nadu has an expansive and ambitious scheme offering ₹18,000 in cash and kind for two live births.
- It is imperative that we consider affordable and quality childcare infrastructure as an employment-linked benefit and as a public good.
Connecting the dots: