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Social obligations force Gujarat females to accept poor work conditions, low wages

By Rajiv Shah 
An ILO-sponsored study has suggested that Gujarat development has failed to end gender discrimination in the job market. In fact, Gujarat is one of the four Indian states, whose labour rate participation rate has registered a decline.

The study, “Low Female Employment in a Period of High Growth: Insights from Primary Survey in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat”, commissioned by the International Labour Organization, and carried out by Santosh Mehrotra, Partha Saha, Ankita Gandhi, Kamala Devi and Sharmistha Sinha, for the Institute of Applied Manpower Research, Planning Commission, Government of India, has found that, despite being a developed state, Gujarat has a higher level of occupational segregation as well as gender-based wage disparity in most of the occupations. “In vast majority of cases, female workers did not have any social security benefits to fall back on. Household responsibilities, social obligations, and security concerns often forced females to accept rather unfavourable work conditions in terms of low wage and long working hours”, it points out.
Basing its analysis on secondary as well as primary data, the study says that the National Sample Survey (NSS) data reveals that in 2009-10, Gujarat had a higher labour force participation rate (LFPR) of 25.6 percent and workforce participation rate WFPR of 25.3 percent for females than the national average of 23.3 percent and 22.8 percent respectively. However, it suggests a worrying a trend is now emerging: “In rural Gujarat, female LFPR declined from 43 per cent to 32 per cent during 2005 to 2010, falling further to 28 percent in 2011-12. Urban Gujarat witnessed a consistent decline, albeit marginal over the years.”
This is a matter of concern, as “low female labour force participation is a common phenomenon in most South Asian countries, though participation of women has increased in Bangladesh and to a lesser extent in Pakistan.” In India, it points out, there has been a consistent decline in female labour force participation rate and work force participation rate since 1970. “Decline in female WFPR was much sharper in rural India as compared to urban India, and was principally driven by fall in employment opportunities in unpaid family works”, it says.

As for primary data, it was collected in Surat and Bhavnagar districts of Gujarat, with an approximate sample size 500 households. Giving reason for making the choice of Gujarat, apart from Uttar Pradesh, as the area of study, the study says, four states — Karnataka, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Gujarat — experienced decline in female employment to a “significant extent” between 2004-5 and 2009-10 in both principal and subsidiary status. Hence there was a need to “understand the possible determinants of declining female employment”.
The study found that, in the study area, the incidence of illiteracy was quite high among females both in rural and urban areas despite significant improvements in literacy rates in the last two decades. There was a gradual decline with age in the proportion of females educated at successively higher standards, the sharpest being from secondary to higher secondary level. “Socially deprived groups fared extremely poorly in education, thus ending up doing low-end marginal jobs”, it points out.

Thus, illiteracy rate among the rural women (14 years and above) was 36.8 per cent, while it was 28.6 per cent among the urban women. Social category-wise distribution suggests that in the rural areas illiteracy among scheduled caste (SC) females was 25.8 per cent, among other backward class (OBC) females 43.3 per cent, and among scheduled tribe (ST) females it was 56.7 per cent. As for general category, illiteracy among the rural females was 18 per cent. The trend was found to be the same in the urban areas: Illiteracy among SC females was 43.5 per cent, OBCs 27.5 per cent, and ST 54.1 per cent. But as for the general category females, their illiteracy was 13.3 per cent.
Higher illiteracy meant the need to work to meet household expenses, the study suggests. Thus, 74.6 per cent of illiterate females in the rural areas and 70.2 per cent of illiterate females in urban areas worked, even if they received poor wages. As one climbs up the educational ladder, one finds, rural females do not work in such high proportion. Thus, only 60.5 per of secondary or higher secondary educated rural women worked and even lesser percentage (39) of graduate and post-graduate rural women worked. A similar trend was found in the urban areas.

From the primary survey, it was clear that women in Gujarat, both in rural and in urban areas, illiterate and literate, wished to work, but a big proportion unable to get job. Thus, 17 per cent of rural illiterate females said they were unemployed, and the percentage of unemployed reached a whopping 30 per cent for graduate and above rural women. In the urban areas, 19 per cent of illiterate women said they were unemployed, while 15 per cent of women who were graduate or more said they were unemployed.
The study comments, “In Gujarat, females not economically active identified themselves as unemployed (implying they were looking for work). This does not mean that women in Gujarat had less domestic responsibilities. This is how women identify themselves.” It adds, “In rural areas where the majority of population is still dependent on agriculture, higher agricultural growth in Gujarat provided more employment opportunities for the working age females. In the urban areas, growth of industries has ensured higher working age female participation in the workforce.”
Even then, it underlines, “In Gujarat, one-fifth of working age females reported to be unemployed implying improving work force participation rates for females would require greater creation of employment opportunities in the non-agricultural sector.” There were various reasons why females in Gujarat did not work, apart from lack of employment opportunities, and these included “complete lack, and often open violation, of decent work conditions, mainly in the unorganized sector of the economy, which is out of reach of any legal entity.” Then, there were also “conveyance-related security problems seem to be an important hurdle to go to the work place for most of the women.”
The study comments, “From the analysis of secondary data what comes out is that, in Gujarat, growth has not resulted in more employment opportunities for females.” Further, “there seems to be a contradiction between poverty and other measures like living standard, implying that a considerable section of above poverty line population might have a poor overall standard of living as indicated by various indices of livelihood.”
Pointing towards social segregation, the study says, “Majority of females (15 years and above) belonging to SC and ST social groups were into casual wage employment in both rural and urban areas.” As for other social groups (general castes), “majority were into self-employment, except in urban Gujarat where diamond factory, textile factory and the service sector provided employment opportunities for urban females.”
The social segregation data suggests that, among illiterates, in rural Gujarat, 16.1 per cent of SC, 22.6 per cent of OBC, and 61.1 per cent of ST female workers worked as agricultural labourers, as compared to just 2.1 per cent from the general category. In the urban areas, things are not very different: 33.7 per cent of SC, 12.7 per cent of OBC and 27 per cent of ST illiterate females worked as construction workers, as against none from the general category.
Female workforce generally worked in diamond factories (50.8 per cent in rural areas and 25 per cent in urban areas), and in textile factories (38.9 per cent in urban areas). In urban areas, home-based work attracted none of the ST females, just 7.2 per cent of SC females, 56.4 per cent of OBC females, and 24.8 per cent of general category females.
The study says, “As the level of education improves, the proportion of casual wage labourers decline – in rural areas the proportion of home based workers increases, while in urban areas, some primary educated females were self-employed as traders/vendors. Among the occupation category ‘others’, most of them were into unpaid family work, and some were vendors (in rural areas).” Thus, “Females with primary education in rural Gujarat, in addition to own farm work and agricultural labour, were also employed in diamond polishing work within the village itself. Among the occupation category ‘others’, most of them were into unpaid family work, and other labour (in rural areas).”
The study says, “In rural Gujarat, majority of females primarily involved in household chores were educated below elementary level. It is interesting to note that in urban areas, one-fourth of females primarily with household responsibilities were educated at least up to graduate level. Greater household responsibility in nuclear families in the urban areas might have kept them out of the work force. Even though females out of the work force reported domestic responsibilities as their principal occupation, they considered themselves to be a part of the labour force, and therefore, identified themselves as unemployed.”
The study finds discrimination in the payment of wages to females, one reason why they remained outside the job market. It says, “Despite attaining certain level of education, females were mostly employed in low paying jobs which were a clear indication of lack of suitable employment opportunities in the vicinity. This was a big disincentive for females towards attaining higher education. Therefore, in the areas under study, low female employment was to a large extent driven by non-availability of employment opportunities or the push factor.”
“In the job market, females were hard pressed both in terms of quantity of jobs as well as quality of jobs. Differences in wage rates could be observed between males and females in most of the occupations except in construction works in the selected study locations. In vast majority of cases, female workers did not have any social security benefits to fall back on. Household responsibilities, social obligations, and security concerns often forced females to accept rather unfavourable work conditions in terms of low wage and long work hours”, the study concludes.

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