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There is an urgent need to consider the plight of women in the unorganised sector and understand their vulnerabilities due to the pandemic.
There seems be no end to the troubles of Neeshu and her husband Jitendra due to the central government imposed nation-wide lockdown in the wake of Covid-19.
The couple that has a family of six to look after stare at an uncertain future today with no help in sight. The problems increased for Neeshu, a domestic help, and Jitendra, a rickshaw-puller, when their teenaged son left work in New Delhi and returned home to Patna.
The couple had moved to the capital soon after their marriage. While a ration card and bank account are still elusive to them, the family today faces hard times. They are poor, but have no documents to prove it.
There may be lakhs of workers from the unorganised sector, or even more, like Neeshu, who are unable to take advantage of the Rs 1.73 trillion relief package announced by Union minister of finance, Nirmala Sitharaman.
The ongoing Covid-19 crisis is unprecedented. The public health emergency has already adversely impacted the global economy by disrupting supply chains and trade, and may have far reaching implications. Oxford Economics estimates that the global economy will shrink considerably this year.
Indian government has undertaken several measures to contain the spread of the virus, which includes declaring Covid-19 to be a “notified disaster “and a 21-day national lockdown for state / UTs w.e.f. March 25th till April 14th 2020.”
To protect the poor from the economic impact of nationwide lockdown, the Central Government announced a Rs.1.7 lakh crore Prime Minister Gareeb Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY). It aims to protect the interest of the poor by cash transfer and food security through various existing schemes, such as Jan Dhan Yojna, PM Kisan Yojna, Ujjwala Yojna. Ironically, the preventive move has proven to a total disadvantage for informal workers, especially women.
According to the 3rd edition of ILO (International Labour Organisation) report “Women and Men in the Informal Economy” nearly 81% of all employed persons in India make a living by working in the informal sector, with only 6.5% in the formal sector. Informal employment is unprotected by labour laws and is characterized by a high degree of vulnerability. Informal employment is generally a large source of employment for women than for men, a majority of informal workers are women.
India’s large informal sector is at risk due to Covid-19 pandemic, the crisis has already led to large scale job losses across different sectors be it manufacturing, textile, real estate, cement, food products, metals and plastic.
With loss of wages and the absence of social security buffer, the livelihood of women workers is under threat, who either have been bread earners or important contributors of the family income. Single mothers / widows / spinsters in the urban informal sectors are most vulnerable to income shocks.
With no economic activities, depleting ration stocks and dependents, present and future income losses, the women workers live in times of uncertainties. Unhygienic living conditions and the stress of job losses has posed health and wellbeing related issues for them. They are not able to take preventive measures suggested by health authorities such as social distancing and handwashing, thus making them vulnerable to this pandemic and other health issues.
There is an urgent need to consider women unorganised workers as a specific target group and understand their vulnerabilities. They have more exposure to adversities than their male counterpart, they need prioritised support for them and for their families. The ongoing situation requires collaborative efforts of support by government and private bodies. Steps are needed to identify them; ensure food security and provide with financial assistance to those who have lost income during the lean period.
Photo by Jose Aragones from Pexels
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