Tale of women workers: Rapid exit from workforce, sliding earnings

* Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR), or the proportion of working-age population that engages actively in labour market, either by working or looking for work, for women in India declined from 42.7% in 2004-05 to 25.1% in 2021, “showing withdrawal of women from the workforce despite rapid economic growth during the same period”.

* In 2019-20, 60% of all males aged 15 and above had regular salaried or self-employed jobs; the rate for females was 19%.

* For regular, self-employment in urban areas, the average earning for males was Rs 15,996. It was less than half of that — Rs 6,626 — for women.

* Mean income for people from SC or ST communities with regular employment in urban areas was Rs 15,312 in 2019-20, against Rs 20,346 for those from ‘general’ category.

* 68.3% Muslims in urban areas faced discrimination in 2019-20 — up from 59.3% in 2004-05.

These are among the findings based on government data on employment and labour from 2004-05 to 2019-20 in the ‘India Discrimination Report’, compiled by the NGO Oxfam India and released on Thursday. The figures, according to the report, are based on data from the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.

The report refers to unit level data from the 61st round of National Sample Survey on employment-unemployment (2004-05), the Periodic Labour Force Survey in 2018-19 and 2019-20, and the All-India Debt and Investment Survey by the Centre.

The report noted that discrimination against women is so high that there is hardly any difference across religion or caste-based sub-groups, or the rural-urban divide. It said all women, regardless of their socioeconomic location, are “highly discriminated”.

The report noted that while overall discrimination in wages for people from SC, ST and Muslims communities declined in regular/salaried jobs, it increased for women in this period — from 67.2% in 2004-05 to 75.7% in 2019-20.

As for prejudice faced by other segments of the population, discrimination in employment for the Muslim community dropped from 31.5% in 2004-5 to 21.9% in 2018-19 to 3.7% in 2019-2020. For SC/ST employees, discrimination declined from 69.1% in 2004-5 to 34.6% in 2018-19 but increased to 39.3% in 2019-2020.

“We have taken 2004-05 data and then 2018-19 data because there isn’t comparable data for all years. More importantly, discrimination doesn’t usually change from year to year but over a period of time,” said Amitabh Kundu, lead author of the report and co-chair of two labour force surveys being conducted by the Union Labour Ministry.

Oxfam India was one of the organisations that faced an Income Tax survey recently. Oxfam maintained that it was compliant with domestic laws.

“Discrimination in the labour market is when people with identical capabilities are treated differently because of their identity or social backgrounds…What the report finds is if a man and woman starts on an equal footing, the woman will be discriminated in the economic sphere where she will lag behind in regular/salaried, casual and self-employment”, Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar said.

Kundu said: “We have made adjustments carefully. We have looked at three points of `endowments’ — education, parental education and years of experience. If the result shows a high percentage of the gap in outcome between two groups is due to level of education and work experience, one would argue that the discrimination is low. However, when the level of education and work experience are similar, and if there is a high gap in outcome, we can confidently say there is discrimination.”

For the SC/ST community, Kundu said, “there has been a decline in discrimination as endowments — such as education or supportive government policies — have increased. For the Muslim community, these endowments are very low, with very low levels of education and limited access to regular salaried jobs. Therefore, Muslims are largely self-employed in family-owned businesses. They are also part of specialised jobs like cobbling or carpentry, where there is no (or little) competition. So, the discrimination against Muslims is low simply because the endowments are also low.”

For women, however, this is not the case, Kundu said. “We have found that she is either discriminated by the employer, so she will either not be hired or given promotions because of prejudice; social biases such as women won’t be able to keep late hours or travel for work; and family and social pressure wherein women withdraw from the workforce or are not allowed to work,” he said.

“A very large number of women who are currently not in the workforce have a high level of education and equal endowments as their male counterparts,’’ Kundu added.

The report noted: “Gender discrimination in India is structural which results in great disparities between earnings of men and women under ‘normal circumstances’. This can be inferred from the data for 2004-05, 2018-19 and 2019- 20. The earning gaps are large, both in rural and urban areas for casual workers ranging between 50 per cent and 70 per cent. The range is low for regular workers, with earnings of men exceeding those of women by 20 and 60 per cent. In case of the self-employed, the disparity is much higher, with men earning 4 to 5 times that of women.”

Besides women, historically oppressed communities such as Dalits and Adivasis, along with religious minorities such as Muslims, also continue to face discrimination in accessing jobs, livelihoods, and agricultural credits, the report noted. The average earning of self-employed workers in 20-19-20 was Rs 15,878 for people from non-SCs/ST categories, while it is Rs 10,533 for those from SC or ST background, it stated.

In 2019-20, the report noted, 15.6% people above 15 years of age from Muslim community were engaged in regular salaried jobs, against 23.3% for non-Muslims in similar jobs and locale.

According to the analysis, SC and ST communities in rural India are facing an increase in discrimination in casual employment. Self-employed non-SC/ST workers earn a third more than their counterparts from SC or ST background, it reported.

The Oxfam report showed regular, salaried non-Muslim people in urban areas earned Rs 20,346 on average in 2019, which is 1.5 times higher than their Muslim counterparts, who earned Rs 13,672. Self-employed non-Muslims in the same period earned an average Rs 15,878, while self-employed Muslims got Rs 11,421 despite over-representation of Muslims in urban self-employment, it noted.

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